Soft serve vs. hand-dipped: Which ice cream style is best for your restaurant?

A crucial question for culinary arts professionals is whether they should build their dessert program around soft serve or hand-dipped ice cream.

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December 29, 2017 4 min read

Offering diners a cup or cone of ice cream is a tasty and comforting way to wrap up an evening out. A crucial question for culinary arts professionals is whether they should build their dessert program around soft serve or hand-dipped ice cream. Each style has its advantages, so consider which is the best choice for your establishment.

Read on to learn more about ice cream styles. For a deeper dive into dessert education, download this guide to our online educational programs for culinary professionals.

The Tradition and Taste of Classic Ice Cream

“There are federal regulations defining what items can be considered ice cream.”

Neophytes to serving dessert may not realize that there are federal regulations defining what items can be considered ice cream. The key factors are the amount of milkfat in the product and the percentage of overrun.

Overrun is a measure of how much air is whipped into the base of the ice cream during freezing, with higher numbers indicating results that are lighter and fluffier.

The United States Department of Agriculture has established several different categories of ice cream, including economy, standard, premium and super premium.

Economy products meet the basic requirements to be considered ice cream, which are a composition of at least 10 percent milkfat, no more than 100 percent overrun (meaning one gallon of ice cream base is whipped into two gallons of completed ice cream) and a minimum weight of 4.5 pounds per gallon.

Super premium ice creams are distinguished by their high-quality ingredients and low overrun, making them relatively dense .

Hand Dipped Ice Cream

Hand-dipped ice cream comes in an endless variety of flavors and a wide range of fun textures. For instance, Boulder, Colorado culinary arts enthusiasts might try many inventive taste combinations at Glacier Homemade Ice Cream & Gelato. Popular options include the Funky Donkey – peanut butter ice cream with Oreo cookies and a fudge swirl – or coconut with a chocolate melt.

Hand-dipped ice cream comes in many flavors, but they take up a lot of freezer space.Hand-dipped ice cream comes in many flavors, but they take up a lot of freezer space.

The Fun and Convenience of Soft Serve

Soft serve is different from traditional ice cream in a number of ways, beginning with the fact that it often has greater overrun than even economy ice cream. As a result, soft serve tends to be especially light and airy. These treats are usually created without the eggs that make hand-dipped varieties of ice cream creamy, relying on other stabilizing ingredients.

While purists may prefer a classic approach to their frozen favorites, one of the strongest arguments for choosing soft serve over hand-dipped ice cream is that it’s easy and consistent.

As the Washington Post explained, pouring the base into a soft serve machine is all it takes to make enough of the cold treat to last an evening at your restaurant. The base is also simple to store, not taking up the freezer space required by conventional ice cream.

Furthermore, many restaurants are finding that soft serve doesn’t have to mean a step down in flavor or variety. While the machines have often been tasked with turning out the basic trio of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry, a number of establishments are now serving more experimental varieties.

According to Eater, Momofuku Milk Bars, which have locations in New York City, Washington, D.C., Las Vegas and Toronto, were influential in changing the way chefs and restaurateurs look at these treats.

The Cereal Milk soft serve is designed to remind patrons to enjoy the milk at the bottom of their cereal bowl, featuring cornflakes, brown sugar and salt. At certain stores, the dessert comes in variations that include chocolate-covered pretzels or fruit-flavored cereal.

Kim Rodgers, the pastry chef at Honey Paw in Portland, Maine, was one person to take note of soft serve’s potential. The restaurant regularly serves frozen desserts made with caramelized honey, honeycomb and a chocolate shell, as well as a daily rotation of special flavors.

With the right ingredients and flavor combinations, either hand-dipped or soft serve ice cream can each make a great addition to a menu.

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