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How to Make Gelato: A Detailed, Step-by-Step Recipe (Dairy-Free, Vegan Options)

DFGFV

How to Make Gelato: A Detailed, Step-by-Step Recipe (Dairy-Free, Vegan Options)

Get detailed, step-by-step instructions and tips to make the creamiest gelato and learn how to turn it into countless flavors.

Learn How to Make Gelato at Home (Dairy-Free, Vegan Options) // FoodNouveau.com

This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure is at the bottom of the article.


Before going to Italy for the first time many years ago, I had heard about the awesomeness of gelato. Everyone who had tasted it seemed possessed by the memory of its taste, telling me about its smooth creaminess and intense flavor. No one seemed to know whether it was ice cream, sorbet, or something else, but they knew it was heavenly. I ended up eating it almost every day while I was there, and I tried all the fruity flavors, which are my favorites. Gelato’s taste is very intense and pure, its color is vivid, and its texture is clean. I thought it tasted like sorbet but without the egg-white, frothy texture. Because of the saturated colors, I thought it might not contain dairy.

After I came back, I researched gelato to find out what it is, how it’s made, and what makes it so delightful.

What Makes Gelato Different from Ice Cream?

Gelato is not just a fancy name for ice cream? Here’s what makes gelato unique:

  • Gelato contains less fat than ice cream. Ice cream’s main ingredient is cream, whereas gelato is made mainly from milk. Some gelato recipes use a small quantity of cream, and some use only milk. Gelato also usually uses less egg yolks than does custard-based ice cream, although that depends on the recipe. Fat coats the tongue in a lovely, silky way, but it also tends to mute flavors. Gelato’s lower fat content could explain why people tend to find its taste brighter and more intense. The flavors come through more directly then when they’re blended with heavy cream.
  • Gelato has a denser texture than ice cream. Gelato is churned at a lower speed than ice cream, which means that the finished product contains less air than ice cream, creating the dense texture of gelato.
  • Gelato is served at warmer temperatures than ice cream. Storing gelato at warmer temperatures makes it softer, providing its signature silky texture. Ice-cold treats numb the tongue, but because gelato is served soft, you feel like you’re having a richer treat than its fat content indicates. The warmer serving temperature also allows the flavors to come through better.

How to Make Gelato at Home

First things first: you need the right recipe, of course. There is no single recipe for gelato, and like many culinary specialties in Italy, each region makes it slightly differently. Over the years, I’ve adopted two recipes for basic vanilla-bean gelato.

The first is a classic recipe. Its base is an egg yolk-rich custard that gives it a creamy texture, which I find closer to that of classic ice cream, and a pale yellow tinge.

The second is a Sicilian variation that uses cornstarch, a thickening agent that allows you to use fewer egg yolks, making a bright white gelato and a delightfully silky, mouth-coating texture. I discovered the Sicilian cornstarch trick fairly recently, and it has quickly become my favorite way of making gelato. Click here for the recipe to make Sicilian-Style Vanilla Bean Gelato.

To discover which is your favorite recipe for vanilla bean gelato, you’ll need to try both methods.

Pictured below, at the top: Classic Vanilla Bean Gelato
Bottom: Sicilian-Style Vanilla Bean Gelato

Classic gelato base (thickened with egg yolks) compared to Sicilian-style gelato base (thickened with cornstarch) // FoodNouveau.com

Do You Need an Ice Cream Maker to Make Gelato?

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 lower speed than commercial ice cream makers, which make them perfectly suited for making gelato.

A scoop of silky smooth vanilla bean gelato // FoodNouveau.com

The Ingredients You Need to Make Gelato

Using best quality ingredients will produce the most flavorful gelato. 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.

Ingredients to make Classic Vanilla Bean Gelato // FoodNouveau.com

How to Make Vegan Gelato

I developed a recipe to make a rich-tasting vegan gelato base, which you can use as a substitute in any recipe that requires a classic gelato base. My vegan gelato recipe includes instructions to make delightful Mango and Passion Fruit Gelato. Get my recipe and instructions for making vegan gelato right here.

How to Make Vegan Gelato + Mango Passionfruit Gelato // FoodNouveau.com

How to Serve Homemade Gelato

Last but not least, here’s an important serving tip. Because home freezers are set to very low temperatures, make sure you always take your gelato out of the freezer 10 to 15 minutes before serving it. That 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.

