Gelato Obsession

In this interview, Quinn and Michael discuss many factors of making ice cream at home, including strategies for success with stabilizers, balancing fat, sugar, and air; and advice on machines, ingredients, and techniques that any home user can try. Ice cream is one of the most universally loved foods, and if you've never made it yourself, you should definitely watch this interview and download Quinn's eBook, Gelato Obsession.

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Michael: My guest today is Quinn Fucile, who is a recipe developer, home cook, co-host of [podcast] Cooking Issues, and the author of Gelato Obsession, which is a great book for anyone who’s interested in making ice creams and frozen desserts. So, Quinn, do you want to talk a little bit about your background and how you got into cooking and why it’s such a passion for you?

Quinn: Sure! Again, as you said, I am first and foremost a home cook; but, I would say, a very technically minded home cook, we could say. So, I do like to use a lot of advanced techniques or ingredients when I can. I have a lot of fun experimenting with some of those ideas. I did my own cooking videos for about 7 years. I haven’t done much lately in terms of videos because I’ve been working with Dave Arnold, who’s a prominent bartender and a chef.

Michael: And also an author!

Quinn: Yes; and also before that I did self-publish the book you mentioned.

Michael: So, why are you so passionate about ice cream and gelato specifically?

Quinn: Well, I do like to tinker with a lot of different recipes; but I found gelato — or at least frozen desserts in general — it is very much about how you formulate the recipe and less so much about sort-of physical technique. So all of your results are about the ingredients and the ratios you use.

Michael: Right; that makes a lot of sense. So you and I talked recently about stabilizers a little bit, and I wanted to dive into that a little bit more because it’s a really interesting topic: both how they’re used commercially and especially how a home cook can use stabilizers — whether they’re stabilizers that are developed for that purpose (that you might have to go to a website to purchase because you’re not going to find them at the grocery store) or ingredients that you might have in your own home that you can use as a stabilizer or an emulsifier (other than what we typically find in an ice cream or gelato or other frozen dessert like that). So, can you start by just talking about stabilizers in general and why we use them and then some of the ingredients that that you found, particularly at home, that work well in ice cream.

Quinn: Yeah. I mean, again, “stabilizers” is a very nebulous term depending on how you want to define it. It can be these very pure, refined compounds that are isolated and then they mainly affect the texture of a product — or, broadly speaking, you can think of flour, starch, gelatin, or eggs as stabilizers or containing stabilizers within themselves. So, there’s a broad spectrum of what you can consider a “functional ingredient,” which is another term for stabilizer.

Michael: So, when you’re creating a recipe for dessert and you want to use a stabilizer (in the definition that you’re using), what are you looking for that ingredient to do specifically?

Quinn: For a frozen dessert, you mainly want to reduce the ice crystal size so that the texture is smooth on the tongue and not icy. If it’s a dairy-[based recipe] or other recipe containing fat, you want to successfully emulsify fat into your water base. That’s especially important for flavors like chocolate because you need to emulsify extra fat into your base, and you also need to capture air in your frozen mixture.

Michael: Right; which we call “overrun.” And so, are stabilizers helping to capture that air and keep it in the mix as you’re making it?

Yes; an emulsifier can function essentially in both ways: it will both stabilize fat droplets in the water phase and can also stabilize air bubbles into the overall liquid because the mechanism can be quite similar. Generally, the stabilizers I tend to use… you cook them directly into your liquid base; and then I actually like to rest the base overnight in the fridge. And then everything is built in; and then you churn your frozen dessert, depending on what machines you have available.

Michael: Okay; so, I do want to talk about aging a little bit, but before we do, what are some of the stabilizers that you like to use at home and are they commercial stabilizers or do you use common ingredients?

Quinn: Well; I tend to… my base system is xanthan gum, which you can get in some grocery stores nowadays, and locust bean gum, which is a bit more specialized. And then depending on the flavor, I may incorporate a little bit of regular gelatin, which is pretty common. And then, lecithin, depending on the specific ingredients.

