Learn the science behind:
Why cream cheese works great in ice cream
My ice cream skills and knowledge have been increasing steadily ever since buying ‘Hello, my name is ice cream‘ and practicing ice cream making in our ice cream machine. The other day, I tested yet another recipe from the book, a cream cheese ice cream, which turned out super smooth and rich in flavour.
When reading the ingredients on the label of the cream cheese once the ice cream was churning, a lightbulb went on. It makes a lot of sense that using cream cheese makes a smooth ice cream, since all the additives you would otherwise use are in the cream cheese already. Let’s dive in!
What is cream cheese?
Cream cheese really is what is says it is, it is cheese made from cream or mixed with cream. It is a so called fresh cheese, you can’t store cream cheese for years on end, instead, you have to eat it within a reasonable time.
There are a lot of different applications of cream cheese, which vary between countries. One of the more famous applications is to use it in a cheesecake.
How cream cheese is made
Cheese can be made in various ways, two vary common ways are through the use of acid or rennet. As we described before, both of these methods allow the milk to curdle and form curds drifting in the remainder of the liquid, the whey. The casein proteins in milk play an essential role in the process.
In the case of cream cheese the milk is first pasteurized and standardized to a high fat content. Standardization refers to a process in which fat is first taken out of the milk and then added back in to the exact required amount. This ensures that all milk going into the cream cheese making process has a constant fat content and thus gives a constant product.
At that point acid and/or a starter culture (=bacteria) are added to the milk while it’s kept at a constant temperature. The bacteria type that is added will acidify the cheese, resulting in it curdling and thickening. It is in a way similar to the yogurt making process.
This process only lasts a few hours. After this, manufacturers drain of the whey so they only have the remaining cream cheese curd.
Ingredients of cream cheese
Before packaging the cream cheese manufacturers generally add a few more ingredients. The first, well known one, is salt. However, you will often find other additives in there as well. These tend to be stabilizers. Just like yogurt and other soft cheeses these cheeses aren’t always very stable over shelf life. Instead, some of the moisture might come out over time. To prevent this from happening, these stabilizers are added.
Common stabilizers are locust bean gum, carob bean gum, guar gum and xanthan gum. If you’ve read more on this blog, these names might sound familiar. We’ve discussed them when talking about the addition of stabilizers in ice cream.
Why cream cheese is used in ice cream
There are various reasons as to why cream cheese is used in ice cream, but let’s start with those stabilizers we just discussed. At the bottom of this post you can find a recipe for cream cheese ice cream. We’re using this recipe as a reference for some of the explanations below.
It depends on the country where you live what the exact legislation is, but generally, cream cheese may contain up to 0,5% stabilizer. Let’s assume that our cream cheese contains that 0,5% of stabilier. That would mean that the recipe contain 150g * 0,005 = 0,75g. But, a lot of ice cream recipes may only call for 1g of stabilizer such as xanthan gum in a recipe of our size. Therefore, that 0,75g will most likely have a significant impact on the texture!
Apart from the stabilizer, cream cheese contains a considerable amount of fat, over 30%. This is is comparable to whipping cream even. The high fat content and its thick texture will definitely help the final ice cream texture.
Of course, cream cheese also has a distinct, slightly sour flavour. This contributes to the overall perception of the ice cream, making it a little more special!
We’ve also asked ourselves why sour cream is used in cakes so often? The answer is surprisingly simple, just like this one.
There are a lot of different ways to make ice cream, the recipe mentioned here is a Philadelphia style ice cream which is quite American. You can also use eggs to make an ice cream from custard. Or, even easier, just use two ingredients.
Want to see how cream cheese is made? Here’s a video. They simplify some things and it’s not the newest manufacturing site, but it gives a good first idea!
Cream cheese, University of Guelph, link
Wisconsin center for dairy research, Dairy pipeline – A closer look at cream cheese, March 2003, Volume 15 number 1, link
Science Direct, cream cheese, link
Wikipedia, cream cheese, link
Three brands of cream cheese: Lucerne, Organic 365, Philadelphia
Why do you bring the milk, cream, and sweeteners to a boil? I’ve never done that when making ice cream.
Great question! Strictly said, you can do it without. However, there are a few advantages. First of all, it helps to dissolve all of the sugars properly. This way they’re all spread well throughout your ice cream and you get an even product. Furthermore, bringing dairy to the boil helps it to stabilize the ice cream by denaturing the proteins. It is similar to why you also pasteurize milk again if you’re making yogurt at home. Yes, it kills some microorganisms, but it also helps create a thicker yogurt.
Can you do without it? Likely yes, but, I find the differences worth it!
My cream cheese doesn’t “dissolve” all the way and has tiny little clumps. Any idea why?
This generally happens if you don’t let the cream cheese come to room temperature sufficiently. Once the cream cheese warms up, more of the fats will melt and this makes it easier to mix through, the whole mixture will be softer. Also, once you’ve got clumps in a large amount of liquid it is pretty hard to get rid of them, so don’t add all the liquid at once, first add some to help the cream cheese mix through properly, then add the rest. Hope that helps!