Get detailed, step-by-step instructions and tips to make the creamiest gelato and learn how to turn one base into a multitude of flavors.
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Before going to Italy for the first time many years ago, I had heard all about the awesomeness of Italian ice cream. Everyone who had tasted it seemed possessed by the memory the Italian frozen treat, telling me about the incredibly smooth creaminess and intense flavor of gelati. When I asked around to ask whether gelato and ice cream were two different things, I didn’t seem to be able to get a clear answer. To try and get answers to all my questions, I resolved to eat gelato every day—sometimes even twice a day!—tasting my way around Rome, Tuscany, and other regions I visited on that trip.
The flavor of gelato is very intense and pure, its color is bright, and its texture is clean, not too rich. I gravitated towards fruit-based flavors, which I found to taste as intensely as sorbets, but without the egg-whitey, frothy texture. Because of the saturated colors, I thought fruit-based gelato flavors might not contain dairy.
After I returned, I made a deep-dive into the world of gelato-making to find out what it is, how it’s made, and what makes it so delightful. This article contains these answers, along with all my tips to make the best Italian ice cream you’ll ever get to enjoy outside of Italy.
Gelato is not just a fancy name for ice cream? Here’s what makes it unique:
First things first: you need the right recipe, of course. There is no single recipe for Italian ice cream, and like many culinary specialties in Italy, each region makes it slightly differently. After trying several techniques, I’ve come up with two recipes to create rich, creamy bases I can transform into a variety of flavors.
The first recipe makes a classic gelato base. It is made with an egg yolk-rich custard that gives it a creamy texture, which I find closer and a pale yellow shade, which reminds me classic ice cream. You can simply add a split vanilla bean to classic gelato base and produce outstanding vanilla gelato. A classic gelato base is also a great choice for producing chocolate-flavored and nut-based gelati.
The second recipe makes a Sicilian gelato base. This Sicilian-style gelato base uses cornstarch as a thickening agent instead of egg yolks. This produces a bright white gelato and a delightfully silky, mouth-coating texture. A Sicilian gelato base is the perfect choice for making fruit-based frozen treats. Learn more about Sicilian-Style Gelato.
Pictured below, at the top: Classic Gelato Base
Bottom: Sicilian-Style Gelato Base
Yes, to produce the silky, rich texture of authentic Italian gelato, you do need an ice cream maker. An ice cream maker freezes the custard slowly while continually mixing it, creating a super-fine texture free of ice crystals or harder chunks. Some companies now offer specialty appliances labeled as gelato makers, but all ice cream makers on the market churn at a much slower speed than commercial ice cream makers, which makes them perfectly suited for making Italian ice cream.
The most basic ingredients you need to make gelato are milk, cream, sugar, and egg yolks. From there, you can add a split vanilla bean to produce an outstanding vanilla-flavored Italian ice cream, or you can mix in fruit purees, nut butters, or chocolate to create frozen treats in a rainbow of colors and flavors!
Using the best quality ingredients will produce the most flavorful frozen treats. Use super-fresh eggs, whole milk, and cream as well as top-quality flavorings, such as vanilla beans, pure vanilla extract, and cocoa powder. If you’re making fruit varieties, use seasonally fresh, perfectly ripe fruits or top-quality fruit purees. I don’t recommend using skim or partially skimmed milk because the texture and taste simply won’t be the same.
If you’re lactose intolerant, you can substitute lactose-free milk and cream.
I developed a recipe to make a rich-tasting vegan gelato base, which you can use as a substitute in any recipe that requires classic or Sicilian-style gelato bases. My vegan gelato recipe includes instructions to make delightful Mango and Passion Fruit Gelato. Get my recipe and instructions for making vegan Italian ice cream.
Last but not least, here’s an important serving tip. Because home freezers are set to very cold temperatures, bring gelato back to room temperature 10 to 15 minutes before serving. This will not only make it easier to serve—gelato’s lower fat content means it freezes rock hard—but also soften it to a consistency closer to what you would enjoy at a gelati bar, waking up the flavors and giving it the luxurious texture that is so easy to fall in love with.
Never made gelato before? Curious about what makes gelato different from ice cream? Check out my colorful masterclass! In it, you’ll find out what makes gelato different from ice cream, how to make a versatile gelato base you can turn into various flavors, and all my secrets and tips to churn and serve outstanding gelato. I even share how to make dairy-free, vegan gelato! In short, it’s a very thorough, colorful class that will quickly turn you into a gelato master.
This masterclass was previously hosted behind a paywall on an educational site where thousands of students rated it 5 STARS! It’s now available to all gelato lovers worldwide, absolutely free. Watch Now!
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