Ryan has been an online writer for over a decade and loves to share and educate.
Gelato is an Italian frozen dessert that's basically a slight variant of ice cream. Its consistency is dense and silky but relies on the same ingredients and method as its French counterpart.
Because gelato shares a lot in common with ice cream, it can throw many who experienced it for the first time for a loop. In this guide, we'll unpack what gelato is, how it compares to ice cream, and how to make our very own at home.
Similarities to Ice Cream
Both gelato and ice cream are made from a custard base. A custard is basically any liquid that's thickened with egg yolks (or whole eggs for other frozen dessert types). The formula for a custard consists of milk/cream + sugar + yolks + flavoring. They are both prepared over a stove, then cooled down and churned in an ice cream maker.
The milk/cream is heated over the stove in a double boiler or just a saucepan. While that's happening, the sugar is combined with the yolks in a bowl to form a thickener called a sabayon. Next, the sabayon is tempered (its internal temperature is raised slowly) by adding some of the heated milk/cream to it while whisking and is all then thrown back into the saucepan with the remainder to form the custard.
Once the custard reaches the right temperature for pasteurization (185°F or 85°C) and is thick enough to coat surfaces, it's ready to be removed from the heat. From there, it's rapidly cooled over an ice bath before it's churned and chilled simulataneously in an ice cream maker. The churning breaks up any ice crystals that form and incorporate air to produce a light and smooth dessert.
Differences to Ice Cream
Gelato differs from ice cream in three ways: The formula's ingredient ratio, the churned speed, and the way it's served.
Firstly, gelato is made with less sugar, egg yolks, and cream. In fact, a typical recipe has almost no yolks and cream in it, resulting in a dessert with more milk solids. While the omission of yolks is optional, the amount of cream is determined by the FDA for its butterfat percentage. By American law, gelato can only contain 4-9% butterfat while ice cream and other frozen dairy desserts can contain 10-25% butterfat, though it's usually 14-20%.
The Italian dessert is also churned much slower than its French counterpart. In fact, the former contains 20-30% air while other desserts have 50-70%. Because of the lack of butterfat and air in the recipe, it has a far denser texture compared to other frozen desserts.
Although some might not like the lack of cream and air in the formula, there are benefits for others. The fat tends to mask some of the flavors by coating them while the air can thin them out. Hence, these deficiencies help to produce a much smoother, richer, and creamier dessert. For better results, adding yolks to the formula will increase the creaminess.
Lastly, the gelato must be allowed to soften up a bit at room temperature for a few minutes before serving. This is the one real downside since the dessert is denser than most frozen desserts. Hence, it's mandatory to do so.
Add yolks: Yolks can be used to stabilize the gelato and enrich its flavor. Although they are optional, this recipe will benefit from them.
Use a double boiler: When cooking the custard, it's safer to use a double boiler to ensure the custard doesn't curdle under too much heat. Alternatively, a heat-resistant bowl can be placed over a saucepan half-filled with boiling water can be used.
Use a thermometer: Use this to check the custard's temperature when cooking. No more or less than 185°F/85°C.
Cooling the custard: Once the custard is cooked, the saucepan should be placed over an ice bath. Make sure to have plenty of ice and a large enough bowl or container.
Churning the custard: Prepare the gelato according to the instructions included with the ice cream maker.
Soften before use: Before serving, the frozen gelato must be allowed to soften up for 10 to 15 minutes at room temperature after its taken out of the freezer. If it's too soft, just put it back in the freezer for 5 minutes or so.
Storage: The gelato can be stored in a freezer for up to one month. Make sure the container is sealed properly.
Yes, any flavor can be substituted for the vanilla in this recipe especially fruit flavors. Some variations include, chocolate, strawberry, blueberry, raspberry, citris, pistachio, mint, etc.
Prep time: 15 min | Cook time: 40 min
Freeze time: 3 hrs
Total: 4 hrs
Yields: 12 people
- 3 cups milk, (3/4 quart)
- 5 large egg yolks, (20 g each)
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar, (100 g)
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- Pour the milk and half of the sugar in a non-reactive saucepan and whisk together until the sugar dissolves completely. Bring the mixture up to a boil over medium heat.
- Pour the yolks and remaining sugar in a bowl and whisk them together until pale and smooth. This is the sabayon.
- Use a ladle to transfer a little of the boiled sweetened milk from the saucepan to the sabayon and whisk them together for tempering. Pour the tempered sabayon into the saucepan and whisk everything together. Keep whisking occasionally until the mixture begins to turn thick. You will know when it leaves a thick coat on the back of a spoon. The custard is complete.
- Remove from the heat and whisk in the vanilla extract. Place the saucepan over an ice bath (a large bowl or small sink containing ice) to cool down.
- Pour the custard into the bowl of the ice cream maker. Prepare the gelato according to the machine's instructions. Serve or transfer to a loaf pan or reusable ice cream container, seal, and chill in a freezer.
© 2021 Ryan Fanus
Ryan Fanus (author) from Bridgetown on April 30, 2021:
Iqra from East County & Cooking and Baking Expert on April 30, 2021:
Hi rfanus, this recipe sounds delicious, I must follow this recipe, thanks for sharing.