It all comes down to one ingredient. 
side by side of ice cream sundae and vanilla frozen custard
Credit: Faith Reynolds / Chef John

Ice cream and frozen custard have a lot in common, but they're not quite the same thing. Learn about the similarities and differences between the two delicious frozen desserts – and get our best tips and tricks for making them at home: 

Ice Cream vs. Frozen Custard

The difference between ice cream and frozen custard comes down to one ingredient: egg yolks. Ice cream is made with milk, cream, and sweetener. Frozen custard contains the same ingredients, plus egg yolks

This extra ingredient means frozen custard usually has a richer, thicker, and creamier texture than ice cream. 

What Is Ice Cream?

scoops of chocolate, cherry, pecan, and peach ice cream
Credit: Meredith

Ice cream is a frozen dairy dessert that's made with milk, cream, and some sort of sweetener (typically sugar). U.S. regulations maintain that ice cream contains between 10 and 16 percent milkfat. The more milkfat an ice cream contains, the smoother and creamier it tends to be. 

How to Make Ice Cream

What's the key to perfectly creamy ice cream? Lots of churning, which incorporates air into the milk-cream mixture and prevents a runny, icy texture. Break out your ice cream maker and try these tips next time you make the frozen treat at home: 

  • The first step of ice cream-making is cooking the milk, cream, and sugar on the stove. Don't add flavorings, like vanilla extract, until the mixture is cooled so they'll be more pronounced. 
  • If you don't have an ice cream maker, you can make homemade ice cream using a resealable plastic bag. Learn how with our Easy Ice Cream in a Bag recipe. 
  • Don't forget to add a pinch of salt before the churning stage – it draws out heat and helps the dessert freeze faster and more evenly. 


What Is Frozen Custard? 

Frozen custard is a frozen dairy dessert that's made with milk, cream, a sweetener, and egg yolks. It must contain at least 10 percent milkfat and 1.4 percent egg yolk solids, according to U.S. regulations. 

Frozen custard is a variation of regular custard, which can be enjoyed on its own or used as a filling in pies, tortes, and more. 

How to Make Frozen Custard

Making frozen custard is a slightly more in-depth process than making ice cream, but it's easy if you know what you're doing. Keep these handy tips in mind next time you make homemade frozen custard: 

  • Temper the eggs (slowly dilute them with hot liquid) to prevent them from cooking too quickly. This will ensure a velvety smooth finished product. 
  • Frozen custard takes a while to prepare, so plan your day accordingly. You'll need to refrigerate the egg base for at least a few hours before you transfer it to the ice cream machine – the longer the better. 
  • This goes for ice cream and frozen custard: If your frozen dairy desserts tend to get a little too frozen, try adding a one or two tablespoons of liquor or liqueur to the mix before storing them in the freezer. This will help keep ice crystals at bay.