What is ‘Philadelphia-style’ ice cream?

Erica Chayes Wida
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What is ‘Philadelphia-style’ ice cream?

Whether you hail from the City of Brotherly of Love or just love ice cream of any kind, Philadelphia-style ice cream is likely a treat you've tried before.

For those who haven't, however, a recipe for this delectable and historic treat is a good one to keep on hand heading into summer. The best part? You don't have to live anywhere near Philly to enjoy it.

In fact, it's currently being dished up in plenty of scoop shops around the U.S., particularly in the Northeast.

So what is Philadelphia-style ice cream, exactly? It actually has nothing to do with cream cheese.

Traditional ice cream (also known as "French-style" ice cream), is made using a custard base that contains eggs. Egg yolks make ice cream thicker and richer, so Philadelphia-style cream is much lighter. In the U.S., most ice creams are still made with eggs, sugar, cream, milk (a minimum of 10% milk fat is required for it to be legally labeled as ice cream) and a variety of flavorings. With Philly ice cream, aside from any flavorings, it's made with only cream and sugar.

The recipe, according to food stylist and classically trained pastry chef Anthony Contrino of TODAY Food's original series "Saucy," creates an airier and more delicate texture than both French-style ice cream and Italian-style gelato, which is churned in a way that doesn't incorporate much air.

"Custard or anglaise bases are richer because of the additional fat provided by the yolks," Contrino told TODAY. "How ice cream and gelato are produced — how it's churned, adding stabilizers, etc. —can affect the overall taste, iciness, flavor, density and other factors."

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Contrino emphasized that the choice between custardy ice creams or dense gelato and lighter Philadelphia-style ice cream really comes down to personal preference. However, the Philly-style — which is also referred to as "American-style" or "New York-style" ice cream since it's been popularized in the U.S. — really shines with more "muted" flavors that won't become overpowered by a very rich base. Fruit flavors, as well as a good quality vanilla, will really shine.

So how did this regional confection get its name?

"Ice cream was introduced to the general public in 1660 when it debuted at the first recorded cafe in Paris," Contrino told TODAY. "It wasn't until the mid to late 1800s when dairy was more industrialized that it started to become popular and readily (available) to the general public in the U.S., with the introduction of soda fountain shops."

During Revolutionary times when ice cream was still considered a European delicacy, the term "Philadelphia ice-cream" was coined when Americans axed the labor-intensive process of creating a custard to make a new type of lighter ice cream many people enjoy today.

Independence Ice Cream Cake by Anna Helm Baxter