Mad about ice cream

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 31 July, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 31 July, 2004, 12:00am

Ice cream. Even the name sounds cool and refreshing. Although it's one of the most popular desserts in Hong Kong (and elsewhere), few people know what it is.

Not all ice creams are created equal. A $5 soft-serve cone from a fast-food place or convenience store is not the same as the ice cream you get at upscale shops such as Haagen-Dazs or Ben & Jerry's. There are also gelatos, sorbetti (or sorbets) and popsicles (ice lollies).

The basic ingredients of ice cream are milk products (milk, cream or a mixture of the two, reconstituted dry milk powders or condensed or evaporated milk) and sweeteners.

Eggs or egg yolks are sometimes added to make richer-tasting ice creams, which are often flavoured with vanilla, chocolate and fruit.

In general, the best-tasting (and more expensive) ice creams have what is known as a higher 'butterfat' content, which refers to the amount of milk fat it contains. Better-quality ice creams are flavoured with real fruit, vanilla and chocolate, rather than artificial flavourings.

Another reason for the high cost of some ice creams is overrun - the amount of air churned into the ice cream when it's manufactured. More air creates more volume, but it dilutes the flavour and creates a light, mushy texture which melts quickly.

Expensive ice creams have less air and are dense, creamy and intensely flavoured.

Although people in Hong Kong love ice cream, not many places make it, apart from big hotels.

An exception is XTConICE Gelato. Canadian Daniel Akler opened his first production outlet in Bridges Street in Central two-and-a-half years ago, intending to concentrate mostly on wholesale business. Customers soon wanted his products to serve at home, so he has expanded his business to retail shops.

Mr Akler's speciality is rich, tasty Italian ice creams called gelati. 'The main difference between industrial ice creams and gelati is that we put no air at all into ours so they're dense and taste much richer, but they actually contain very little cream,' he says. 'They're actually low in fat compared to commercial products.'

XTConICE also makes delicious sorbetti, which are made only from fruit juice and sugar, without any milk products.

Some countries have different preferences for flavours of ice cream. We in Hong Kong like ice creams flavoured with red bean and taro.

Ice creams made with saffron, cardamom and rose petals are popular in the Middle East.

In Japan, cherry blossom, sour plum and sweet potato sound delicious, but it's hard to imagine eating ice creams made of sea urchin, squid ink or crab.

And a popular dessert in Europe is 'spaghetti ice cream'. It's regular ice cream pressed through tiny holes to make long strands, which are covered with strawberry puree.