How to Make Gelato: A Detailed, Step-by-Step Recipe

What is gelato anyway? Is it any different from ice cream? Being lactose intolerant, regular ice cream isn’t a treat that I can enjoy anymore, it’s just too rich. Because I love refreshing summer desserts, I have in my adult life traded ice cream for sorbet, which I quite like but let’s be honest: you can’t really call sorbet indulgent, can you?

Before going to Italy for the first time, I read and heard about the awesomeness of gelato. Everybody who had tasted it seemed possessed by the souvenir of its taste, telling me about its creaminess and intense flavor. Nobody seemed to know whether it was ice cream or sorbet or what, but for sure they knew it was heavenly good. I ended up trying almost all fruity flavors, which are my favorites. The taste of a fruit gelato is very intense and pure, the color is vivid and the texture is clean. I thought it tasted like a sorbet but without the egg white frothy texture. Because of the saturated colors, I was convinced it didn’t contain dairy.

This spring, I finally bought an ice cream machine after a friend told me how fun it is to make your own at home. For sure I wanted to make gelato, but after looking around for recipes, I was confused: all the gelato recipes I found contained either cream or milk, and egg yolks as well. So I thought I would elude the mystery: what is gelato?

Simply put, gelato is ice cream that contains less fat. Many varieties are made with milk and some don’t contain egg yolks. Also, I learned that gelato counters are kept a little warmer than their ice cream counterparts. It allows it to remain softer, so, as ice cream expert David Lebovitz puts it, “your mouth doesn’t get ‘frozen’ and you can taste the flavors better.”

In Italian, gelato simply means “frozen”. It’s very likely that the fruit varieties I tasted in Italy were in fact sorbet… I’ll have to go back to further investigate this matter!

How to make gelato

The simplest gelato is made with an egg custard and {edit} light cream or milk. All the flavors combinations in the world can be added to this simple base but it’s also very good on its own (or simply infused with a fresh vanilla pod).

I have tried my hand at many flavors but this one, Cherry and Raspberry Ripple Gelato, was a hit. You can let inspiration come from what’s in season: you’ll get the most flavor out of your fruits, thus from your gelato.

You can make this recipe with lactose-free milk or cream, soy milk (choose one with the mildest aftertaste), almond or rice milk. Just make sure that the milk or cream you choose can withstand heat (some will become grainy if cooked). Test it if the package doesn’t tell you (by boiling a small quantity and tasting it afterwards). If the texture is spoiled, at least you won’t have to throw away your whole gelato recipe.

A little tip for service: because gelato contains less fat, it tends to freeze a lot harder. Take your gelato out of the freezer approximately 15 minutes before serving to soften it.

Gelato di Crema – The base

2 ½ cups 5% fat cooking cream or any kind of milk you like
5 egg yolks
½ cup granulated sugar

Heat the cream (or milk) until it is beginning to bubble, then cool slightly. Watch it closely if you don’t want to make a big mess because cream and milk reach their boiling point very suddenly.

In a large heatproof bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar until thick and creamy (about 2 minutes at medium speed). Beat the cooling cream very slowly into the eggs to warm the mixture gradually (if you add it too quickly, you may end up with scrambled eggs!).

Put the bowl over a pan of gently simmering water and stir with a wooden spoon until the custard just coats the back of the spoon.

Remove the bowl from the pan and let it cool. My trick is to place it in the sink filled with 2-3 inches of cold water and stirring it gently one in a while: this method cools the custard in about 10 minutes (you can also add ice to the water to make it even quicker). If you have time on your hands you can put it in the refrigerator. The important thing is that your custard is completely cooled when you put it in the ice cream maker.

Prepare your fruits: Raspberry and Cherry Ripple Gelato

This gelato contains cherry and raspberry puree, as well as diced fruits for texture. You could substitute pretty much any berry and I’m sure it would be equally good.

Cherry puree

2 cups pitted cherries, chopped (see this page to learn how easy it is to pit cherries)
½ cup granulated sugar
1/8 cup lemon juice (from approximately 1 lemon)

Put everything in a saucepan and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes. Let cool. Puree using a blender or a food processor. Save 1/3 cup of the cherry puree for the ripple.

