A treat with some culture

It takes only a handful of ingredients to make trendy frozen yogurt

NewsdaySeptember 4, 2013 

Like so many people, I am having a love affair with Greek-style yogurt. So when I recently brought home an inexpensive and excellent new Cuisinart ice-cream machine, the time seemed right to freeze some of my favorite foodstuff. I wasn’t necessarily looking to make a diet dessert (I wound up using full-fat yogurt and half-and-half, after all). Rather, I wanted to make the fastest, easiest frozen treat possible.

Making ice cream is an exacting business. Following a precise formula, you have to cook a custard base on top of the stove until it is just the right temperature and thickness. Cook it too briefly, and it will never thicken, no matter how cold it gets. Cook it too long, and you wind up with scrambled eggs. Once your custard is cooked, you have to wait several hours while it chills in the refrigerator. Then it is finally ready for the ice-cream machine.

In contrast, frozen yogurt is a quicker and more casual affair. Looking at a bunch of recipes online, I was encouraged to see that many cooks had success simply by mixing yogurt and sugar and placing the mixture in an ice-cream machine. I tried this several times, improvising as I went along by using a different sweetener, adding a little half-and-half, stirring in some nuts or chocolate.

After a delightful weekend of experimentation, here are my results:

GO GREEK FOR RICHNESS: Plain, Greek-style yogurt produced creamier frozen yogurt than the looser and more watery American style. You can use low-fat yogurt, but full-fat yogurt will give you the creamiest frozen yogurt of all. I don’t recommend nonfat yogurt. Frozen, it is icy rather than creamy.

FROZEN YOGURT IS FOR YOGURT LOVERS: Understand that your frozen yogurt will be as tart as the yogurt it is made from. Personally, I love this. But if you prefer a mellower flavor, replace up to 1 cup of the yogurt with half-and-half.

LISTEN TO YOUR SWEET TOOTH: The sweetness of your yogurt mixture will become more muted as it chills. So, add a little more sweetener than you think you like before freezing.

RAID THE LIQUOR CABINET: A couple of tablespoons of alcohol prevent ice crystals from forming in the frozen yogurt, keeping it smooth.

ENJOY IMMEDIATELY: Although it will keep for several days in the freezer, frozen yogurt is best eaten just after it is churned, when it is extremely smooth and creamy. If the yogurt is too soft just out of the machine for your taste, transfer it to an airtight container and freeze it for an hour or two, until it is firm.


You’ve just finished a 10-mile bike ride, you’re feeling virtuous but a little peckish.

Maybe your 8-year-old is clamoring for a treat.

Or, perhaps you’ve just baked a fresh fruit cobbler and are looking to top it with something that won’t counteract its healthful properties.

There’s probably some frozen yogurt in your immediate future.

So, is frozen yogurt healthier than ice cream? It depends on your definition of healthy.


Most frozen yogurts, indeed, have fewer calories and less fat than most ice creams. A half cup of Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream, a so-called super premium brand, contains 250 calories and 17 grams of fat. Carvel vanilla ice cream contains 175 calories and 9.7 grams of fat. The same amount of most nonfat frozen yogurts contain between 80 and 100 calories, and 0 grams of fat.

(Low-fat frozen yogurt, however, is comparable to low-fat ice cream: YoCream french vanilla frozen yogurt contains 100 calories and 3 grams of fat; Edy’s Slow Churned low-fat vanilla ice cream contains 100 calories and 3.5 grams of fat.)

When it comes to sugar, however, look out. Most frozen yogurt contains as much, if not more, sugar than ice cream. Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream has 19 grams of sugar, Edy’s Grand ice cream has 13 grams. TCBY, Swirls and Twirls, 16 Handles and Red Mango vanilla frozen yogurt contain 17 to 19 grams of sugar.

All of this nutritional information is based on 83 grams, or about a 1/2-cup serving of frozen yogurt, a quantity that hardly measures up to what’s in most people’s cups. If you filled the smallest cup available at Red Mango to the brim, for example, that would be more than 1 1/2 cups. And just try figuring out what 83 grams is; yogurt shop scales measure in either pounds or ounces. (For the record, 83 grams is equivalent to 2.92 ounces or 0.18 pounds.)