Michael: And using lecithin specifically as an emulsifier?

Quinn: Yeah. When we have an extra source of fat in the recipe.

Michael: Okay; so you use that if you’re doing something like chocolate with cocoa butter.

Quinn: Yeah; chocolate or peanut butter. Because dairy itself is a stable emulsion, so you really only need an extra emulsifier if you’re adding fat on top of that.

Michael: So, if someone wanted to make ice cream and didn’t want to go out and buy those specialty ingredients. are there products that they might have in their home that you would recommend that might work — maybe not equally as well, but work pretty well?

Quinn: For sure; I mean, again, the classic in the world of ice cream is egg yolks. It’s a… they are custards. And even in certain styles of a gelato, there’s also regular starch.

Michael: Would you use a starch with protein or, like, a corn starch.

Quinn: Yeah; probably a purified starch like corn or potato. So, I would say, the downside of those more conventional ingredients is that in order to get the same effect you need to use those ingredients at a much higher concentration, because essentially they are not refined stabilizers. They’re a mixture of natural ingredients which themselves contain stabilizing elements. So, more of your dessert base is sort-of less milk, less whatever flavor you’re going for.

Michael: So, if you’re using a starch, for example, different starches have different thickening powers… like, if you’re making a slurry. So, I imagine the same thing is true if you’re using an ice cream: you might go for one of those starches that that has a higher thickening power so you don’t have to use as much of it.

Quinn: Yeah; and… but the other thing you have to think about is basically when your base itself is thicker, the emulsion is stable, so it will capture some air, but the actual thickness also affects the perception of flavor, so it will slightly reduce the intensity of the flavor. Whereas a different ingredient that can create some of these desired effects in low concentrations will interfere with flavor a little less.

Michael: And we’re already fighting with the temperature of ice cream and our ability to taste things at that temperature. So, you already have something going against you at that point. And I expect you favor gelato, based on your book. And so, you’re looking for those more really intense flavors.

Quinn: Yeah: intense flavor; less air or overrun as you said… but it is quite stabilized. Like, for example, when a gelato fully melts, it does have a decent amount of body and thickness to it in general. But, yeah… it is my preferred style of frozen dessert.

Michael: Sso for the stabilizers, I understand you’re trying to reduce crystal size; you’re emulsifying the fats into the water-based liquids; you’re emulsifying air into the mix, making a foam; and then you’re also increasing the viscosity. So, you mentioned aging a little a while ago, and you like to take your base and put in the fridge overnight before you process it. I’ve read lots of different opinions on aging and [have] done some of my own experiments — with a triangle test — with people to see how much they can tell the difference, and I’m curious for you what you found with the effects of aging the base versus just immediately processing it.

Quinn: I haven’t done too much extensive testing. I will say that, again, as you said… there’s a lot of discussion especially in the world of a custard base of complex interactions that can happen. The reason I do it is I know that the stabilizers that I use — particularly xanthan gum — they… no matter how hot or cold you get them, they will just continue to further hydrate over several hours. So, I’m just trying to make sure all of my stabilizers have reached “saturation” for lack of a better word.

Michael: Right. No, that makes a lot of sense, you using stabilizers in that way. And I’ve also read that the fat is going to recrystallize more fully if you age the ice cream as opposed to processing it immediately.

Quinn: Although… I will say I don’t do the aging, generally, if I am using a system like the Creami — or in a professional setting, it would be the PacoJet. Because I figure if I put a room-temperature base in the freezer, by the time it actually freezes it’s been several hours. And I also know that the texture is going to be less dependent on the stabilizers with a more powerful machine.

Michael: Yeah; I’ve only used the PacoJet. I’m not familiar with the how well the home models work, although I understand they work pretty well for the cost that they are.

Quinn: For sure.