Raspberry puree

1 cup fresh raspberries
1/8 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Puree all the ingredients together in a blender or a food processor. Strain the puree with a fine mesh to remove the raspberry seeds. Set aside.

Other ingredients for the ripple

¼ cup pitted and finely diced cherries
¼ cup lightly crushed raspberries
1/3 cup cherry puree (reserved from the recipe above)

Freeze the gelato:

Blend your cooled custard base with the cherry and raspberry purees (except 1/3 cup cherry puree reserved for the ripple). At this point, you can add 2 tablespoons of any alcohol you think would taste good with your flavors (I added Absolut Raspberry Vodka). It’ll help keep your gelato more scoopable.

Pour your fruit custard into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Stop the machine when the gelato is almost firm.

To get a rippled gelato:

Pour 1/4 of the gelato custard in a airtight container big enough to store the whole gelato recipe. On the gelato, pour 1/3 of the chopped fruits and 1/3 of the reserved cherry puree. Repeat twice and end with a layer of gelato custard. Layering fruits and custard this way will create the beautiful rippled look when you scoop your gelato in serving cups.

Put your assembled gelato in the freezer for an additional 30 minutes or until required. It will keep for a month.


Inspired by the basic recipe and tips from the book 500 Ice Creams, Sorbets and Gelatos: The Only Ice Cream Compendium You’ll Ever Need.


84 Responses to How to Make Gelato: A Detailed, Step-by-Step Recipe

  1. If you’re lactose intolerant how did you eat the gelato while you were in Italy? I’m pretty sure the shops in Italy weren’t using lactose free milk/cream.

  2. hello ms Marie! if i want a cheese flavor, what’s the right process for the cheese do i have to put it in my base when it’s ready for churning? or do i have to melt the cheese first? Thank You:D

    • Hello Anjo, that is a very good question! I have never made or tasted cheese gelato. I would guess you’d need to melt the cheese in the hot custard. I think a creamy cheese such as goat’s cheese or ricotta would work well! Good luck and please report back if you do decide to incorporate cheese in your gelato recipe.

  3. just saw your web site I am a celiac who has recently also become lactose intolerant. Could I substitute the milk for soy or coconut milk

    • Hello Claire! Yes, you can absolutely substitute soy or coconut milk for the regular milk. I am myself lactose intolerant so I use lactose-free milk. You just need to make sure the milk you’re using can withstand the heat (so it doesn’t curdle when you prepare the custard). Also, I would recommend using the kind of milk that best suits the flavor of gelato you’re planning to make. Coconut milk has a stronger taste, so it’s best with stronger flavors, such as citrus fruits. Soy milk is more versatile! Good luck with your gelato-making endeavors.

    • If you wanted to make a vanilla custard base, you would add a halved vanilla pod to the cream (or milk) when you bring it to a simmer. Let cool, then fish out the vanilla pod before pouring the cream (or milk) into the egg yolk mixture.

  4. Can you leave the gelato in the ice cream maker, (with plastic on top for airtightness) then let it harden in the freezer ?

    I have limited space, am considering getting the ice cream maker.

  5. Tbanks for the recipe, think I may have had a bit of egg white in my yolks so no matter how long I left it over the simmering water it didn’t thicken. Still very liquedy but I have added some lemon zest as I want to make a lemon gelato into the mix and have it cooling over night. Will still attempt to churn it in the ice cream maker tomorrow.

  6. Hi Marie,

    Thank you, I always thought Ice Cream/ Gelato is a long and tough process. I can do this now.

    However, My Parents are Vegetarian by Religion, hence they don’t even eat eggs, so is there a substitute to eggs that I can use to make the custard?.

    Thanks again for this lovely post.

  7. I forgot to put the mixture into the saucepan after the liquid was added into the yolks(the first time I did, the eggs curdled), now my mixture is sitting in the fridge half-frozen. Can I still salvage it? Or do I have to throw it away?(I don’t like wasting stuff, so if someone can help me save it, I would be most grateful)

    • not sure what your “mixture” is if it does not contain the egg yet it will not be a custard so no good for icecream. if you add the hot cream to the creamed sugar and eggs slowly while beating it will not turn into scrambled egg. then reheat slowly it must not boil or it will turn into scrambled egg so gently does it, and the egg will slowly thicken the cream hence custard! if you are up to the custard stage you can simply thaw it and put it into your icecream maker and away you go.

