How do ice cream parlors make their "homemade ice cream"?
The sign "homemade ice cream" conjures up images of white-hatted cooks cracking eggs, measuring out milk and sugar, chopping up fresh fruit and, perhaps, pinching off pieces of homemade chocolate-chip cookie dough or crumbling up homemade brownies.
The truth is that most ice-cream parlors ("scoop shops" in industry parlance) "make" their ice cream using a prepackaged ice-cream mix that contains milk, cream, sugar, flavorings, emulsifiers and, sometimes, egg. The mix is poured into a batch freezer that churns the liquid while it solidifies into ice cream.
For a look at the scoop-shop industry, you can pay a visit to icecreamproducts.com, the Web site of A. Panza and Sons, a large New Jersey-based scoop-shop supplier. Panza offers six vanilla mixes that range in price from $29 (for four gallons) to $42. The fat content ranges from 10 percent to 16 percent, and roughly correlates to price.
Some shops use a vanilla mix for everything; others also use a chocolate mix. Almost all other flavors are made from one of these two mixes, perhaps with the addition of a commercial flavor base. A common component of much modern ice cream is the "mix-in." It's certainly possible that some scoop shops have elves in back hacking fine chocolate into chips, but they also can avail themselves of Panza's three brands of frozen brownie pieces, chopped Reese's Pieces, chopped frozen Twix bars, four types of "cake crunch," crushed generic chocolate sandwich cremes and crushed genuine Oreo cookies.
Of course, there are ice-cream parlors that use the highest-quality mixes they can find and combine them with fresh, homemade ingredients. Still, if an ice-cream parlor bought a cheap mix and then added cheap, mass-produced flavorings and mix-ins to it, the product still could be called "homemade."
Erica Marcus writes for Newsday. E-mail your queries to burningquestions@ newsday.com, or send them to Erica Marcus, Food/Part 2, Newsday, 235 Pinelawn Road, Melville, NY 11747-4250.