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July 20, 2017
Cream Cheese: A Homemade Ice Cream Miracle Worker

A one-stop ingredient to make your homemade ice cream thicker, smoother, and more flavorful.

If you’ve ever labored over a batch of homemade ice cream, only to churn out a dense and unscoopably icy final product, it might be missing an ingredient that’s key to most commercial ice creams—a stabilizer. Usually, when we think of stabilizers, we think of vials of chemical compounds developed by food scientists, but Dana Cree, pastry chef at the Publican in Chicago, is setting out to change this perception, armed with corn starch, tapioca starch and believe it or not, cream cheese. In reality, stabilizers are simply ingredients that keep ice cream smooth by preventing water from seeping out of the milk and cream and forming big, unruly ice crystals.

In her new book, Hello, My Name Is Ice Cream, Cree points out that plenty of familiar household products work as stabilizers, and cream cheese—a mainstay of American desserts—comes conveniently loaded with its own handy cocktail of stabilizers (like whey proteins, locust bean gum, and xanthan gum). As she writes, “The word stabilizer has a really bad reputation. It has come to suggest anything artificial, used to alter wholesome food into unnatural, fake, processed food, for the purpose of extending its shelf life at the expense of your health so as to maximize profit. When you put it that way, yeah, stabilizers sound like jerks.”

A range of stabilizers and emulsifiers, from common household products like eggs and cream cheese to commercial ingredients like guar gum and lecithin

The technique of adding cream cheese to ice cream, which Cree admits she picked up from Jeni Britton Bauer of Jeni’s Splendid, has the added bonus of thickening the ice cream base. “The main thing cream cheese does for ice cream is add solids in the way of milk protein,” says Cree. This means the ice cream will trap more air as it churns, making the final product smoother and slightly chewier. “You might not realize how important the chew factor of ice cream is, but remember, the hallmark of American hard-pack ice cream is a scoop you can bit into,” she writes.

The thicker texture holds up well to mix-ins, like cakes and cookies, or swirls of fruit preserves or fudge. The flavor has what Cree calls “a lovely tang that goes with, um, everything.” She adds, “Fruit and cream cheese are best friends, and I really love to add things like chunks of gooey butter cake, and ribbons of lemon curd to cream cheese ice cream. Because it’s more acidic, it works well with rich flavors as well as bright flavors.”

To customize the basic cream cheese recipe with a flavor like vanilla, coffee, or tea, just infuse the milk with the flavoring agent before you begin. If you find an ice cream recipe that you want to try with cream cheese, you can customize it by substituting 5% of the cream in the recipe with cream cheese. Just be sure to mix it in at the end, once the base has cooled.


  • Butter Cake Layer (1 1/2 cups chunks needed for recipe)
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1½ cups granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoons salt
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ cups butter, melted
  • Gooey Layer
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 2½ cups confectioners' sugar
  • ⅔ cups glucose
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • ½ cups butter, melted
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoons almond extract
  • Candied Citrus Bits (1/3 cup needed for recipe)
  • 1 grapefruit, 2 oranges, 3 lemons, 5 tangerines, or 1 pound of kumquats
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 3 cups water
  • Cream Cheese Ice Cream (1 batch, just churned needed for recipe)
  • ¾ cups cream cheese
  • 1¼ cups cream
  • 2 cups milk
  • ¾ cups sugar
  • ¼ cups glucose
  • Texture agent of your choice

The Midwest is home to a special accident called gooey butter cake, which is, as my friend Jane puts it, “like cream cheese frosting baked into the cake.” Right she is, and this sticky cake is even better fro­zen. Here, we’ve added it to cream cheese ice cream for a bit of tang, and scattered candied lemon bits to brighten the rich scoops.

    Gooey Butter Cake

  1. Preheat the oven and prepare the pan. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly oil an 8-by-10-inch baking pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
  2. Mix the cake dough and press into the pan. Stir together the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the egg and melted butter at once, and beat on low speed until everything comes together into an even dough. Transfer the dough to the pan and press it into the bottom evenly.
  3. Mix the gooey layer and add it to the pan. Make sure the cream cheese isn’t so cold that the food processor will lock up as it tries to blend it. Place the cream cheese, lemon zest, confectioners’ sugar, glucose, and salt in the bowl of a food processor, and process until evenly combined. Scrape the sides of the bowl and add the eggs, pulsing until evenly mixed. Add the melted butter, vanilla, and almond extract, and process until the mixture is completely smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary. Transfer the gooey layer to the pan, and spread it evenly to the edges.
  4. Bake the cake. Bake for 45 minutes. Give the cake a little poke in the center, breaking through the crust to inspect the filling. If it shimmies just a little, like Jell-o, the cake is ready to come out of the oven. If it’s still oozy, bake for 10 more minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool completely.
  5. Freeze, cut, and store. Carefully loosen the edge of the cake from the pan, and place the pan in the freezer for 2 hours, or up to 24 hours. When the cake is frozen solid, transfer it to a cutting board. Remove the parchment paper, and cut the cake into 1-inch cubes. Place the cubes back in the freezer until frozen solid again, then store in a container, tightly covered, in the freezer for up to 1 month.

