Cocoa Ice Cream |
Philadelphia - style

Cocoa Ice Cream | Philadelphia - style

October 8, 2021


© 2022 Biterkin

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This Cocoa Ice Cream is the simplest chocolate-flavoured ice cream you can make at home with your ice cream maker; it is made with just four ingredients: cocoa powder, milk, cream and sugar. To make it, you just boil the milk with the sugar and the cocoa powder, mix with the cold cream and chill until cold. When churned in the ice cream maker it turns to mousse-like goodness, bursting with cocoa flavour. 

This recipe will become your go-to ice cream recipe when you are short of time and yet want to make something which everyone will love and will be quickly devoured. And you will be happy to know that it is surprisingly perfect both regarding its texture and also its flavour, a delightful reminder that you do not need much to enjoy great ice cream at home.

And if you wonder what a Philadelphia-style ice cream is and in what ways it differs from other kinds of ice cream, read all about it below.

for a richer ice cream, try this custard version, made with egg yolks

for a more stable body make this; it is thickened with corn starch

no ice cream maker? make this perfect no-churn ice cream with cream, sugar, egg yolks. 

no vanilla bean? this philadelphia-style uses only vanilla extract

or see all options here

Philadelphia-style Ice Cream is the simplest kind of ice cream you can make at home. 

But why is it different than other kinds of ice cream? In other kinds of ice cream, we thicken the ice cream mixture before churning to create a more stable ice cream body which:

  1. churns flawlessly in the ice cream maker
  2. melts slowly and uniformly during serving; and
  3. keeps well in the freezer for longer.

Thickening the ice cream is usually done by cooking the ice cream mixture with egg yolks or cornstarch (aka cornflour) .

Philadelphia-style ice cream does not require you to thicken the ice cream mixture, so it is the kind of ice cream you can make quickly, using the least number of ingredients possible. In comparison to the thickened versions, it melts faster during serving and it may not keep well in the freezer for too long, but it is still really good and everyone will love it. It will become your go-to ice cream when you are short of time and still want to make a crowd-pleasing ice cream.

The Biterkin tricks for a perfect Cocoa Ice Cream:

This is totally optional, but you can replace regular sugar with a good-quality raw cane sugar, such as Demerara or Turbinado. These are sugars which are very aromatic, thanks to their natural content in molasses, which gives them an earthy, slightly tropical aroma, which perfectly matches other tropical flavours, like cocoa and vanilla.

By replacing regular sugar with a good quality raw cane sugar, you boost the cocoa flavour of the ice cream, which takes the chocolate-ness to the next level.

You will need a good-quality raw cane sugar to obtain the best results. To evaluate the quality of the sugar, you only have to sniff it; it should smell divine.  In my experience, the best Demerara sugar comes from the island of Mauritius, so I always check the packaging for the origin.

The ingredients:

This is what you will need:

Every single ingredient plays a vital role in the recipe. Ice creams are all about balance, both in terms of ingredients, as well as their quantities. Do not play around changing the proportions of the ingredients or trying to use low-fat versions of dairy and sweeteners, such as stevia/other decreased-calorie sugars. Look out for these:

The recipe at a glance:

This is a quick overview of the recipe. If you are new to ice cream making, do read the recipe before proceeding. 

Note that the colour of your ice cream mixture depends on the cocoa powder you will use, so its hue may differ from that of the photos.

Cocoa Ice Cream | Philadelphia - style

For best results, use a digital kitchen scale and measure the ingredients directly into the utensils, as you proceed with the recipe. Avoid weighing in one utensil and transferring to another, as this causes a small, but important loss of quantity, especially in liquids.

For cup measurements:

1 cup (US) = 235 ml

– for cocoa powder: first sift the cocoa powder into a bowl, then measure by the spoonful by gently taking a spoonful at a time from the sifted cocoa powder and adding it to the measuring cup. Cocoa powder should be freshly sifted to be measured right. I am pretty aware that if you google how much cocoa powder is 60 gr; 2.1 oz, it will give you a different cup measurement than the one provided in the recipe, but the google results can be totally off, depending how clumpy your cocoa powder is. So, after many trials and errors, I have found that the most reliable way to measure cocoa powder by volume cups is this: sift, then measure while freshly sifted.

– for liquid ingredients: make sure that you thoroughly scrape with a rubber spatula the cup every time you measure something and empty it.

Any unsweetened cocoa powder will do. 

If you have a favourite unsweetened cocoa powder, then use this one in this recipe, as its flavour will really shine in this ice cream. If not, use as your guide the cocoa’s colour and its aroma: a deep brown colour and a lovely cocoa aroma when you smell it, are proof that the final ice cream will have an amazing cocoa flavour.

