How To Make Gellato

What is gelato anyway? Is it any different from ice cream? Being lactose intolerant, regular ice cream isn’t a treat that I can enjoy anymore, it’s just too rich. Because I love refreshing summer desserts, I have in my adult life traded ice cream for sorbet, which I quite like but let’s be honest: you can’t really call sorbet indulgent, can you?

Before going to Italy for the first time, I read and heard about the awesomeness of gelato. Everybody who had tasted it seemed possessed by the souvenir of its taste, telling me about its creaminess and intense flavor. Nobody seemed to know whether it was ice cream or sorbet or what, but for sure they knew it was heavenly good. I ended up trying almost all fruity flavors, which are my favorites. The taste of a fruit gelato is very intense and pure, the color is vivid and the texture is clean. I thought it tasted like a sorbet but without the egg white frothy texture. Because of the saturated colors, I was convinced it didn’t contain dairy.

This spring, I finally bought an ice cream machine after a friend told me how fun it is to make your own at home. For sure I wanted to make gelato, but after looking around for recipes, I was confused: all the gelato recipes I found contained either cream or milk, and egg yolks as well. So I thought I would elude the mystery: what is gelato?

Simply put, gelato is ice cream that contains less fat. Many varieties are made with milk and some don’t contain egg yolks. Also, I learned that gelato counters are kept a little warmer than their ice cream counterparts. It allows it to remain softer, so, as ice cream expert David Lebovitz puts it, “your mouth doesn’t get ‘frozen’ and you can taste the flavors better.”

In Italian, gelato simply means “frozen”. It’s very likely that the fruit varieties I tasted in Italy were in fact sorbet… I’ll have to go back to further investigate this matter!

How to make gelato

The simplest gelato is made with an egg custard and {edit} light cream or milk. All the flavors combinations in the world can be added to this simple base but it’s also very good on its own (or simply infused with a fresh vanilla pod).

I have tried my hand at many flavors but this one, Cherry and Raspberry Ripple Gelato, was a hit. You can let inspiration come from what’s in season: you’ll get the most flavor out of your fruits, thus from your gelato.

You can make this recipe with lactose-free milk or cream, soy milk (choose one with the mildest aftertaste), almond or rice milk. Just make sure that the milk or cream you choose can withstand heat (some will become grainy if cooked). Test it if the package doesn’t tell you (by boiling a small quantity and tasting it afterwards). If the texture is spoiled, at least you won’t have to throw away your whole gelato recipe.

A little tip for service: because gelato contains less fat, it tends to freeze a lot harder. Take your gelato out of the freezer approximately 15 minutes before serving to soften it.

Gelato di Crema – The base

2 ½ cups 5% fat cooking cream or any kind of milk you like
5 egg yolks
½ cup granulated sugar

Heat the cream (or milk) until it is beginning to bubble, then cool slightly. Watch it closely if you don’t want to make a big mess because cream and milk reach their boiling point very suddenly.

In a large heatproof bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar until thick and creamy (about 2 minutes at medium speed). Beat the cooling cream very slowly into the eggs to warm the mixture gradually (if you add it too quickly, you may end up with scrambled eggs!).

Put the bowl over a pan of gently simmering water and stir with a wooden spoon until the custard just coats the back of the spoon.

Remove the bowl from the pan and let it cool. My trick is to place it in the sink filled with 2-3 inches of cold water and stirring it gently one in a while: this method cools the custard in about 10 minutes (you can also add ice to the water to make it even quicker). If you have time on your hands you can put it in the refrigerator. The important thing is that your custard is completely cooled when you put it in the ice cream maker.

Prepare your fruits: Raspberry and Cherry Ripple Gelato

This gelato contains cherry and raspberry puree, as well as diced fruits for texture. You could substitute pretty much any berry and I’m sure it would be equally good.

Cherry puree

2 cups pitted cherries, chopped (see this page to learn how easy it is to pit cherries)
½ cup granulated sugar
1/8 cup lemon juice (from approximately 1 lemon)

Put everything in a saucepan and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes. Let cool. Puree using a blender or a food processor. Save 1/3 cup of the cherry puree for the ripple.

Raspberry puree

1 cup fresh raspberries
1/8 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Puree all the ingredients together in a blender or a food processor. Strain the puree with a fine mesh to remove the raspberry seeds. Set aside.

Other ingredients for the ripple

¼ cup pitted and finely diced cherries
¼ cup lightly crushed raspberries
1/3 cup cherry puree (reserved from the recipe above)

Freeze the gelato:

Blend your cooled custard base with the cherry and raspberry purees (except 1/3 cup cherry puree reserved for the ripple). At this point, you can add 2 tablespoons of any alcohol you think would taste good with your flavors (I added Absolut Raspberry Vodka). It’ll help keep your gelato more scoopable.

Pour your fruit custard into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Stop the machine when the gelato is almost firm.

To get a rippled gelato:

Pour 1/4 of the gelato custard in a airtight container big enough to store the whole gelato recipe. On the gelato, pour 1/3 of the chopped fruits and 1/3 of the reserved cherry puree. Repeat twice and end with a layer of gelato custard. Layering fruits and custard this way will create the beautiful rippled look when you scoop your gelato in serving cups.

Put your assembled gelato in the freezer for an additional 30 minutes or until required. It will keep for a month.


Inspired by the basic recipe and tips from the book 500 Ice Creams, Sorbets and Gelatos: The Only Ice Cream Compendium You’ll Ever Need.