If you have ever traveled to continental Europe–notably Italy–and eaten ice cream in a local gelateria, the difference between ice cream and an authentic gelato is more than apparent. Gelato is the Italian word for ice cream and bears no resemblance to the commercial product on the shelves in the States.
The basis of a gelato is a creamy custard made of eggs and whole milk. It is enriched with milk powder for stability and by quantity, low in sugar. The number of eggs gives the gelato its vibrant yellowish color; the beating of the eggs and sugar and slow cooking bring the creaminess. Unlike a commercial ice cream with stabilizers and additives, gelato melts rather quickly, making eating all the more fun.
Once made, this custard becomes the support for endless flavors and everyone has their favorite. Master this basic custard and your choices will be endless–you will probably never buy ice cream again.
Note: while there are multiple steps to this recipe, this dish is broken down into workable categories to help you better plan for preparation and cooking.
Make the Custard
Gather the ingredients.
Warm the milk in a large saucepan with 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, 2 teaspoons of the sugar, and the milk powder. Stir well to ensure everything is incorporated.
Lower the heat, simmer for 5 minutes, remove from the heat, and leave to infuse while you prepare the remaining ingredients.
Place the egg yolks into the bowl of a stand mixer with the remaining sugar and vanilla extract and whisk for at least 10 minutes until the eggs are light, fluffy, and increased in volume.
Put a mixing bowl large enough to hold the custard into the freezer or chill down with ice cubes.
Gently reheat the milk to warm–but not hot or boiling as you risk curdling the custard.
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.
Return the custard to the milk pan, place over low heat, and stir continuously to cook slowly and gently until the mixture has thickened enough to coat the back of a metal spoon.
Pour the custard into the chilled down bowl and continue to stir until the custard is cold enough to put back into the refrigerator. Continue with either the ice cream maker instructions or churn by hand per below.
With an Ice Cream Maker
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.
Then churn in your ice cream machine following the manufacturer's instructions.
Variation Without Ice Cream Maker
- Put the custard into the freezer for 30 minutes after you've poured it into a plastic tub with a well-fitting lid.
- Take it out and beat with either a fork, hand whisk, or electric hand mixer to break the custard down to a smooth consistency.
- Do this 3 or 4 times every 30 minutes, then store the ice cream in a plastic tub with a well-fitting lid.
- Remove the ice cream from the refrigerator 10 minutes before serving and enjoy!
Raw Egg Warning
Consuming raw and lightly-cooked eggs poses a risk of food-borne illness.
- Take your time and never rush the egg and milk mixture as you risk curdling the mixture; once this happens, it will not recover.
- Chill down 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.
- The variations of gelato are endless–you are restricted only by your imagination. Flavors need to be pronounced as once frozen, they lose some of their potency–so think big.
- Add fruit in pieces for texture or as a puree for taste; add in when churning.
- Nuts, chocolate chips, crushed honeycomb, coconut pieces, and all other textures during churning.
- Use alcohol sparingly as it can prevent the ice cream from freezing if you use too much; add to the milk when warming.
- Colors and flavorings should be added to the milk.