Michael: So, you mentioned the crystal size earlier; and as you know, there’s a whole spectrum of frozen desserts with different crystal sizes. In ice cream and in gelato, we want the crystals to be very small. But in some frozen desserts, we intentionally want larger crystal sizes. So, I’m wondering if you can just take a minute and talk about the spectrum of desserts.

Quinn: For sure! I would say on the one extreme you have “shaved ice,” which is essentially what you could consider a “zero-intervention system.” You’re literally taking pure ice, shaving very large flat crystals, and then a syrup or other flavor is going on top. So, there’s absolutely zero factors that interfere with how the pure Ice crystals form. Then the next step up is going to be a “granita.” So, again: pretty much just a little bit of sugar in your base is softening that texture of the ice, but then you’re, again, just scraping or shaving those crystals directly. And the next step up, in theory, is “sorbet,” which is, again, more sugar… maybe some stabilizers… maybe more natural fiber or other solids from a fruit…. Although personally, I try to also achieve sorbets that have that undetectable crystal size. Whereas, in general, people are tolerant of some iciness in sorbets.

Michael: I’m with you. I like sorbet with the undetectable crystal size. I think that’s nicer.

Quinn: Also, in the Italian tradition, the term “gelato” also in encompasses sorbet-style desserts. Because “gelato,” essentially, just means “frozen.” So, it could be a dairy-based or a completely fruit-based product. And then, obviously, the final extreme is dairy-based ice creams and other systems where I would say: if you can detect the ice crystals on your tongue, that would be considered a flaw.

Michael: Right. And you mentioned custard-based, French-style ice creams earlier. Are there strategies you do differently if you’re — I mean, obviously, you’re going to need to — if you’re making, like, a Philadelphia-style ice cream where you don’t have the thickening and the emulsification properties of the yolks?

Quinn: Well, yeah. Philadelphia is, I would say, kind-of adjacent to gelato. Although, again… gelato, I would say, is sort of agnostic as to the use of eggs. Some sub-categories of gelato do use some eggs, and I also have custard flavors of gelato where obviously you’re getting some texture influence from the eggs. But it’s mainly there for the flavor, and so you can stabilize a system with or without eggs. So, Philadelphia might use some more milk powder or milk solids as well as, potentially, a small amount of these other sort of commercial stabilizers.

Michael: Have you, speaking of putting milk solids in, have you experimented with browning the milk solids for…

Quinn: Yes. That is part of my brown butter recipe and a few others. But I do find you have to be careful not to toast the milk solids too much. I find if they get too dark brown they never really dissolve again. They just become suspended, and they can produce a little grit.

Michael: That’s good advice. You mentioned using a PacoJet to churn your ice cream. For home ice cream makers, what do you recommend for churned ice creams or blade-driven machines?

Quinn: Again, my original book was all tested on, like, a “bog standard,” KitchenAid, frozen bowl ice cream churn. And I specifically formulated the recipes with a relatively high amount of sugars and other ingredients that make it relatively soft, even at a home freezer temperature, so that they are servable right away. Because, as we mentioned, there is the degradation of when you are taking it in and out of the freezer. So, I wanted to reduce that by making it directly servable whereas with the blade-driven machines they automatically warm up your mixture as they’re working, so you need to formulate the recipe for a warmer temperature service.

Michael: So, are you still using the gel-type…?

Quinn: Sometimes. But generally, I am using the Creami.

Michael: So, why don’t you talk about that a little bit? Because I haven’t used one, and I’m kind-of curious… obviously, if you’re using it, you like it.

Quinn: Yeah; I would say, for the price, it’s probably the best system for home cook. I think it really eliminates a $400-plus range of home machines with built-in compressors. But, I don’t really see the point of those personally.

Michael: Yeah; I’ve heard good things about the Creami, but I I haven’t used one, and I’d be really interested, because it’s so much less expensive. So, it seems like a great option for home… people who want to make ice cream at home and not have a big machine and a big expense.

