Learn how to make Sicilian-style gelato, an incredibly creamy Italian iced treat that uses cornstarch as a thickening agent. Learn how to turn this versatile gelato base into a myriad of flavors!
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Any good gelato starts with a silky-smooth, rich base. To make delicious homemade gelato, you can use classic gelato custard, which uses egg yolks as a thickening agent, or this Sicilian-style gelato base, which replaces egg yolks with cornstarch.
Gelato and ice cream both need a stabilizing ingredient to stay rich and smooth. Stabilizers in gelato prevent water from turning into ice crystals, which affect the texture of the frozen treat. Although “stabilizers” might sound technical and scary, they’re easy to find and as natural as can be: the most commonly used stabilizer is egg yolks, used in classic gelato and ice cream, but you can also use cornstarch, such as in this Sicilian-style gelato base.
Cornstarch in gelato? You read that right. According to Faith Willinger, a food writer based in Italy, using cornstarch to thicken gelato is a Sicilian tradition that was adopted to make gelato more digestible than the traditional egg yolk-based variety—something that became a necessity during scorching hot Sicilian summers.
I personally like to churn and enjoy gelato all year long, so anything that can make it more digestible all year long, I’m up for it! Sicilian-style gelato has a wonderfully silky, mouth-coating texture that I’ve come to prefer over traditional egg yolk-based gelato. It’s also significantly leaner—though, of course, not quite healthy because of the use of heavy cream. Considering the amount of gelato I consume over the course of a year … I’m happy to make and enjoy a treat that allows me to save a few calories with every bite.
Classic gelato is made with a custard that is thickened with egg yolks. This French technique requires you to carefully warm up the egg yolks with hot liquid, which can be tricky: cook the egg yolks too quickly or over too-high heat and they will scramble and spoil your custard.
Sicilian-style gelato foregoes the use of egg yolks, which means all you need to do is warm up the liquids, whisk in the sugar and cornstarch mixture, stir until thick, and you’re done. In other words, yes, Sicilian-style gelato is quicker and easier to make than regular, egg yolk-based gelato. It’s basically foolproof!
The extra egg yolk is a trick that I’ve adopted over years of making Sicilian-style gelato. Adding just the one egg yolk at the end of the cooking process (as opposed to the five egg yolks required in the classic recipe) adds just a tiny bit of richness to the texture of the gelato to make it totally irresistible. It’s the best of both worlds, in my humble opinion.
If you want to make an eggless gelato, rest assured: the egg yolk included in my Sicilian-style gelato recipe is optional. You can substitute it with ½ tablespoon (4 g) of extra cornstarch instead.
Rhubarb gelato, make with a Sicilian-style gelato base
Gelato is not just a fancy name for ice cream? Here’s what makes gelato unique:
Raspberry Rose Gelato, made with a 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 gelato.
To make Sicilian-style gelato, you need only 4 basic ingredients: heavy cream, milk, sugar, and cornstarch. In my recipe, I add one egg yolk (here’s why), but it is optional. You can then add a vanilla bean or vanilla extract to produce an outstanding vanilla gelato, or incorporate other flavorings to create a myriad of amazing gelato flavors, from dark chocolate, to pistachio, to blueberry, and even sweet corn.
Using the best quality ingredients will produce the most flavorful gelato. Use the freshest whole milk and cream as well as top-quality flavorings, such as vanilla beans or pure vanilla extract. 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. Want to make vegan gelato? I’ve got you covered.
Yes you can, and in fact, you should! Almost all of my gelato recipes start with either the classic gelato base or this Sicilian-style gelato base. This Sicilian-style gelato has become my favorite base to make all flavors of gelato, but especially fruity ones. Check out all my gelato recipes to find out where this Sicilian-Style Gelato can take you!
Cherry Ripple Gelato, made with a Sicilian-style gelato base
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 was inspired by this Sicilian-Style gelato base, which already cuts out eggs from the equation. I went further and tested all types of plant milk and cream to find out the combination that produces the very best vegan gelato. The article includes instructions to make delightful Mango and Passion Fruit Gelato. Get my recipe and instructions for making vegan gelato right here.
Vegan gelato flavored with mango and passionfruit
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.
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!
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