All About Ice Cream: Difference Between New York, Philadelphia, French, and Italian Ice Cream

Ice cream is celebrated and devoured during the hot summer months, but also enjoyed throughout the year for all occasions. I’ve seen labels on various brands of ice cream sporting the terms ‘New York’ and ‘French’ style, but had little understanding of the basic differences, or if these were ‘modern’ terms, and I especially wanted to know what kind of meanings these had way back when.

Looking back at old cookbooks, there is indeed a difference, and if you can find a commercial brand that follows what the original definition stood for (without preservatives, additives, and fillers like gelatin or starches) then any one of them would be (and is) a treat today.

Early Commercial Ice Cream Thickeners

Back in the early 1900’s, commercial-style ice creams were also produced. The pastry book Paul Richards’ Pastry Book (1907) contains recipes for commercial creams that were thickened from one of three different thickeners. The first type of thickener was one or a combination of different starches, such as cornstarch, arrowroot, or sago flour, and Richards suggested using 3 to 6 ounces for each gallon of liquid (which would be milk or a combination of milk and cream). A second type of thickener was gelatin, and he suggested adding it and dissolving it in warm rather than boiling milk so as to prevent the milk from curdling, with a ratio of about 1 1/2 to 2 ounces of gelatin for one gallon cream and milk. The third thickener is one that was commercially available then by the trade name ‘cream-thick’. Richards describes this ice cream thickener as “something like a dry milk powder.” It was mixed into the recipe at the same time the sugar was added.

Basic Differences Between New York, Philadelphia, Italian, and French Ice Creams

Basically, Philadelphia creams are those made without eggs and New York creams are those made from cream and eggs. French creams are hand processed or are made with a rich custard and Italian creams are those that contain double cream – both of these preparations make for a thicker, firmer, and subsequently richer, product. Older cookbooks also reference back to ‘Neapolitan’ creams, which should not be mistaken for the tri-color ice cream combination you can still find now.

Richards describes the different types of ice cream available then:

The rich creams are known as NEAPOLITAN or ITALIAN creams, and also as FRENCH creams. The original creams of this class were frozen in the old time hand freezers and worked with the spatula. This process makes a firm and more solid cream, and is in general use in Europe; while over here [in the U.S.] the patent freezers are used, which produce a more bulky and lighter kind of Ice Cream.

The rich creams which contain eggs and cream frozen in patent freezers are also termed NEW YORK creams, and the lighter creams, made from the best cream and without eggs, PHILADELPHIA creams.

In case these descriptions spur you into gear to make ice cream, here are some basic recipes to try from Paul Richards himself. Of course, you should follow proper food safety guidelines when cooking custards and anglaise sauces, by cooking the mix to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F. But these are all good representations of what the major ice cream styles were back then, and today.

Italian Ice Cream (1907 Recipe)

  • 1 gallon double cream
  • 2 1/4 lbs. granulated sugar
  • 32 egg yolks
  • 2 fine-cut vanilla beans

To get the best flavor of the vanilla bean, it should be heated to the boiling point in one quart of the cream and let infuse for one hour. Put the sugar in a basin or sauce pan, add the yolks and beat well together, add the cream gradually, set on the fire and keep stirring till the yolks begin to thicken. Take off the fire, add the one quart with the vanilla; strain and cool. Put the mixture in the freezing can and freeze nice and smooth.

French Ice Cream (1907 Recipe)

  • 1 gallon cream
  • 2 lbs. sugar
  • 24 yolks
  • 2 vanilla beans split and cut in small pieces

Prepare the same as directed in [the recipe for Italian Ice Cream].

New York Ice Cream (1907 Recipe)

  • 2 quarts milk
  • 2 quarts cream
  • 1 3/4 lbs. sugar
  • 16 whole eggs
  • Flavoring

Make a custard same as directed in [Italian Ice Cream]. Strain, cool, add flavoring and freeze.

Philadelphia Ice Cream (1907 Recipe)

  • This name is generally applied to Ice Creams made with pure cream, and without any eggs, although some makers use about five eggs to each gallon of cream, with two pounds of sugar. The cream and sugar is heated near the boiling point, cooled and frozen. The heating of the cream is the best method, for it gives more body to the cream and makes it smoother. If the sugar is dissolved in the cream without heating, the cream bulks more, but loses the fine texture of the heated creams.

Siberian Ice Cream (1907 Recipe)

  • 1 gallon of cream
  • 1 3/4 lbs. sugar
  • 1 pint of eggs
  • Flavor

Put the cream on the fire with half of the sugar; beat the whites of the eggs light with the other half of the sugar, and mix with the cream. Stir constantly till near the boiling point (but do not let boil). Take off the fire and beat cold on ice; flavor and freeze.

Delmonico Ice Cream (1907 Recipe)

  • 1 gallon double cream
  • 25 yolks
  • 2 lbs. sugar

This cream is made exactly like the Italian or French creams, and flavored as desired.

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