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What Is Gelato?
Gelato is a frozen dessert made from a mixture of milk, cream, and sugar. It is known for its thick, creamy texture and rich flavor. Gelato originated in Italy and is widely sold in shops called “gelaterias” around the country.
While gelato’s base ingredients stay the same no matter where it’s made, there are a few regional differences. For instance, in northern Italy and the United States, gelato often has more cream and includes egg yolks to help thicken the final product and prevents ice crystals from forming. In southern Italy, gelato is made using cornstarch as a thickening agent.
How to Make Gelato
Authentic gelato is made in the following method:
- Make a custard of (at the very least) milk, cream, and sugar over medium heat.
- Once the ingredients are properly blended, add any flavorings, like chocolate, chopped pistachios, or fruit.
- Churn the gelato slowly as it cools, either by hand or with a machine. The slow mixing is key for gelato, because it prevents excess air bubbles being folded into the cream and making the texture too light and fluffy for traditional thick gelato.
Homemade gelato is straightforward to make, very versatile in flavor options, and naturally gluten free. It can be made in an ice cream maker, provided yours has a slow setting to slow churn the gelato.
Traditional Italian gelato flavors include:
- Cream (also called “custard”), a flavor that tastes like egg custard
- Fior-di-latte (Italian for “flower of milk”), a flavor that tastes like sweet cream
- Stracciatella, flor-di-latte gelato with chocolate chips mixed in
What Is the Difference Between Gelato and Ice Cream?
Gelato and ice cream are both frozen desserts and often are confused for one another—but there are several key differences that make gelato more distinct than just being “Italian ice cream.”
- Texture. While gelato is mixed slowly to avoid excess air, ice cream is mixed quickly for more air bubbles. The less air in gelato makes it silky and thick, while ice cream is light and fluffy.
- Fat content. Gelato is made with less cream than American ice cream, which means gelato has less fat. Gelato usually has a butterfat content of around 4 to 9 percent, while ice cream has between 14 to 25 percent fat.
- Temperature. Gelato is served at temperatures around 10 to 12 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than ice cream, in order to keep gelato’s dense texture from becoming too solid and difficult to eat. This temperature difference also affects the flavor intensity of the desserts—while ice cream is cold enough to numb your tongue, gelato’s less-cold temperature means its flavor comes across much richer.
- Serving utensils. Gelato is served with a spade, which allows servers to shape and soften the gelato before serving it; ice cream is served with a scoop, which keeps the ice cream round and fluffy.
Is Gelato Dairy Free?
For a dairy-free, vegan option similar to gelato, many people try sorbetto, a frozen Italian dessert that replaces milk and cream for fruit juice or water but still follows the slow churning methods of gelato.
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