Picture this: You’re walking down a cobblestone-plastered road in Florence, Italy. The city’s poetic charm is palpable in every corner, with centuries-old buildings standing proudly, whispering tales of Renaissance artistry. We see a park nearby, filled with majestic trees and rustling leaves in the faint wind, and right behind them is a small rustic gelateria.
As you delve further, you find they serve homemade gelato — a visual masterpiece — but how does this Italian ice cream differ from plain ice cream?
Let me explain it: Gelato, Italy’s version of ice cream, is richer and creamier than American ice cream, as it uses more milk than cream.
Want me to teach you how to make it based on what I learned on my recent trip to Italy? Let’s go!
How to Make Authentic Italian Gelato
You may be surprised, but making your own gelato is easier than you think!
- 2 cups (475 ml) whole milk
- 1 cup (240 ml) heavy cream
- 3/4 cup (150g) granulated sugar, divided
- 1 vanilla bean (or 2 tsp pure vanilla extract)
- 4 large egg yolks
Tip: 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil is a secret ingredient of delicious gelato that can make it even creamier.
We all know it – we want to make something, but we don’t have specific ingredients on hand. No worries, here are some alternatives for you:
- Whole milk – consider using plant-based, nut-based, or other lactose-free alternatives, such as almond or oat milk, to make dairy-free gelato.
- Heavy cream – use 3/4 cup milk and 1/3 cup melted butter for every cup of heavy cream, while it won’t whip like heavy cream, it will work in this recipe once it’s mixed in.
- Vanilla bean – use 2-3 tbsp of vanilla extract or 1 tbsp of vanilla bean pasta.
- Egg yolks – you can try using cornstarch or another thickening agent, though it will be hard to replace it and still make a creamy texture base.
Tip: consider also adding dark chocolate, different flavors, fruit varieties, or cocoa powder to make chocolate ice cream (chocolate gelato)!
The Easiest Homemade Gelato Recipe Step-By-Step
Step 1: If you’re using a vanilla pod, cut it in half lengthwise and scrape the seeds out with a knife.
Step 2: Then, in a saucepan, whisk together the milk, heavy cream, half the sugar, the vanilla seeds, and the vanilla bean pod if using. Bring the creamy mixture to a warm temperature over medium heat – just make sure not to boil it.
Step 3: In a separate bowl, combine the remaining sugar with the egg yolks and whisk until the mixture is pale and slightly thickened.
Step 4: To avoid scrambling the egg yolks, add a tiny quantity (approximately a cup) of the hot milk mixture from step 2 to the yolks while whisking continually.
Step 5: While whisking constantly, return the tempered yolk mixture to the saucepan from step 2 with the remaining milk mixture.
Step 6: Stirring regularly with a wooden spoon or spatula, bring the mixture over medium heat (about 170°F or 77°C)
Note: This should take around 5-7 minutes. Do not let it boil.
Step 7 (if applicable): If you used a vanilla bean pod, take it out and throw it away.
Step 8: Now, to make sure everything is nice and smooth, pour the mixture through a fine sieve into a new bowl.
Step 9: Relax the mix at room temperature until it’s cool. After the mixture has cooled, cover it with plastic wrap by pressing it directly over the surface, put it in the fridge, and chill for at least 4 hours, or ideally overnight.
Step 10: When the ingredients are cold enough, use an ice cream machine to churn them into ice cream.
Alternatively: if you don’t have an ice cream machine, you can just use a blender or food processor to smoothen the texture.
Step 11: After churning the gelato, store it in an airtight container and freeze it for at least two to three hours.
Step 12: For the final step before serving time, gelato is best served after softening at room temperature for around 10 minutes. This improves the taste and texture when scooped.
The biggest tip to make the gelato extra tasty is to use fresh ingredients, which is especially important if you want fruit- or nut-based gelatos.
Here are some other tips:
- Temperature – make sure the gelato mix is thoroughly chilled before you churn it to give it a smooth texture.
- Not much air infusion – sounds silly at first, however, this is one of the differences between American ice cream and authentic Italian gelato: it has less air. To get the desired creamy and thick texture, churn the gelato mixture at a slow to medium speed.
- Sugar – the sugar in the recipe not only adds sweetness but also alters the consistency of the gelato. If you use too little sugar, your gelato will be frosty, but it will be overly soft if you use too much.
- Serving temperature – Compared to ice cream, gelato tastes best when it is somewhat warmer, making it softer and enhancing its flavor. So, let it rest for a few minutes if it’s too hard to scoop directly from the freezer.
Depending on whether you want to make pistachio ice cream or just the vanilla traditional ice cream, make sure to add any flavors early on in your Italian gelato recipe.
What is Gelato Best Served With
While gelato is amazing on its own, you can pair it with other desserts or drinks to elevate your experience with it, whether it’s for a date night or just because you’re craving it!
- Affogato – in this classic Italian dessert, you drown a scoop of vanilla gelato in a shot of espresso. The contrast between hot and cold, bitter and sweet, it’s just divine.
- Biscotti – this Italian almond biscuit makes a perfect addition as you’re dunking it into the gelato.
Warm pastries – think of warm apple tarts, fresh croissants, or other warm pastries where you get the contrast between warm and cold again – it will make your creamy gelato literally irresistible.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Do you have questions that are just burning to be answered? No worries, we’ve got the answers!
What is the difference between gelato and ice cream?
Gelato is thicker and creamier than ice cream because of its greater milk-to-cream ratio, lower fat content, and slower churning speed – that’s what gives gelato this amazing taste.
Can I make gelato without an ice cream maker?
Yes! While an ice cream maker helps, you can also make gelato by freezing the mix and then stirring every 30 minutes to break up the ice crystals until it’s creamy – or use a food processor or blender!
Can I use low-fat milk instead of whole milk?
You can, but it can make the gelato less creamy and rich, so you may have to play around with the amount you use.
How long does homemade gelato last in the freezer?
Homemade gelato is best when eaten within a week or two of making it. If you freeze it for too long it can become icy with tiny ice crystals that will make it less creamy and tasty.
Why is my gelato too hard or icy?
Unfortunately, this can be due to various reasons:
- too little sugar
- the mixture wasn’t cold enough before churning
- it was stored in a very cold part of your freezer