Important: only use unsweetened cocoa powder. The term “unsweetened” means that it only contains cocoa powder, so check the label if there are any other ingredients listed. If there is sugar (sucrose) or any other sweeteners listed in the ingredients, do not use it for this recipe, it will affect its outcome. Exception: if in the ingredients list you see the  words “acidity regulators” or “potassium carbonate”, these are not sweeteners;  these indicate that the cocoa powder has been alkilized (Dutch-processed); this kind of cocoa powder is still unsweetened and perfectly ok to use.

If you want to know more on cocoa powder to help you choose before buying. then read below:
There are three types of unsweetened cocoa powder available at the grocery stores: Dutch-processed, raw cacao and natural cocoa powder. The difference between them lies in the way they have been processed, which impacts their colour and their flavour:
  • Dutch-processed cocoa powder is cocoa powder which has been treated with an alkali to neutralise its acidity. Although it is the most processed type of cocoa powder, it is for a good reason: Dutch processed cocoa powder is, hands down, the best type of cocoa powder to use for this ice cream recipe. It gives the richest possible flavour notes of cacao to the ice cream and an intriguing, deep, brown colour. Words written on the packaging: Dutch-processed, alkalized. Another indicator that the cocoa powder is Dutch-processed is that in the ingredients list on the packaging the words “acidic regulator” or “potassium carbonate” exist along with the cocoa powder. Hint: the world’s top cocoa powder brands are actually Dutch-processed.
  • Raw cacao powder is the least processed of all types of cocoa powder. It has a very light brown colour and is slightly acidic; it is flavour is, well, natural and not as rich as that of Dutch-processed cocoa powder. Raw cacao powders are usually the  organic brands and their quality is sublime, but the cocoa flavour in the final ice cream, as well as its colour, are on the light side. Words you will see written on the packaging: natural, raw, organic, cacao (not to be confused with cocoa).
  • the most commonly available type of cocoa powder at the grocery’s store is natural cocoa powder. The term natural only means that it is not treated with an alkali, like Dutch-processed cocoa powder is, but it is still more processed than raw cacao powder. The word “natural” may appear on the label or somewhere on the packaging. This type of cocoa powder gives the least rich flavour of all, in comparison to the other two types of cocoa powder. Words you will see on the packaging: natural, 100% cocoa (especially in the ingredients).

Comparison apart, I have made ice cream with all three types of cocoa powder and in a variety of price range, from the cheapest to the most expensive and each batch was delicious. So use the above information as a guideline to fit your own taste and pocket and rest assured that no matter which one you will choose, everyone will love it.

If you find the above descriptions confusing, you can simply judge a cocoa powder by its colour and aroma:

  • when the cocoa powder is dark in colour and rich in its aromatic tones, it gives a richer cocoa flavour and colour to the ice cream (a dark brown hue, means that it is actually Dutch-processed cocoa powder a.k.a. alkalized)
  • if it has a light brownish hue, it is still aromatic but just a tad acidic and results to a sharper flavour and lighter brown colour in the final ice cream (when it is has a very light brown hue, it is actually natural cocoa powder; or raw cocoa powder, if it is organic)

You can choose either of the two and still have a stellar ice cream. 

If you are an ice cream making geek, you will also be interested to know that you can use both cocoa powder classified as “type 10/12” (which contains 10-12% fat) and “type 22/24” (which contains 22-24% fat). These two types, which are the most common available, are both suitable for this recipe.

You can use regular sugar (white granulated sugar) or a good quality raw cane sugar such as Turbinado or Demerara, which enhances the cocoa flavours.

Do not use sugar substitutes, such as table sweeteners or stevia. Also, do not use confectioner’s sugar, it is not suitable for this recipe. Not suitable either is honey or other liquid sweeteners, natural or artificial, because in ice cream making they behave differently than sugar and their quantities should be adapted before using them in this recipe.

Use heavy cream with 35-40% fat percentage. It should be of pourable consistency. It is ok to use cream which is suitable for whipping and/or ultra-pasteurised cream, as far as the fat content is right and you like its flavour. Just check the ingredients, for it should contain no sugar (or other sweeteners).

You can combine double cream with whole milk and use this instead of heavy cream in this recipe. For 500 gr (17.6 oz.) heavy cream, you will need:

  • 350 gr double cream (12.3 oz.) (with 50% fat)
  • 150 gr/ml whole milk (5.3 oz.) (3.5% fat) *

How to use: put the double cream in bowl, then pour in the milk, a little at a time, stirring smoothly with a rubber spatula until just incorporated. You need the cream to be smooth and preferably with a pourable consistency. Resist the urge to  whisk, as it may turn into whipped cream.

