three bowls of various ice creams

Not all ice creams are created equally. If you're using fruit, acidic ingredients or alternative milks, it may be tough to achieve that rich, thick texture that makes ice cream so indulgent. Thankfully, you have multiple options for thickening the ice cream base, ranging from pantry staples such as eggs and flour to alternatives such as gelatin.

Eggs add richness, a smooth texture and natural thickening power. To avoid ending up with a scoop of scrambled eggs, you need to temper the eggs before cooking them with the rest of the ingredients.

Heat the milk and/or cream and half the sugar in a saucepan.

Combine egg yolks with the other half of the sugar in a separate bowl. Whisk the mixture until it's thickened and pale yellow.

Slowly stream a small amount of the hot mixture into the yolks, whisking the eggs constantly for a smooth result. This warms the eggs up enough to continue cooking with the rest of the hot ingredients.

Continually stir the mixture to prevent it from burning on the bottom of the pan. To determine when the mixture is thick enough, dip a spoon in it, hold it up and swipe your finger down the back. If the path your finger leaves holds it shape, you've cooked it long enough.


The Egg Safety Center recommends cooking an ice cream base that contains eggs to a minimum temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit to be sure all potential bacteria has been killed.

Much like making soups and sauces, starches such as flour and cornstarch add extra body and thickening power to your ice cream recipe. To prevent your ice cream from having a starchy flavor, it's necessary to cook the mixture for a few minutes to help thicken the liquid and cook out the flavor of the thickener. Some of the starches to consider include:

  • all-purpose flour, which can be added at a ratio of 1 tablespoon for each quart of liquid. Minimize lumps by mixing the sugar in your recipe with the flour, and then stir the mixture into a saucepan of warming ice cream base. Cook the mixture, stirring it frequently, until the liquid begins thickening. Continue cooking for three minutes to make sure the flour taste cooks out.
  • cornstarch, a gluten-free option that works particularly well with acidic ingredients such as lemon juice. Because cornstarch is a purer starch, it's also more powerful. You only need 1/2 tablespoon for each quart to thicken the ice cream. Like flour, it's best to mix the cornstarch with your sweetener. Add both ingredients to a cold liquid before warming it, stirring gently as you bring the ice cream base to a boil. Continue cooking it for one minute and take it off the heat. Overcooking cornstarch makes it lose its thickening power.
  • arrowroot, which comes from a West Indian plant's rhizome. It doesn't have a flavor that needs to be cooked out, and it thickens at a lower temperature than flour or cornstarch. This makes it well suited for using in ice creams that contain eggs, which would curdle at the higher temperatures needed for thickening ice cream with cornstarch or flour. Blend 1 teaspoon of arrowroot for each quart of liquid into the sugar you need to your recipe. 

There's more to thickening ice cream than just starches. Alternative thickeners are more frequently used to make sherbet and sorbet, but they can also give rich body to ice cream, especially ice creams made with dairy alternatives.