ask the kitchenista: low-fat ice cream

Dear Kitchenista;

I recreated your simple Dulce de Leche ice cream from the class I took with you (to go with that upside-down amazing rosemary pear tart.) So, with summer on our doorstep…I love ice cream and want to make more of it…but with less fat. What is the best way to achieve lower fat, but retain great flavor and creamy texture? Cornstarch? Gelatin? Eggs? I’ve never made it with eggs. A truly delicious, creamy, low-fat banana ice cream is my goal for this summer. Any advice? Thanks for any help (and let me know of any cooking classes in NYC coming up!) — Brad A.
Who doesn’t love ice cream? While browsing my photos for an appropriate one for this post I came across this one (above)  of my mother, circa 1946 or so. Just after WWII, somewhere in France…Lyon, I think. How sweet that cone must have seemed after her years in concentration camps and then in hiding with false identities and little hope. How sweet was life itself to have survived those years?  Ice cream, whether you’ve survived a war, or simply your work week can be one of life’s great pleasures. Do you really want to mess with it and make it low fat? It happens to be my #1 guilty pleasure. I can eschew gluten without batting an eye. I can stare down pasta, candy, chocolate (mostly) and cupcakes and never feel the urge to splurge. But if there is even a petrified crystalized rhomboid of the stuff in my freezer, hiding in a partially crushed and sticky container, I will not be able to resist eating it for very long.
And after having tried and tossed  the half-eaten containers of almost every non-fat, low-fat frozen concoction offered around the city and in malls and airports nationwide, my conclusion is always: “It ain’t worth the calories!” Keep in mind that to achieve decent flavor and texture (also known in the biz as “mouthfeel”) in most low-fat ice cream or frozen yogurts fillers, gums, artificial flavorings, artificial sweeteners a lot of added sugar and air are employed to fill the shoes of fat. In the race for the svelte waist, I feel (and my nutritionist hubby does too) that fat is not the enemy as much as sugar and carbs and that a moderate amount of fat (even saturated animal fat) is not going to kill you. (It’s the portion size and frequency that might!)  So-called lighter frozen desserts like sorbets and sherberts (one has dairy, the other doesn’t) may have a lighter feel while eating them, and may even contain fresh fruit, but their usual high sugar content takes them out of the “healthy” and “lite” category. Other sweeteners, perceived as healthy, like honey, maple syrup and agave, are not without calories. In fact, your body reacts to these sweeteners much in the same way it does with white sugar: blood sugar rushes, insulin surges, and metabolism to fat.
David Lebovitz, the former Chez Panisse pastry chef, and author of The Perfect Scoop, answers many questions about ice cream making in his book and here on his wonderful blog. He talks about, among other things, that lowering the fat content in an ice cream recipe can result in grainy, frozen hard ice creams because it’s the fat content (fat doesn’t freeze…if you don’t believe me throw some olive oil in the freezer and see what happens) that keeps it from freezing solid like an ice cube. Egg yolks, with their fat content, can make for creamier ice cream if you want to reduce the dairy fat, but then again, some of the best ice cream (French Style) is made with cream AND eggs. You can lower fat and add gelatin to compensate as well, but there is the additive conundrum again.
Having said all that…I can appreciate the desire to have a lower fat confection. My palate likes lower fat ice cream in general. I prefer lower fat content commercial ice creams (6-8g of fat per serving) over premium ice creams (12-18g). In the months leading up to my taping of a Chopped episode (will be airing December 2012) I practiced and memorized as many easy recipes as I could and  I devised this super quick “frozen yogurt” base as a way to make a frozen desert before any of my opponents could get to the ice cream machine first. There is no heating milk, separating eggs, making of custard. It’s low fat and because of the thick, rich consistency of the strained Greek yogurt,(and the low water content) it ends up with a creamy texture, despite the lack of fat. Here it is as I have it in my notes:
Quick Frozen Yogurt 

3 C strained yogurt or greek yogurt
¾ C confection sugar
1 t vanilla (or other flavoring, liquor, etc.) 

Mix all, making sure sugar is dissolved and well-distributed… put into ice cream maker. Freeze. Remember alcohol will prevent hard freezing…use with discretion.

I’m going to address your banana obsession last. But first, here is David Lebovitz’s Chocolate Sherbert which is decadent, delicious and low fat:

Chocolate Sherbet

About 3/4 quart (3/4l)

You can use either Dutch-process or natural cocoa powder, using a brand that you like. (I like Valrhona for the former, and Askinosie for the latter.) Since much of the flavor depends on the quality of the cocoa powder, use a top-quality brand that you like.

A little shot of coffee-flavored liqueur augments the taste and gives the sherbet a more scoop-able texture. Feel free to use another liqueur, or omit it.

2 cups (500ml) milk (whole, low, or non-fat)
1/2 cup (100g) sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 cup (50g) unsweetened cocoa powder
4 ounces (115g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
optional: 2 tablespoons coffee-flavored liqueur, such as Kahluà

1. In a medium-sized saucepan, warm half of the milk with the sugar, salt, and cocoa powder.

2. Bring to a full boil while whisking, then reduce the heat and simmer gently for 30 seconds.

3. Remove from heat and add the chocolate, the vanilla, and the coffee-flavored liqueur, if using. Stir in the other half of the milk.

4. Taste, and if the chocolate is a bit grainy, puree it in a blender to smooth it out.

5. Chill thoroughly, then freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Note: As mentioned, above, this would likely work with non-dairy milk, but be sure to use one that can be boiled.


Now for the bananas:

This isn’t exactly ice cream, but it is a delicious frozen desert that IS healthy because it’s all fruit. No dairy. No fat. Just good old naked banana flavor. I adapted this from a blog I read regularly called Kitchn, and have used my browning bananas in this way many times for very satisfying results:

Banana “Ice Cream”

Freeze a banana until solid, then whip them up in a food processor, until it gets creamy and a little gooey, just like good custard ice cream. I was surprised at this bit of kitchen wizardry; I assumed that a blended banana would be flaky or icy. But no — it makes creamy, rich “ice cream”. If you are going to freeze the finished “ice cream” , you may want to add some fat (peanut butter, a hint of cream) to the mixture, or a little alcohol, then seal in an airtight container. The add-ins will help it stay soft and scoopable.

Best to use ripe bananas or the puree will have a “green” flavor. Experiment with adding flavorings, liquors, peanut butter, etc. Delicious!