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Ice Cream for a Crowd

Everything you need to know to successfully serve Ice Cream to a Large Group 

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So why am I devoting a whole page to serving ice cream to a large group?

Let me tell you a story.

The youth in our church were really excited about having a Chinese Dinner for the last night of our most recent Youth Conference.  Me too!  I had the best time working up Chinese recipes for a crowd.  I planned out of this world Beef & Broccoli, Pork Fried Rice, Egg Rolls, Pork & Ginger Lettuce Wraps and a wonderful Asian Bok Choy Salad.  But dessert had me stumped.

None of the Chinese Desserts that I could think of lent themselves to easy preparation for a crowd.  Then it hit me.  Whenever my family and I went to the magical China Inn while I was growing up, they always served ice cold vanilla ice cream in small metal bowls.  The ice cream was so cold it had a thin layer of crunchy ice on the outside where they had dipped it up with a wet scoop.  Accompanying the ice cream was always an equally crunchy fortune cookie.  It was great fun and I loved it.  It was also the perfect easy solution to my large group Chinese dessert.  And it had the added benefit of being very inexpensive.

So I ordered the fortune cookies in bulk from Amazon and anxiously awaited the event.  Then I made my first mistake of the dinner.  I bought the ice cream 2 days ahead.   Heaven knows what I was thinking, but it wasn’t food storage logistics.  You see – we had no freezer space available in the dorm kitchen we were using to prep dinners for the 300 youth in attendance.  No.  Freezer.   Apparently what I was thinking was that I could stick the ice cream in a cooler and it would stay frozen and cold.

Helpful Hint #1 – Your ice cream will NOT stay frozen in a cooler without dry ice for more than about 30 minutes.

Fortunately my dear husband, and partner in crime for this endeavor, suggested dry ice.  Which we got.  And put on bottom of the ice chest and packed the ice cream on top.

Helpful Hint #2 – When using dry ice to cool your ice cream, put it on TOP of the ice cream (remember from Junior High science?? – heat rises and cold air sinks!)

And then (I can only plead insanity due to the magnitude of the event) I happily assumed the dry ice and the coolers would keep the ice cream cold for the next two days.  In fact, I was so busy cooking and serving I didn’t even give the ice cream a second thought until it was time to serve dessert.  And the ice cream?  Well, to say it was mostly delicious soup would be charitable.

Helpful Hint #3 – Do not plan on storing your ice cream longer than about 4 HOURS even in a cooler with dry ice.

Finally, once your ice cream is melted you’re done.  You probably already know this, but if you stick your ice cream in the freezer once it’s melted it will refreeze into a dense block because the air that was churned into it is lost.  Additionally, if it’s refrozen much larger ice crystals form.  This results in an ice cream with a grainy, unpleasant texture.  On top of all that, you also run the risk of bacterial contamination.

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How much ice cream do you need to serve a crowd?

It’s pretty easy.  1 scoop of ice cream is typically about 3 ounces or 1/2 cup. This is generally considered a serving and certainly all you need to plan on per person when serving a large group. I always plan on 3 ounces per person at large group events.

So here’s How many Servings per:

Pint

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1 Pint = 2 cups or 4 scoops

(Unless it’s Jeni’s Splendid Sweet Cream Biscuit & Peach Jam, in which case it serves one.  Me.  Recipe coming soon Here – and Don’t Miss This One.  It’s outta this world!)

Quart

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1 Quart = 4 cups or 8 scoops

Gallon

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1 Gallon = 16 cups or about 30 scoops

ICE CREAM SERVING SIZE 24 SERVINGS 100 SERVINGS 150 SERVINGS
                  3 ounces (1 scoop)                 3 quarts 3 1/2 gallons                  5 gallons

The three favorite flavors of Ice Cream of those polled are:

Vanilla – 55%

Chocolate – 29%

Strawberry – 16%

Serving Ice Cream to a Large Group

How to Easily Scoop Ice Cream

Since you want to serve as many folks as possible, you’ll want to plan on 1 server per 20 – 30 guests.   That means you’ll also need 1 ice cream scoop per 20 – 30 guests.  My favorite ice cream scoop uses a spring-loaded sweeper and holds 1 1/2 ounces of liquid when filled.

To keep the ice cream cold while serving, plan on filling 1 or more deep trays or disposable aluminum pans with crushed ice, then nestling the ice cream containers inside the ice.   There’s no need to put out too much ice cream to start.  You can easily re-fill the pans from the ice cream in the freezer or cooler with the dry ice.  Each container of ice cream should have its own scoop, which can be stored in a bowl or pitcher of water between servings.

Toppings

Plan on about 1/4 cup of sauce per guest.   Warming sauce: You can heat your sauces in a double boiler or pan on the stove and refill small serving bowls as necessary, or better yet, use small slow cookers, fondue pots, or chafing dishes that can be kept right on the buffet table.

Plan on about 1/4 to 1/3 cup for other toppings, such as nuts, sprinkles, and candy per guest.

A few hours before the event, set up the serving area with all of your utensils, bowls, and nonperishable toppings.  Don’t forget you’ll need spoons or tongs for each topping.   I always like to label each ice cream, topping, and sauce, including additional information, such as “Contains nuts!” or “Dairy-free” as a heads-up for folks with allergies.

Transporting Ice Cream

Nothing is going to ruin the texture of your ice cream quicker than thawing and refreezing it.   That’s one of the reasons commercial ice cream is chock full of stabilizers.   If the trip from the store to your event is more than 30 minutes, plan on picking up a couple blocks of dry ice.  PLACE THE DRY ICE ON TOP OF YOUR ICE CREAM CONTAINERS.    What you want to do is to keep the ice cream solidly frozen for the trip.    You’ll also want to make sure you have a full cooler when using dry ice.  The rate at which dry ice disappears is dependent on the amount of empty space in the cooler.   Cooks Illustrated (love them!) suggests using empty covered food-storage containers to fill up these empty spaces in your cooler to make your dry ice last longer.

A Cooks Illustrated test demonstrated that a five pound block of dry ice will keep four gallons of ice cream cold for at least five hours.  Just keep your cooler sealed tight.    NOTE: That same four half-gallons of ice cream stored with 5 pounds of regular ice in a midsize cooler will be soupy after 3 hours.   Also – make sure to wear heavy oven mitts or winter gloves when handling dry ice—if not, it can burn your exposed skin.

VERY IMPORTANT NOTE ON ICE CREAM:  Unless you have a freezer available, do NOT purchase your ice cream more than 5 hours prior to serving.  Even with dry ice, ice cream does NOT hold well in coolers for much more than about 5 hours.   As I (and about 180 incredibly good natured teens) found out (sigh).

Check on your ice cream one hour before serving. It may be way too firm due to the temperature of the dry ice.  If so, start thawing it in the refrigerator or on the counter for 20 minutes before serving.  Check often and put it back in the cooler with the dry ice or freezer if it starts to get too soft.

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