Classic Gelato

Classic Gelato recipe, gelato in a gray bowl

The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

Prep: 20 mins
Cook: 40 mins
Total: 60 mins
Servings: 12 servings
Yields: 2 pints

If you have ever traveled to Italy and eaten ice cream in a local gelateria, you have most likely experienced the difference between ice cream and authentic gelato. Gelato, the Italian word for ice cream, is denser and smoother than American ice cream. It has a lower amount of fat due to the higher proportion of milk versus cream and is churned more slowly than ice cream, which incorporates less air. Because of this, gelato's flavor is richer than ice cream and so creamy (even though it has less cream) that it melts in your mouth.

The basis of gelato is a creamy custard made of eggs and whole milk; the egg yolks give the gelato its vibrant yellowish color. Gelato is served at a warmer temperature than ice cream and therefore needs an ingredient to prevent it from melting too fast; this recipe is enriched with milk powder for stability whereas many ice creams use additives to keep the treat frozen.

Master this basic custard and you can make a variety of gelato flavors to please your family and friends. Once you try this recipe, you may never buy ice cream again. 

Ingredients

Steps to Make It

Note: While there are multiple steps to this recipe, the gelato is broken down into workable categories to help you better plan for preparation and cooking.

Make the Custard

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Classic Gelato ingredients, milk, vanilla, sugar, milk powder, egg yolks

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  2. Warm the milk in a large saucepan with 1 teaspoon of the vanilla extract, 2 teaspoons of the sugar, and the milk powder. Stir well to ensure everything is incorporated.

    milk, milk powder, sugar and vanilla in a sauce pan

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  3. Lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse while you prepare the remaining ingredients.  

    milk, sugar, vanilla and milk powder in a sauce pan, wood spoon

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  4. Place the egg yolks into the bowl of a stand mixer with the remaining vanilla extract and sugar. Whisk for at least 10 minutes until the eggs are light, fluffy, and increased in volume.

    egg yolks, sugar and vanilla in a stand mixer

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  5. Put a mixing bowl large enough to hold the custard into the freezer or chill the bowl with ice cubes.

    ice cubes in a beige bowl

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  6. Gently reheat the milk until warm but not hot or boiling as you risk curdling the custard.

    heating milk mixture in a sauce pan

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  7. With the mixer running on medium speed, slowly and gently pour the liquid over the beaten eggs; take your time and do not rush this process.

    pouring milk mixture into a blue stand mixer

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  8. Return the custard to the pan and place over low heat. Stir continuously and cook slowly and gently until the mixture has thickened enough to coat the back of a metal spoon. 

    custard mixture in a sauce pan, the back of a metal spoon is covered in custard

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  9. Pour the custard into the chilled bowl and continue to stir until the custard is cold.

    custard mixture in a beige bowl, metal spoon

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

Making Gelato By Hand

  1. Pour the gelato into a plastic tub with a well-fitting lid. Put into the freezer for 30 minutes.

  2. Take the custard out and beat with either a fork, hand whisk, or electric hand mixer to break down the custard into a smooth consistency. Do this 3 or 4 times every 30 minutes.

  3. Store the gelato in a plastic tub with a well-fitting lid.

  4. Remove the gelato from the refrigerator 10 minutes before serving and enjoy.

Using an Ice Cream Maker

  1. Cut a circle of greaseproof paper and lay this on the surface of the custard (this prevents a skin forming). Put the custard into the fridge for 3 to 4 hours or even overnight.

    custard mixture in grease proof paper, in a beige bowl

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  2. Churn in your ice cream machine following the manufacturer's instructions. 

    thick vanilla gelato in an ice cream machine

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

Raw Egg Warning

Consuming raw and lightly-cooked eggs poses a risk of food-borne illness.

Tips

  • Take your time and never rush the egg and milk mixture as you risk curdling; once this happens, it will not recover. 
  • Chill the bowl in advance as this will help the custard to cool quickly and ensure the finished gelato is soft and creamy. Not cooling the cream this way means it continues to cook and the cream will be too stiff. 

Recipe Variations

The variations of gelato are endless—you are restricted only by your imagination. The flavors need to be pronounced since once the gelato is frozen, the added ingredients lose some of their potency. 

  • Add fruit in pieces for texture or as a puree for taste; include when churning. 
  • Add nuts, chocolate chips, crushed honeycomb, or coconut pieces during churning.
  • Include a little alcohol, such as amaretto or bourbon, for an adult gelato. Make sure to use sparingly as it can prevent the ice cream from freezing if you use too much; add to the milk when warming. 
  • Colors and extracts should be added to the milk; you can buy natural flavorings for adding to gelato online. 

Is Gelato Healthier Than Ice Cream?

Since gelato is made with less cream and often less sugar compared to ice cream, it typically has fewer calories and fat. Because of its rich flavor and dense, creamy texture, you also may feel satisfied eating less. Do keep in mind, however, that any type of dessert should be eaten in moderation.