A perfect scoop of ice cream begs for a sugar cone.
On your list of important cooking tools, ice-cream scoops probably don’t rank very high. I went without one for years, sacrificing a soup spoon instead, its handle bent way back in its noble effort of trying to scoop hard ice cream. But now that I’ve got a few good “dishers” on hand, I use them not just for scooping ice cream, but for muffin batters and cookie doughs, too—and I save my poor spoons for soup.
The most traditional scoop is best suited to non-ice-cream duties
Cookies bake up the same size when dropped by a “disher.” You may have to special-order these small versions.
For many people, the half-sphere, trigger-release scoop, the kind with a scraping blade set flush against the bowl (like the "disher" at right) is what comes to mind when they think of an ice-cream scoop. But perhaps it shouldn’t be. “The problem with the squeeze type,” notes Jonathan White of Egg Farm Dairy, “is that after the third scoop or so, the metal gets so chilled that the ice cream freezes onto it, and even the scraper-bale has a hard time releasing the ball.” This proved to be true when I tried these models, and it would be a real nuisance if, like White, you’re called upon to scoop lots of ice cream at, say, a state fair. (Egg Farm Dairy makes fantastic ice cream, by the way.) But for just a few portions of ice cream, you should be able to get some nicely shaped balls of ice-cream with the better versions of this scoop style.
Consider trigger-release scoops made by Vollrath, which come in a variety of sizes and cost about $9. Not only does the Vollrath’s sharp edge cut well through hard ice cream, but its design also allows you to get a good, forceful grip on the handle before using a trigger release with your thumb—in contrast to scoops whose entire handle gets squeezed together to prompt the release. As a lefty, I thought I’d like the latter style better, since the Vollrath’s trigger is set up for use with your right thumb only. But being able to grab the handle firmly outweighs having to switch the scoop to my right hand to release.
Portion muffin batter quickly with a trigger-release scoop. A dip in water between scoops speeds things along.
The best use for trigger-release scoops is portioning batter and cookie dough. Zeroll, which makes a variety of ice-cream scoops, calls its trigger-release scoop a food disher; the words ice cream aren’t even on the box. Indeed, these scoops, which come in a wide range of sizes, are ideal for portioning out muffin batter, and a small scoop works well for most drop cookies, yielding uniform sizes and shapes. (And, if you’re a caterer or in the food- service business, uniform portions of rice, mashed potatoes, tuna salad, chicken salad…you get the idea.) The scoops also work well on softer ice products like sorbet and nougat glacé.
The number on the disher refers to how many portions per quart the scoop yields, but this varies depending on the density of the food. There are also slight differences among manufacturers. For example, Zeroll’s #20 disher has a bowl diameter of 2-1/8-inches and holds 1.77-fluid ounces, while Vollrath’s #20 is 2-inches in diameter and holds 1.66 fluid ounces. Kathleen Stewart, who runs the Downtown Bakery in Healdsburg, California, likes a #16 scoop for conventional-size muffin tins. She also recommends dipping the scoop in water between scoops. A good size for drop cookies is #40, which equals about one heaping tablespoon of dough.
When looking for a trigger-release scoop, be sure that it’s comfortable to hold and easy to squeeze; if it isn’t, it may mean that the cogs and ratchets don’t mesh well.