This will make a “heavy cream” with around 36% fat, perfect for this cocoa ice cream. Proceed with the recipe, just as if you had the 500 gr (17.6 oz.) heavy cream needed. 

* Note that these 150 gr milk (5.3 oz.) are additional to the 350 gr milk (12.3 oz) asked in the recipe. This means that if you use double cream instead of heavy cream, you will need in total 575 gr; milk (20.3 oz.), from which:

  • 425 gr (15 oz.) are for the recipe; and
  • 150 gr (5.3 oz.) are to mix with the double cream and make heavy cream

A flexible rubber spatula is useful for:

-wiping the bottom of the saucepan when cooking dairy on the stovetop

-scraping residues which would be otherwise left behind in bowls, saucepans etc.

If you do not have one, I strongly encourage you to buy one, preferably a flexible one.


Before starting, make sure that your ice cream maker is ready for churning when needed. This means that if it has a removable freezer bowl, it should be put in the freezer for the whole time indicated by the manufacturer, usually 24 hours.

If you intend to transfer the ice cream to a container to store the ice cream, put this container in the freezer well ahead of time, too; this will prevent the ice cream from melting upon contact with it.

Step 1: Prepare the ice cream mixture

Prepare your workplace; place a rubber spatula and a whisk on a plate, next to the stovetop to have them handy to use interchangeably.

Sift the cocoa powder (60 gr; 2.1 oz.) through a fine mesh sieve and into a bowl; set aside. Note that cocoa powder always needs sifting, so do not skip this step even if, by judging by the looks of your cocoa powder, it seems unnecessary.

Pour the cold heavy cream (500 gr; 17.6 oz.; 2 cups & 2 Tbs.) into a large bowl and set a fine mesh sieve over it; set aside.

Warm the milk and the sugar: in a medium saucepan put the milk (425 gr; 15 oz.; 1 & 3/4 cups) and the sugar (7 oz.; 1 cup). Warm over medium heat, stirring often with the rubber spatula.

Add the cocoa powder: when all the sugar has dissolved and the milk looks hot and steamy, grab the whisk and add the cocoa powder, a spoonful at a time, whisking well after each addition.

Bring to a simmer, stirring continuously: increase the heat to medium-high, now stir continuously with the rubber spatula, scraping the bottom of the saucepan as you go, so that it doesn’t stick to the bottom.

Pour into the heavy cream: when the first bubbles appear on the surface, remove from the heat and pour the hot cocoa milk over the fine mesh sieve and into the bowl with the heavy cream, scraping along all residues from the saucepan. If there are any tiny cocoa clumps leftover on the sieve, gently press them through. 

Stir well to combine.

Step 2Chill the ice cream mixture

Cool it down: prepare an ice bath by putting ice cubes and cold water in a large bowl and carefully nest the bowl with the ice cream mixture in it, taking care that no water slips into it. Leave it to cool down for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Chill thoroughly: the ice cream mixture should come to fridge-cold temperature, before you churn it with the ice cream maker. To chill, use one of the two methods below (click on methods to read more):

Personally, I prefer the slow method, as during the refrigeration process, both the ice cream mixture matures and its flavours improve. However, most people do not notice this flavour improvement, therefore feel free to follow the method which is more convenient to you.
One more thing to consider when choosing the fast method is whether you have enough ice to fully submerge the bag. 

When churning with a domestic ice cream maker, your ice cream mixture should always be thoroughly chilled. Otherwise, your ice cream maker may not be able to churn the ice cream to its fullest potential, resulting in a sloppy liquid vs. a fluffy ice cream.

Step 3: Blend and churn the ice cream

Check the ice cream mixture if it is thoroughly chilled, before churning: it should feel fridge-cold to the touch (or if you have an instant-read thermometer, it should read around 4ºC–10ºC / 39ºF-50ºF). 

(optional, but good to do)  Blend the ice cream mixture: blend the ice cream mixture (with a blender or a stick blender) for 1 minute and immediately proceed to churning.

If you want to skip blending give a nice, thorough stir to the ice cream mixture just before churning. 

Prepare the ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. 

Churn: with the machine running, pour the chilled ice cream mixture through the canister and into the ice cream maker and leave to churn until fluffed up and mousse-like; depending on your ice cream maker this can take anywhere from 30-60 minutes.