It goes without saying that once you add the chopped Heath Bars, gummy bears, rainbow sprinkles and nuts, all healthful nutritional bets are off.


Some people choose frozen yogurt over ice cream because they believe it contains “probiotics,” the current nutritional darlings that are beginning to eclipse anti oxidants. Probiotics are live micro organisms (such as bacteria and yeasts) that, when ingested, amplify the effectiveness of the body’s own micro flora, supposedly strengthening digestive and immune health.

Regular yogurt (i.e. nonfrozen yogurt) must contain live active bacteria or federal law says it can’t be called yogurt. Moreover, federal regulations require that yogurt achieve a defined level of acidity. It’s lactic acid, a natural byproduct of all those live bacteria, that lends yogurt its characteristic tang.

Frozen yogurt, however, is not federally regulated. It need not contain live bacteria; it doesn’t have to taste tangy.

The situation isn’t quite so bleak, however. Most frozen yogurts do contain live bacteria and many bear the “Live & Active Cultures” seal conferred by the National Yogurt Association trade group. However, to get the seal, frozen yogurt must contain only a tenth of the live active cultures that nonfrozen yogurt must have, and evince only a third of the acidity.


The lack of federal oversight is at the heart of the confusion surrounding frozen yogurt. Bruce Tharp, founder of the Pennsylvania-based international ice-cream consultancy Tharp’s Food Technology, has been teaching professional courses on frozen desserts for decades.

“Frozen yogurt,” he said, “is pretty much anything that people want to call frozen yogurt.”

It wasn’t always that way. During the ’70s, frozen yogurt’s initial heyday, Tharp said, manufacturers did make frozen yogurt from yogurt. “That didn’t last long,” he said. “It tasted sour and other than yogurt aficionados, people didn’t like it.”

Eventually, most manufacturers reformulated the product to be less sour, and they added sugar to balance whatever acidity remained.

Tharp explained that most of today’s frozen yogurt starts with a liquid mixture of dairy and sugar similar to what is used to make nonfat or low-fat soft-serve ice cream. To this is added another unsweetened mixture that contains yogurt — the proportion is usually about one third yogurt mix to two thirds “soft-serve” mix.

The combined mix is poured into a batch freezer — just like soft serve — and what comes out is frozen yogurt.

((END of second box)))


Yield: Serves 4

6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

3/4 cup sugar

1 cup half-and-half

2 cups full-fat Greek-style yogurt

2 tablespoons Kahlua or other coffee liqueur

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Whisk together cocoa powder and sugar. Slowly whisk in half-and-half until smooth. Whisk in yogurt, Kahlua and vanilla. Freeze in ice-cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Serve immediately or transfer to an airtight container and freeze for up to 3 days.


Yield: Serves 4

3 cups full-fat Greek-style yogurt

3/4 cup honey

2 tablespoons vodka

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Whisk together yogurt, honey, vodka and vanilla. Freeze in ice-cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Serve immediately or transfer to an airtight container and freeze for up to 3 days.


Yield: Serves 4

3 cups full-fat Greek-style yogurt

1 cup pure maple syrup

2 tablespoons bourbon

1 teaspoon maple extract

3/4 cup toasted and chopped walnuts

Whisk together yogurt, maple syrup, bourbon and maple extract. Freeze in ice-cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Stir in walnuts by hand. Serve immediately or transfer to an airtight container and freeze for up to 3 days.


Yield: Serves 4

2 cups full-fat Greek-style yogurt

1 cup half-and-half

3/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons creme de menthe

1 teaspoon peppermint extract

4 ounces milk or semisweet chocolate, chopped

Whisk together yogurt, half-and-half, sugar, creme de menthe and peppermint extract. Freeze in ice-cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Stir in chocolate by hand. Serve immediately or transfer to an airtight container and freeze for up to 3 days.

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