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Sicilian-Style Gelato (Dairy-Free, Vegan Options, VIDEO)


Sicilian-Style Gelato (Dairy-Free, Vegan Options, VIDEO)

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!

How to Make Sicilian-Style Gelato //

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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.

How to Make Sicilian-Style Gelato //

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.

VIDEO: See how to make Sicilian-style gelato on video

Helpful Tips for Making Sicilian-Style Gelato

Is Sicilian-style gelato easier to make than classic gelato?

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!

Why does this Sicilian-style gelato recipe use an egg yolk?

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
Rhubarb Gelato //

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 fewer egg yolks than 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 than when they’re blended with heavy cream.
  • Gelato has a denser texture than ice cream. Gelato is churned at a slower 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.

Raspberry Rose Gelato, made with a Sicilian-style gelato base
Raspberry Rose Gelato //

Do you need an ice cream maker to make Sicilian-style 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 slower speed than commercial ice cream makers, which makes them perfectly suited for making gelato.

How to Make Sicilian-Style Gelato //

The ingredients you need to make Sicilian-style 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.

Can I use this Sicilian-style gelato as a base to create other flavors of gelato?

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
Cherry Ripple Gelato //

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 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
How to Make Vegan Gelato + Mango Passionfruit Gelato //

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.


Never made gelato before? Curious about what makes gelato different from ice cream? Check out my colorful masterclass! In it, you’ll find out what makes gelato different from ice cream, how to make a versatile gelato base you can turn into various 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.

This masterclass was previously hosted behind a paywall on an educational site where thousands of students rated it 5 STARS! It’s now available to all gelato lovers worldwide, absolutely free. Watch Now!

How to Make Sicilian-Style Gelato //

Sicilian-Style Gelato

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!
Prep Time:15 minutes
Cook Time:10 minutes
Cooling + Freezing Time:4 hours
Servings 1 quart (4 cups/1L)


  • 2 cups milk, preferably whole (3.25% m.f.) or partly skimmed (2% m.f.)
  • 1 cup heavy cream (35% m.f.)
  • 1 vanilla bean split lengthwise (optional, use only to make vanilla bean gelato, or if instructed by the recipe you’re making)
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 large egg yolk, or ½ tablespoon (4 g) extra cornstarch


  • In a medium saucepan, pour 1 cup (250 ml) of the milk and all of the cream, then add the split vanilla bean, if using. Warm over medium heat until it just starts to bubble around the edge (no need to bring it to a boil).
  • Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk the remaining 1 cup (250 ml) milk, sugar, and cornstarch together. Remove the saucepan with the hot milk from the heat and whisk in the cornstarch mixture. Return the saucepan to medium heat and cook, stirring regularly, until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture thickens slightly, 6 to 8 minutes.
  • Place the egg yolk in a medium bowl and whisk until pale and thickened, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Temper the egg yolk by slowly pouring one ladleful of the hot milk mixture into the yolk, whisking constantly, then slowly pour the egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan, whisking to combine.
  • Remove from the heat. Pour into an airtight container. (Leave the vanilla bean into the gelato custard while it cools.) Let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for a few hours, or preferably overnight.
    The Sicilian-style gelato base must be very cold before churning: this will produce the smoothest, silkiest texture.
  • Fish the vanilla bean out of the custard and discard.
  • Strain the Sicilian-style gelato base to produce the smoothest texture. Pour into the bowl of an ice cream maker and churn according to the manufacturer's instructions. Stop the machine when the gelato is thick and icy but still easily spoonable.
  • STORAGE: Transfer the gelato to an airtight container and freeze until firm, about two hours.
    Homemade Sicilian-style gelato is at its creamiest and best if enjoyed within 2 weeks. Past that, some ice crystals will inevitably start forming (especially if the gelato is kept in the freezer section of a regular fridge, as opposed to a chest freezer) and the texture won't be quite as smooth. The gelato will still be perfectly edible for up to 2 months, but my advice is: enjoy it as quickly as possible after churning.
  • SERVING: Always take Sicilian-style gelato out to room temperature 20 minutes before serving to make it easier to scoop. This will also allow you to enjoy the treat at its ideal temperature and texture.
  • MAKE IT DAIRY FREE: Substitute lactose-free milk or oat milk for the regular milk, and lactose-free heavy cream or soy cream for the regular heavy cream.


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: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Cooling + Freezing Time: 4 hours


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Recipe Rating

  1. My impression from reading the various histories of Sicilian gelato is the island was too poor to use cream and egg yolks in gelato. Milk and arrowroot, and sugar were the basics.

  2. 5 stars
    Spectacular! Subs I made:
    1 cup of milk per 1 of evaporated milk;
    half and half per heavy cream;
    1/2 cup of honey imstead of sugar,
    and added 2 tablespoons of peanut butter;
    It torn up creamy and delicius.

  3. 5 stars
    This is the best vanilla gelato (or ice cream). family members who don’t like vanilla bases absolutely loved this. The texture and flavor are amazing.

  4. 5 stars
    This is hands down without comparison the BEST gelato base (and grouping of gelato recipes) and instructions to make at home. I’m Italian and my Sicilian grandma is PROUD! I used a simple KitchenAid Ice Cream maker bowl and paddle on lowest speed. Done in 10 minutes. Freeze with in linked containers or cover with parchment or plastic wrap directly on gelato to avoid ice forming. Don’t bother with any other imitation recipes they call gelato. And I won’t tell my grandma about the one egg yolk because it makes it perfection. Well done and thank you!!

  5. 5 stars
    Super….This is the first time that I used this link,and found it very interesting.
    Surely will try some more……..Thanks and keep it up.

  6. 5 stars
    Just learned about this channel from YouTube and loved the presentation. I have a compressor ice-cream maker and always use the gelato setting, but not the correct recipe. Learned a lot!

  7. I tried your gelato base using vanilla extract instead of vanilla stick. While transferring it from the ice cream maker to the bowl, I added some Lotus biscuit crumbs into it. It was absolutely delicious! Thanks a lot for the recipe! 😍🙏🏻💕

    • Taking gelato out of the freezer just a few minutes before serving makes such a big difference in terms of flavor and texture! It’s a super simple tip that allows you to enjoy gelato at its best 😍

  8. 5 stars
    Oh wow! This comes out perfect. It is so creamy and rich. My family loved the homemade gelato.