Quinn: I would say, the one danger of the Creami — or if there’s other blade-driven machines that come out — you can be very lazy with your composition because the technique itself is going to give you a pretty good texture, regardless. I mean, there’s limits. A lot of recipes I see for the Creami are not as carefully formulated as I would make them.

Michael: Yeah; that makes sense. I’ve seen the same thing with the PacoJet; and, I mean… you can take heavy cream and fruits and freeze them and process them and make something that’s pretty good. So, I always like to try to develop recipes for a traditional churning machine and make sure they come out really well in that — and then translate that to the PacoJet or a machine like that.

Quinn: Exactly. Yeah; again, especially, again… obviously the barrier to entry is much lower, but, again, I always try to have a version of a recipe that uses a much more conventional machine.

Michael: Yeah, that makes sense. So, is there any other advice you want to give to people who want to try making ice cream at home — and especially without having to spend a lot of money?

Quinn: I recommend, again as I say at the beginning of the book… you need the most basic churn you can find. So, that can be like a $60-80 freezer machine. I think you need a good stick blender because that’s really helpful for incorporating sugars and stabilizers. And then you can start with egg-yolk based recipes… maybe a little xanthan gum. But, I would say, don’t be afraid of these other ingredients.

Michael: Do you typically use just the yolks, or do you sometimes use whole eggs in your ice cream?

Quinn: I’ve played around that a little bit, but again when I’m using egg yolks or eggs in general, it’s more for the flavor; so, I’ll tend to use just yolks. All these stabilizers are natural ingredients. They’re from fungus or plants or seaweed or gelatin. These are all really normal things if you sort-of go down the process of how they’re made.

Michael: Right. I that’s a good point, and I think a lot of times people are afraid of ingredients because they just don’t know what they are, and so many of them are produced by bacteria or from seaweed, as you say. But they’re still not easy for… I mean, I suppose you can buy anything online now… but just going down to the grocery store and finding some of these ingredients. So, it’s nice to be able to use them, especially if you if you get into ice cream, and you have an easy entry in, and then you find you really love it and want to do more… then it’s probably the next step — is to start experimenting with some of these things.

Quinn: And another thing I’ll say: I’ve done a few recipes based on this…. As I mentioned, starch can inhibit flavor profile, but I’ve also experimented with using sources of starch that are also part of your flavor so, like, literally blending a store-bought little snack cake directly into your base, and obviously that’s giving you viscosity, stabilizing, it’s reducing the flavor release a little bit. But, again, the starch is part of the flavor, so it’s not as detrimental to the final experience.

Michael: So, do you not find that the fiber or other solids in there are interfering, just in terms of the somatosensory… the graininess and so forth.

Quinn: No; I find as long as you blend it smooth enough, then you’re good.

Michael: Are there particular ingredients like that that you really love — that you found at the store? …especially anything that you found kind-of surprising that you tried? And it’s like, “Oh, yeah. This worked great!”

Quinn: I mean, I have a template recipe where you use either a vanilla snack cake or a chocolate snack cake. You input the fat and the sugar, then the rest of the recipe adjusts, so you can use almost anything in that category. I find that starch and the cream and the stabilizer in the product helps thicken your base.

Michael: Are your recipes developed for, like, 36% or 40% cream, and do you adjust them with a little more or less milk?

Quinn: I would say between 33 and 36 is normally what I’m able to get, but I would say because the recipes are lower fat in general, if you’re in that range, it’s not going to make a big difference whether you use 33 or 35.

Michael: Right. Yeah; that makes sense. I don’t make gelato as much as other ice creams, but I know that they’re lower fat, and you’re getting more intensity of flavor, so … because there’s so much less than the few percentage of difference, that makes sense that it wouldn’t matter.

Quinn: I would say I use, again, for other flavors that are higher in… I go up to 10% total for a chocolate or a peanut butter, for example. But then, I’m completely replacing the cream with the other source.

