Classic Gelato

Classic Gelato recipe, gelato in a gray bowl

The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

Prep: 15 mins
Cook: 10 mins
Freeze Time: 3 hrs
Total: 3 hrs 25 mins
Servings: 6 servings
Yield: 1 1/2 pints
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
178 Calories
7g Fat
18g Carbs
9g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 6
Amount per serving
Calories 178
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 7g 9%
Saturated Fat 3g 16%
Cholesterol 165mg 55%
Sodium 108mg 5%
Total Carbohydrate 18g 7%
Dietary Fiber 0g 0%
Total Sugars 18g
Protein 9g
Vitamin C 0mg 1%
Calcium 173mg 13%
Iron 1mg 4%
Potassium 236mg 5%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

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 whole milk and sometimes egg yolks (depending on where in Italy it is made), which 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. 

"The gelato came out smooth and creamy and relatively soft and easy to scoop. The recipe was a snap to make. I used an ice cream maker to churn the gelato, and it was perfect. I'm looking forward to trying a few variations!" —Diana Rattray

classic gelato with chocolate sauce
A Note From Our Recipe Tester


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 preparing 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 mixture until warm but not hot or boiling to avoid curdling the custard.

    heating milk mixture in a sauce pan

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  7. Pour the liquid slowly over the beaten eggs with the mixer running on medium speed; take care 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.

    Gelato in a plastic container with lid

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  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.

    Whisking gelato mixture in plastic container

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

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

    Gelato in plastic container with lid on

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

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

    Gelato container with a scoop

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

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 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 foodborne illness. Make sure the custard is cooked to a minimum of 160 F.


  • 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. 
  • Make sure the milk is warm, not too hot, and whisk it into the egg mixture gradually in a thin stream. When placing it back on the heat, make sure to cook it just until it coats a spoon—if the milk and egg mixture becomes too hot, it could lose much of the foamy air you whisked into the eggs. If using a thermometer, look for a temperature of around 170 F to 175 F.

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. 
  • For stracciatella gelato, melt about 1 to 1 1/2 ounces of good quality chocolate with about 1/2 teaspoon of vegetable oil. Spread the melted chocolate on a sheet of parchment paper and let it cool to room temperature. Crumple the paper to break the chocolate into small pieces and stir it into the gelato mixture at the end of the churning process.