    • You can make this without a machine it will need to be beaten regularly during the freezing process to get the whipped effect. take it out every now and then if you have a stick blender these are good to get a creamed effect and add air keep putting it back in the freezer after each beating to freeze some more.

  8. I went to Italy (Rome) and Spain (Madrid, Zaragoza, and Barcelona) just last week for 10 days, I actually prefered the Spanish version a lot better. Do you know if I can use an alternative to alcohol? I’m addicted to gelato, and I had it everyday. Strawberry, lemon, peach and pineapple.

  9. Hi Marie;
    I used your Dark Chocolate Gelato recipe last night for Father’s Day and it was a hit!! There’s hardly any left! Now I’m toying with the idea of a gari or pickled ginger gelato, but I don’t know where to start… One of the reasons that I loved the dark chocolate gelato recipe so much is because it didn’t call for cream or eggs. I used 1% milk and it came out GREAT!!!
    So, if you have any advice for a pickled ginger gelato, please share them with me. I have been looking at some of the products by The Ginger People (syrup, juice, pickled ginger & preserves).

  10. Marie – thank you for taking time to reply to all these comments. You clearly care about people’s experiences. The gelato is truly beautiful and I’m planning to try adding peppermint to it for the holiday rather than fruit.
    I did a little looking around re the US milk product fat% thing and think I’ll add 1 tablespoon of cream to 2 1/2 c whole milk, minus 1T, to get the 5% ratio you have in Canada. Turns out that fat % can be calculated by taking the grams of fat and dividing by the overall grams in one cup. So if you take 8g/227g (1 cup of whole milk) and add 4g of cream (1 teaspoon)you get 12g of fat/227g of liquid equalling the 5%. That was sort of fun to figure out as I didn’t feel really pressured to get it right.

    One interesting note about egg yolks is while they have a high fat content many naturopaths consider the protein and other nutritive values in egg yolks to be healthy for you. Cream is pure fat, no protein. So now when my favorite male friend tells me he’s eating better because he’s switched to gelato instead of ice cream I can just grin at him and no longer worry about his health. (-:

    • I’ve used a similar recipe to make a custard based mint chocolate chip ice cream several times. A single tablespoon of peppermint extract will do the trick for a 1.5qt batch.

  11. Damn this looks good, even though I too am lactose intolerant. But my biggest peeve is having to buy an Ice Cream Maker. Can you hand stir it? I could do it front of the TV and get some exercise. Guess cavemen never had Ice Cream. But these photos are lovely. Absolutely love what you did with the fruit.

    • Don’t despair Cinnamon Vogue, you to can enjoy ice cream….. Simply find a Natropathic Physician than practises NAET, to eliminate your lactose intolerance. It’s easy and non invasive. Be warned though, you may put on weight at first as you over indulge on dairy… Good luck!

    • I bought a Cuisinart Ice Cream freezer on QVC – about $70 and you don’t have to do it the old fashioned way with rocksalt…it’s easy and I highly recommend it! : )

    • well I am two years late, but if you don’t have a ice cream maker, layer or pour your gelato in a brownie pan place it in freezer, and stir every 20 minutes, till you reach the desired thickness you like. just place plastic wrap over it to keep it from getting ice on top. then place your gelato in a air tight container and freeze. make sure to place plastic wrap on top of gelato, to keep ice from forming on top. a little more time but it works.

  12. I was under the impression that “real” Italian gelati is made with milk, sugar, starch and flavorings, there are no eggs in gelati. Have you ever heard that? Thanks..

    • Frank, the definition of what makes gelato different from ice cream seem to differ. Gelato is basically Italian ice cream, and depending on the region, some use milk, some exclude dairy, some use eggs, some don’t. Usually, the gelato base contains less fat than the ice cream base (being made with milk and not cream). Read David Lebovitz’ article (he’s a reference on the topic) for more information and useful links.

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