Learn How to Make Gelato at Home (Dairy-Free, Vegan Options) // FoodNouveau.com

Video Class: How to Make Gelato

Video Class: How to Make Gelato: Tips and Recipes to Make the Delightful Italian Frozen Treat // FoodNouveau.com

Never made gelato before? Curious about what makes gelato different from ice cream? Check out my detailed video class: How to Make Gelato: Tips and Recipes to Make the Delightful Italian Frozen Treat. In it, you’ll find out what makes gelato different from ice cream, how to make a versatile gelato base you can turn into a variety of 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. Watch Now!

 
Learn How to Make Gelato at Home (Dairy-Free, Vegan Options) // FoodNouveau.com

Classic Vanilla Bean Gelato

Learn how to make gelato, the delightful Italian frozen treat. Get instructions to make the creamiest gelato and tips to turn one base into a multitude of flavors.
Prep Time:10 mins
Cook Time:10 mins
Churning/Freezing Time:2 hrs 30 mins
Servings 1 quart (4 cups/1L)
Author Marie Asselin, FoodNouveau.com

Ingredients

  • 3 cups milk, preferably whole (3.25% m.f.) or partly skimmed (2% m.f.)
  • 5 large egg yolks (about 20 grams each)
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

Instructions

  • In a medium saucepan, warm the milk over medium heat until it just starts to bubble around the edge (no need to bring it to a boil). Remove from the heat and reserve.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large mixing bowl if you’re using a hand mixer, beat the egg yolks and sugar together until the mixture is thick and creamy (about 2 minutes at medium speed). With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour in one ladleful of the hot milk into the egg mixture. Slowly pour in the rest of the mixture and beat until the milk is well incorporated.
  • Pour the milk and egg mixture back into the saucepan, add the vanilla bean, and place over medium-low heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the custard coats the back of a wooden spoon.
    Custard coating the back of a wooden spoon // Classic Vanilla Bean Gelato // FoodNouveau.com
  • Remove from the heat. Let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for a few hours, or preferably overnight to infuse the custard with a deeper vanilla flavor.
  • Fish the vanilla bean out of the custard, then pour the custard through a fine mesh strainer into the bowl of an ice cream maker (straining the mixture will ensure a silky smooth gelato). Freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Stop the machine when the gelato is icy but still soft.
  • Transfer the gelato to an airtight container and freeze until firm, about two hours.
  • STORAGE: The gelato will keep, frozen, for up to 1 month.
  • SERVING: Always take the gelato out to room temperature 10 to 15 minutes before serving to soften it and make it easier to scoop.
  • VARIATIONS: Use this versatile base to make a variety of gelato flavors, such as PistachioRaspberry RoseBlueberry, or Cherry and Raspberry Ripple!
  • MAKE IT DAIRY-FREE: Use lactose-free milk or oat milk instead of regular dairy milk.
  • MAKE IT VEGAN: Get my recipe and instructions for making vegan gelato right here --> http://bit.ly/FNVeganGelato

Did you make this?

Tell me how you liked it! Leave a comment or take a picture and tag it with @foodnouveau on Instagram.

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Author: Marie Asselin

Prep Time: 10 mins
Cook Time: 10 mins
Churning/Freezing Time: 2 hrs 30 mins

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  1. 5 stars
    Amazing recipe! The first time I made it I used vanilla extract because I didn’t have a bean and it turned out great. The second time I added cardamom and start anise to the custard base and used them to make peach and blueberry gelato. I liked the companion video with all of the great details about ice cream makers and the gelato technique. Be patient with cooking the custard- it’s absolutely worth doing this method over the Sicilian!

    • Adding spices to the custard definitely provides a really lovely flavor boost to fruit-based gelati! So happy to read my video class and tips were helpful to you. I’d love to hear which flavors you’re gonna churn next!

  2. 5 stars
    I’m going to try your chocolate gelato, but instead of coffee liquor do you know this amazing Italian chocolate liquor? Bicerin Originale Di Giandujotto. It’s incredible! Thanks for the YouTube video helped me get going. My favorite flavour experiment so far is… Amarela cherries with a touch of Almond essence.

    • Thanks for the feedback Ali! Happy to know my recipe is working well for you. I did not know the chocolate and hazelnut liquor you mentioned but now I’m obsessed with it! I hope I can find it where I am. If you have it on hand, you could definitely add a tablespoonful or two to either the dark chocolate gelato or my gianduja gelato! Let me know if you give it a try.

  3. Hi.
    Little baffle here. I saw you on YouTube. Saying one egg and if like to get recipes from this site and showing 5 yolks . Which one is correct??
    Thank you

  4. I made a mistake and added 4 whole eggs instead of 4 yokes for my gelato. It is in the fridge cooling – should I throw it out?

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.