Recently I've been giving some thought as to how I can improve the texture and/or flavor of my ice creams, and while reading some articles online, I stumbled upon this recipe for cornstarch ice cream in the New York Times. Sounds gross, doesn't it? It actually is an egg-less ice cream with cornstarch in place of the more traditional egg yolks. Then you may feel free to add whatever fruits etc. you choose, without (as some claim) any yolks affecting the intended flavor with their egginess. Not to mention it's a lot easier and faster to drop in a spoonful of powder and heat, than it is to separate yolks and proceed to watch/stir the custard ever so carefully to prevent curdling. And lastly, eggs (especially good quality ones) can get expensive, also considering that some recipes call for as many as six yolks.
Then I started thinking about why this would be, why can you substitute cornstarch for yolks? And what are the downsides of doing so? Well before going any further, I can tell you from a non-scientist's point of view that I was not pleased with my cornstarch ice cream at all. I followed the New York Times recipe exactly, except I added 1/2 c Nutella and let it melt while heating the cream/milk. Ever since I returned from Rome, I've been meaning to make some ice cream with the Nutella I bought there. Actually it isn't Nutella brand, but an Italian kind of "Crema Gianduja". I know, what a waste of 1/2 c Nutella. I should have tested the recipe with vanilla first, but I guess I trusted that it would work out as well as it did in the video.
Before even freezing the ice cream, the custard already had me worried because it had quite a different texture than the egg custards I've made in the past. It reminded me of chocolate Jello instant pudding, with its glossy finish and light consistency. Not that egg custard isn't shiny, but this was really glossy. Plus, the use of cornstarch seemed to have caused the custard to lose its "richness," in both taste and texture.
After freezing, I have the same complaints as when it was unfrozen--glossy, loss of richness--and while the flavor was ok, I had a hard time eating it as noticed it melting into a pudding-like thing. One good thing, it certainly scooped easier right out of the freezer than the egg ice creams. Perhaps I used too much cornstarch? Or did the Nutella affected the custard in a negative way? I haven't written off the use of cornstarch in ice cream completely, but I will certainly put less than 3 Tbsp of it next time.
If anyone has a good or bad experience with cornstarch ice cream, please share! Ok, enough of the qualitative talk, now I want to know what the quantitative difference is between using yolks vs. cornstarch. To be continued...