When it comes to frozen treats, ice cream is an all-American favorite — but gelato is hot on its tail. Gelato, which literally means "frozen" in Italian, is rich, dense and creamy, yet it has less fat than most commercial ice creams.
American labeling laws require that ice creams have a fat content of at least 10 percent, with most ranging from 15 to 45 percent. Gelatos have no set standards and require less cream and fewer or no eggs, which are the main sources of fat in ice cream. But gelato's comparatively lower fat content doesn't make it a health food. Enjoy the creamy treat, but stick to a half-cup serving.
To make gelato at home, you have to work fast with cold equipment and ingredients to prevent the formation of ice crystals. Commercial manufacturers have machines that churn and store gelato at 5 degrees Fahrenheit, the perfect temperature for freezing.
Home cooks have to rely on basic kitchen tools — a tall order when using a simple stainless steel bowl or an ice cream machine. In addition, conventional home freezers hold food at about zero degrees Fahrenheit — enough of a temperature difference to turn gelato into a block of ice.
Aeration is another challenge when making both ice cream and gelato. Ice cream is churned at a high speed, incorporating enough air to cause a 90-percent increase in volume, called an "overrun."
Gelato is churned at a slower pace with minimal aeration, resulting in no more than a 20-percent overrun. However, aeration can be difficult to achieve by hand or with an ice cream maker, so expect a denser finished product.
So how do you get started? First, you'll make a base, which is the liquid state of gelato before it is frozen. Ingredients are cooked, then chilled over an ice bath. Once cooled to room temperature, the base mixture is transferred to the refrigerator to chill even further. Refrigeration is key to creating a cold base, which helps prevent the formation of ice crystals. Nobody likes a crunchy, icy gelato!
4 Tips for Gelato Success
- Make a super-cold gelato base by freezing one-third of the batch and then mixing it into the refrigerated portion just before freezing.
- Place all the equipment you will be using (spoons, bowls, pans) in the freezer at least an hour before you use them.
- For an efficient freeze, use a cookie sheet or a jellyroll pan, which have more surface area than a bowl. More surface area means the mixture will freeze faster, which helps eliminate ice crystal formation.
- Gelato tastes better when served at a warmer temperature. If your batch is particularly cold, let it sit out for five minutes before serving.
Same-Day Gelato Base (Made without an Ice Cream Machine)
Developed by Sara Haas
This gelato tastes best when eaten the same day it's made after a short time in the freezer. Because homemade gelato contains no commercial-grade emulsifiers or stabilizers, it has a shorter shelf life. Make smaller batches and freeze just before eating.
Prefer an eggless gelato? Try this recipe
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 5 large egg yolks
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- Pinch of kosher salt
- Combine milk and cream in a saucepan and cook gently over medium-low heat (do not allow it to boil). In a bowl, whisk together egg yolks and sugar until thick and light yellow. Once the milk and cream mixture reaches 170°F, slowly incorporate the hot liquid into the yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Transfer the mixture back to the saucepan and cook, stirring constantly, until the temperature reaches 185°F.
- Create an ice bath by filling a bowl with ice and water. Using a mesh strainer or piece of cheesecloth, strain the custard into a bowl set over the ice bath. Stir the mixture until it's cooled to room temperature. Add salt, cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.
- At least an hour before the next step, place a jellyroll pan, metal spoon and spatula in the freezer. After chilling, pour a third of the gelato mixture onto a cold jellyroll pan and return pan to the freezer uncovered for 20 minutes.
- Using a bench scraper or stiff spatula and working from the freezer, scrape the frozen gelato mixture off the pan and into the refrigerated base. With a whisk, stir until the frozen gelato is fully incorporated.
- Pour directly onto the pan without removing it from the freezer. Using the spoon or spatula, spread the gelato mix evenly onto the pan. Leave uncovered and close the freezer.After 45 minutes, check the consistency. The gelato is ready when the sides are frozen and the middle is mostly frozen but not slushy. If the middle appears runny, freeze it for another 15 minutes. Serves 6.
- Vanilla gelato: Whisk 1 tablespoon of vanilla bean paste into the gelato base after it has cooled and before freezing.
- Cinnamon gelato: Follow the vanilla gelato recipe and add 1½ teaspoons of good-quality ground cinnamon.
Serving size: ½ cup
Calories: 298; Total fat: 21g; Saturated fat: 12g; Cholesterol: 217mg; Sodium: 77mg; Carbohydrates: 22g; Fiber: 05g; Sugars: 22g; Protein: 6g; Potassium: 153mg; Phosphorus: 148mg