Your ice cream will expand and fluff up during churning. It is ready when it looks smooth and fluffy. This could take anywhere from 30-60 minutes, depending on your ice cream maker.

To evaluate if it’s ready, lift a spoonful; it should be thick enough to stand on the spoon, but still be soft like soft-serve ice cream. If, upon lifting some ice cream with the spoon, a pool immediately starts forming on its edges, you will have to churn it for longer. 

In any case, if you feel doubts about the consistency, leave it for ten more  minutes. But beware: at this stage, do not expect it to be like store-bought carton ice cream; for now it should be more like soft-serve ice cream. It will firm up and become like store-bought ice cream only after it sets in the freezer. 

So, stop the ice cream maker when it is thick and creamy, as described above. If you leave it for much longer, it will start turning grainy.

Step 4: Put the ice cream in the freezer to set

Put in the freezer to set: before serving the ice cream or removing it to a container for storage, you have to put it in the freezer to set. To do so, remove the removable freezer bowl (still filled with the ice cream) from the ice cream machine, cover with a lid and put it in the freezer to set. Setting time depends highly on the type of ice cream maker you use; see bulb below for indicative times.

Serve or store: when it sets, you have to transfer it to an airtight container for longer storing. Alternatively, you can serve it directly from the removable freezer bowl. If you leave it in the removable freezer bowl for too long, it will become too hard to scoop out; in this case, read the troubleshooting bulb below.

Cocoa powder makes this ice cream harden quickly in the freezer, so depending on what you want to do with the ice cream after it sets, follow these guidelines:

  • if you want to serve the ice cream directly from the ice cream maker’s bowl, leave it to set until when you insert a knife into it, it has the same consistency/hardness all the way through to the bottom. This can take anywhere from 1-4 hours. After this you can serve it; or put it in the refrigerator (still in the removable freezer bowl) until you want to serve it -and up to 1 hour.
  • if you want to transfer the ice cream to another container to store it, leave the ice cream to set in the freezer (in its removable freezer bowl) for max 30-60 min., and then transfer it to the storage container. To prevent the ice cream from melting upon contact with the container, pre-freeze the container. Prefer a container which gets cold to the touch when frozen and does not break in the freezer (like pyrex glass or aluminium). Alternatively, if using a silicone/plastic/paper container, aim to work fast when you transfer the ice cream in it to prevent it from melting.
  • if you want to layer/swirl the ice cream or use it to fill ice cream moulds, do not leave it to set for too long, because it will become too hard to bend or fold. In this case, leave it to set until it is just stable enough to handle.

The rule of thumb with cocoa ice cream is to avoid letting it sit for too long in its removable freezer bowl, in the freezer during its setting stage after churning. Although, like all homemade ice creams, it really does need some time to set in the freezer after churning, it also needs to be removed before it becomes too hard.

Straight after churning, the ice cream has a soft-serve consistency and melts immediately upon contact with anything. This makes it impossible to serve or transfer to another container.

Putting it in the freezer after churning, sets it and brings it to the right consistency, similar to that of an ice cream parlour’s.

If the ice cream stays in the removable freezer bowl for too long, it will harden and will be difficult to remove or serve.

Do not worry though, you can still make it scoopable by leaving it in the refrigerator to soften. This can take :

  • anywhere from 4 to 8 hours for removable freezer bowls which must be frozen before churning
  • 1 hour for aluminium bowls (these are the bowls from compressor ice cream makers)

(Note: the time given is indicative, actual time may vary depending on many factors, so do check it once in a while while it sits in the refrigerator).

After this, the ice cream will be easier to scoop and transfer to another container; or serve directly from the removable freezer bowl.

Storage and serving

Storage: Philadelphia-style ice creams are at their best if they are eaten the day that they are churned. But if you want to keep it for longer, just cover it well to protect it from absorbing the freezer’s smells and keep it in the freezer fo up to one month. 

Scooping: this cocoa ice cream, like all artisanal ice creams, freezes hard in the long term. To soften it to a scoopable consistency, put it in the refrigerator for one hour. 

If you have an instant-read thermometer, the perfect serving temperature of this cocoa ice cream is when the thermometer inserted midway through the ice cream, reads around -11ºC / 12ºF. At this temperature the ice cream is scoopable and with the most satisfying mouthfeel.

Use a rubber spatula: 

A flexible rubber spatula is useful for:

-wiping the bottom of the saucepan when cooking dairy on the stovetop

-scraping residues which would be otherwise left behind in bowls, saucepans etc.

If you do not have one, I strongly encourage you to buy one, preferably a flexible one.