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Frozen Desserts 101

Frozen Desserts

Do you know your gelatos from your granitas? Your sorbets from your semifreddos? The universe of frozen desserts includes far more than just ice cream, but sometimes it's difficult to tell them all apart. Our crash course in icy treats is here to set the record straight!

Ice cream

Ice cream, generally speaking, is a frozen dessert made with sweetened milk and/or cream and flavored with fruit, chocolate, or other ingredients. Though you might hear “ice cream” used as a catch-all term for many types of frozen desserts, there are limits to what ice cream can and can’t be.

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration requires that ice cream meet two conditions in ordered to be labeled as such: it must contain a minimum of 10% dairy milkfat and must have no more than 100% overrun.

“Overrun” is a term ice cream makers use to describe the amount of air that is whipped into ice cream during the churning and freezing process. An ice cream with 100% overrun has doubled in size during production; that is, for every gallon of ice cream base used, two gallons of finished ice cream resulted. (Therefore, ice cream with 100% overrun is 50% air). To be clear, air in your ice cream isn’t a bad thing. If your ice cream contained NO air, you’d have a hard block of cream and sugar - pretty tough to scoop.

To make things even more complicated, there are ice cream “quality segments” used to describe products with varying levels of milkfat and overrun. “Economy” and “regular” ice creams meet overrun standards and tend to have a light and airy texture. Hedonist Artisan Ice Cream is “premium” ice cream, meaning it has a lower overrun, higher milkfat content, and higher-quality ingredients than commercial ice creams. In plain English: you can expect our ice cream to be denser, smoother, and richer than you’re used to.

Bonus, not-so fun fact: products that don’t meet the FDA requirements for milkfat or overrun can’t be labeled ice cream. Instead, they’re labeled “frozen dairy dessert.” Womp womp.

Frozen custard

A close ice cream relative, frozen custard adds egg yolks to the mix, making for a creamy, luscious experience. Frozen custards must follow the same milkfat rules as ice cream, but must also contain a minimum of 1.4% egg yolks by weight.

Frozen custard also differs from ice cream in regard to the machine used to make and dispense it. Ice cream machines churn air into the product, which is then put into a freezer to firm up completely before it’s scooped. By comparison, custard machines incorporate far less air, and the final product is served almost immediately at a warmer temperature, making it soft and melty.


Gelato is ice cream made in the Italian style. As a general rule, it contains a greater proportion of milk to cream than American styles (and thus less fat), and is churned much more slowly. The slow churn means far less air is incorporated into the product, resulting in a denser texture. Gelato also tends to be served at a slightly warmer temperature than ice cream, so it remains silky and elastic rather than fluffy.


Literally “semi-frozen,” semifreddo is another genius Italian dessert invention. With a texture somewhere between mousse and ice cream, semifreddo is made by folding whipped cream into a custard base of milk, cream, and egg yolks. The mixture is then poured into a pan, frozen, and then served in slices rather than scoops.


If you got a dairy sensitivity, sorbet might be your savior this summer. This dairy-free yet luxurious frozen dessert is essentially just flavored water churned in an ice cream machine until it’s frozen and scoopable. The most common sorbets are fruit sorbets, which are composed primarily of fruit, sugar, and water. However, chocolate sorbet is an intense way to get your dark chocolate fix. Ours at Hedonist Artisan Ice Cream contains cocoa powder, melted semi-sweet chocolate, and a splash of coffee.


This Italian dessert (why do all the good desserts come from Italy?) is closely related to sorbet, but is grainier and crunchier in texture. Granita is agitated less frequently during production, allowing ice crystals to form.

With so many styles of frozen desserts, it sounds like our idea for a great Summer day-trip sampling them all! Be sure to visit us at Hedonist Artisan Ice Cream, right next door to our chocolate shop, at 672 South Ave in Rochester, NY.

Pleasure, handcrafted. Hedonist Artisan Chocolates are handmade with fresh ingredients to give as gifts or indulge yourself.
© 2018 Hedonist Artisan Chocolates. All Rights Reserved. Hedonist Artisan Chocolates 674 South Avenue Rochester, NY 14620 585.461.2815
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