Candied Citrus Bits

  1. Blanch the citrus. Fill a medium pot with about 8 cups of water and bring to a boil. Dunk the citrus fruits in the boiling water for 15 seconds, rinse with cold water, and repeat two more times with fresh boiling water each time. (You can boil three pots of water at once to save time.) Skip this blanching step if you are using kumquats.
  2. Make the syrup. Place the sugar and water in a large saucepan over high heat. Cook the syrup until it comes to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, then reduce the heat to a low simmer.
  3. Prep and cook the citrus. Cut the citrus into 4 wedges each, slicing from stem to tip. If using kumquats, cut them into ¼-inch-thick slices and seed them. Place the citrus wedges in the pot of simmering syrup and cook for 3 to 4 hours, until the fruit sinks to the bottom and has absorbed enough sugar that it’s translucent. During the cooking, the water will boil away and the syrup will condense; you will need to keep an eye on this and add warm water periodically, usually ½ cup every 30 minutes, to maintain the syrup consistency. (If you don’t, the water will all evaporate, the sugar will caramelize, and your painstakingly blanched citrus will burn. Trust me, it’s a sad sight.)
  4. Cool and store. When the citrus is translucent, remove the pot from the stove and let the citrus cool in the syrup. Transfer the fruit and syrup to a container, cover tightly, and store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.
  5. Prepare the fruit as an add-in. Remove a wedge of citrus from the syrup and rinse it under cold water until it is no longer dripping syrup. Peel the flesh from the pith, and discard the flesh. Dice the candied peel into ¼-inch cubes, and transfer to a container temporarily, until you are ready to scatter them into your freshly churned ice cream. Or let the candied citrus dry at room temperature until they are tacky, then toss in granulated sugar.

Cream Cheese Ice Cream

  1. Cut and temper the cream cheese. Cut the cream cheese into 1-inch pieces and place in a large bowl. Cover the surface with plastic wrap, and allow it to come to room temperature.
  2. Boil the dairy. Place the cream, milk, sugar, and glucose in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat, and cook, whisking occasionally to discourage the milk from scorching, until it comes to a full rolling boil.
  3. Chill. Immediately pour the ice cream base into a shallow metal or glass bowl. Working quickly, fill a large bowl two-thirds of the way with very icy ice water. Nest the hot bowl into this ice bath, stirring occasionally until it cools down.
  4. Mix in the cream cheese. When the base is cool to the touch (50°F or below), whisk in the softened cream cheese. Transfer to a blender and blend on medium-high speed for 1 minute until very smooth.
  5. Strain. Strain the base through a fine-mesh strainer into a shallow metal or glass bowl. Use a rubber spatula to push any unincorporated lumps of cream cheese through the strainer, then scrape the bottom side of the strainer to collect any cream cheese that has accumulated there, whisking it back into the base.
  6. Cure. When the base is cool to the touch (50°F or below), transfer the base to the refrigerator to cure for 4 hours, or preferably overnight. (This step is optional, but the texture will be much improved with it.)
  7. Churn. Place the base into the bowl of an ice cream maker and churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions. The ice cream is ready when it thickens into the texture of soft-serve ice cream and holds its shape, typically 20 to 30 minutes.
  8. Harden. To freeze your ice cream in the American hard-pack style, immediately transfer it to a container with an airtight lid. Press plastic wrap directly on the surface of the ice cream to prevent ice crystals from forming, cover, and store it in your freezer until it hardens completely, between 4 and 12 hours. Or feel free to enjoy your ice cream immediately; the texture will be similar to soft-serve.

Gooey Butter Cake With Candied Lemon

  1. Chill the container. Place a storage container in the freezer; you’ll want it very cold before you fill it.
  2. Layer the ice cream with the add-ins. Remove the chilled container from the freezer and scatter a few of the bits on the bottom. Spread one-third of the just-churned ice cream into the container. Sprinkle one-third of the bits over the ice cream. Repeat the layers two more times. Plunge a spatula through the layers four or five times to distribute the bits.
  3. Freeze the ice cream. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the ice cream, cover the container with a lid, and place in the freezer for 4 to 12 hours, until completely firm.

Anna Hezel

Anna Hezel is the former senior editor of TASTE.