Michael: So, when you do chocolate do you use cocoa powder, or have you experimented with chocolate that has the cocoa butter still in it?

Quinn: I tend to use just chocolate like eating chocolate. For those recipes, I do factor in the fat and sugar content of the chocolate to rebalance the whole recipe.

Michael: Yeah; I’ve made some chocolate ice creams with pure eating chocolate like you suggest, and they’re great. They’re very thick, so when they melt they’re kind-of like pudding almost, right? Because there’s just so much fat in them.

Quinn: Yeah; I’m also, again, still shooting for 10% fat total. So, maybe you’re using a bit more than mine as well.

Michael: Yeah; I’ve tried with different amounts, but just in terms of the intensity of chocolate that I was after without using cocoa powder… and this is specifically because I want to use, like, single-origin chocolate.

Quinn: Yeah; me too. Have you played around with chocolate and then water as your base?

Michael: I have.

Quinn: It’s pretty fun, right?

Michael: Yeah. I love chocolate ice cream [smacks lips]. All right! So, any other last advice for people on making ice cream at home that you want to impart?

Quinn: I would recommend people get the very basics of equipment. I know there’s a lot of no-churn recipes… I think those are badly formulated, to say the least.

Michael: Yeah they’re very different. Also, I mean, they… some of them work. I mean, like, you can make a ganache monté, for example, and freeze it and call it ice cream, right? And that’s super easy.

Quinn: I am also working on certain semi-freddo formulas where you need, ideally, a stand mixer, or you could use a handheld-like beater — like egg beater — but it’s just a different product in my opinion.

Michael: But can still be delicious. And for people starting out, sometimes, something to get your food in that’s easy to do… I think there are a lot of foods that tend to be intimidating for people, and they really shouldn’t be, because they’re not that hard once you kind-of understand the basics. And so, getting in and just trying it and then learning all the things that you mentioned about sugar percentage and how that affects the freezing temperature, and fat percentage, and ice crystal size, and overrun… all these various factors. So, if you kind-of just get in and try stuff and then understand what those things are doing, then you can adjust how you’re doing it or your ingredients in order to make it more intense or have more overrun, or less… or change the freezing temperature.

Quinn: And the last thing I would say is, in my opinion, the best ice cream you will have is the one you can make with a little bit of time.

Michael: Right! That’s great advice, and I think that’s true of a lot of foods. If you make it and this is something…. And I think serving it to other people as well … I mean, it really means something if you’ve taken the time to make it with your hands and your heart, right? So, yeah, that’s great advice. Is there anything interesting that you’re working on or –

Quinn: Yeah… right now I am working on a second edition of the book, so I have every recipe at least hypothetically reformulated for the Creami, or a similar-style machine. I’ve got some new recipes for sorbet, because the original book was all dairy-based. I’ve got some extra sorbet recipes. And then, I am working on a semi-freddo and a few other sort-of side projects.

Michael: When should we expect that to come out?

Quinn: Great question….

Michael: Well, we’ll look for it! And I’ll post a link to your current book so people can find that easily as well.

Quinn: Yeah, awesome.

Michael: All right; well, Quinn thank you so much. It’s been really interesting. You know, I love ice cream, and so anytime I have an opportunity to learn something new about it, it’s always great.

Quinn: For sure.

Michael: Have a great rest of your day, and I’m going to go and eat some ice cream.

Quinn: Sounds good!



Quinn Fucile

Booker & Dax

Quinn Fucile is a cookbook author and experimental cook. Four-time James Beard award-winning chef Andrew Zimmern calls Quinn, “The ‘Food Nerd’ everyone should be following.” Despite a physical disability, he develops recipes that are published on his YouTube and Instagram pages. This culminated in his 2021 book, Gelato Obsession. Quinn works for the culinary technology company Booker and Dax and is a co-host on the popular podcast, “Cooking Issues.”