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Five low-fat ices for summer

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Emily Angle Emily Angle | 13:44 UK time, Monday, 14 May 2012

Summer’s almost here (it is coming, right?) and we’re all going to start fancying a little something cold and refreshing of an afternoon.  Nothing beats a rich scoop of ice cream – but it’s not going to get you a swimsuit figure. I’m not a believer in low-fat versions of food, but I do believe that there are some frosty treats that are naturally lighter with just as much taste as the full-fat equivalent. Here are my top five.

Classic summer berry sorbet

Classic summer berry sorbet - packs a punch with very little fat.

There’s no hard and fast definition of gelato, so don’t assume that all gelatos are healthier than ice cream. On the whole, gelato tends to be made with milk and egg yolks, but not cream, making it much lower in fat. The consistency is softer, silky and less prone to freezing hard.  Some people describe the taste as ‘cleaner’, but I think the real beauty of gelato is the texture. (The custard pre-freezing is so glossy and thick, it may not make it to the churn!)

We did a taste test between chocolate ice cream and gelato from the amazingly informative Ice Creams, Sorbets and Gelati: The Definitive Guide. We used the same quantities/types of chocolate and sugar, but the gelato used only full fat milk and two extra egg yolks, while the ice cream used double cream. Gelato more than stood up to the challenge, winning over half our office in a taste test.

Do you need an ice cream maker? No, but you won’t get such a silky texture which is as important as the flavour.

Top flavours: Chocolate, hazelnut, lemon lime, Blueberry

Cornflour ice cream

It sounds a little like cheating, but using cornflour to thicken milk instead of egg yolks really is traditional (in southern Italy, this is what they mean by ‘gelato’). This is a great ice cream to make with or for children, who can sometimes be put off by the eggy flavour of custard-based ices.

It’s about as easy as ice cream gets; gently heat 750ml milk and 100g sugar just to boiling and infuse with vanilla or other flavours, cool down a cup of the liquid and combine with a few tablespoons of cornflour to make a thin paste. Add the cornflour paste back into the warm milk and simmer until thickened. Cool completely, chill and freeze.

If you’re still worried that a corn flour thickened ice cream can’t have as much body as one containing eggs or cream, try adding a few tablespoons of milk powder (including malted milk powder or coconut milk powder) to boost the solids and absorb some of the excess water.

Do you need an ice cream maker? No, this ice cream works very well with stir freezing. Keep the ice cream in a plastic box, and use a hand-held electric whisk to break up the ice crystals every forty-five minutes until it’s set firm.

Top flavours: As a variation on the classic vanilla, you can add lemon or almond extract, puréed fruit, coconut or chocolate malt powder. Or try Atul Kochar’s pistachio kulfi (anyone found screwpine essence?)

Frozen yoghurt

Frozen yoghurt is quite often too watery and icy to make without the addition of some fats or stabilizers. For a pure frozen yoghurt, using a very rich Greek-style yoghurt will have the best results – because fat doesn’t freeze, the higher fat content will keep it smoother and softer. Other cultured dairy products like buttermilk or fromage frais can be equally nice.

Rhubarb sorbet


Do you need an ice cream maker? No, but you may need to err on the side of richness or use a little alcohol to stop large ice crystals forming.

Top flavours: The flavour of yoghurt will always dominate, so go with it. Yoghurt sorbet, raspberry, Strawberry lollies, Lemon meringue fromage frais, Banana buttermilk    
Sometimes a revalation and sometimes a bit of a let-down, sorbet is a tricky one to get right. Fruit and syrup is all it really takes, though this kind of sorbet really needs eating right after churning.  A teaspoon of glucose syrup or invert sugar syrup (corn syrup) can be used to soften the texture of a sorbet and stop it from freezing very hard. A little alcohol can also help it stay soft.

Some recipes call for the addition of whipped egg white, which lightens the texture (technically, it’s called a spoom). You can purchase pasteurised egg white if you’re concerned about consuming any raw egg.

Do you need an ice cream maker? No, though it does help achieve a smooth texture.

Top flavours: Raspberry, passion fruit, coffee and chocolate, mango, rhubarb, cider, melon, summer berry (pictured).

Coffee granita

Breakfast of champions - frozen coffee with (optional) whipped cream.

When I was little, the ice cream van used to sell a paper cone of crushed ice soaked in flavoured sugar syrups all colours of the rainbow.  The sno-cone has its roots in the totally sophisticated granita. This isn't one for scooping into a cone, but for eating from a glass dish with a tiny cup of espresso.  In Sicily, I believe, they eat coffee granita sandwiched in brioche. For breakfast. 

Top flavours: Amaretto, Kendal mint cake water ice, coffee (pictured, whipped cream topping optional), lemon, grapefruit and juniper (contains gin!) 

Your imagination is the only limit to what flavours you can devise.

Have you a favourite technique or flavour that you'd recommend for a low-fat treat?


  • Comment number 1.

    Wow! I love Ice creams! The colors, the textures and the tastes, It makes me crave for more! Thanks for your wonderful posts!

  • Comment number 2.

    Thanks for the cornflour ice cream. I have an ice cream maker at our house in France and use it quite a lot in the summer. I am reluctant to buy a second machine and the cornflour recipe will allow me to make ice cream here for our grand-children (and the grown ups). I will let you know whether it is successful.


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