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How to Make Gelato: A Detailed, Step-by-Step Recipe (Dairy-Free, Vegan Options)


How to Make Gelato: A Detailed, Step-by-Step Recipe (Dairy-Free, Vegan Options)

Get detailed, step-by-step instructions and tips to make the creamiest gelato and learn how to turn it into countless flavors.

Classic Vanilla Bean Gelato //

This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure is at the bottom of the article.

Before going to Italy for the first time many years ago, I had heard about the awesomeness of gelato. Everyone who had tasted it seemed possessed by the memory of its taste, telling me about its smooth creaminess and intense flavor. No one seemed to know whether it was ice cream, sorbet, or something else, but they knew it was heavenly. I ended up eating it almost every day while I was there, and I tried all the fruity flavors, which are my favorites. Gelato’s taste is very intense and pure, its color is vivid, and its texture is clean. I thought it tasted like sorbet but without the egg-white, frothy texture. Because of the saturated colors, I thought it might not contain dairy.

After I came back, I researched gelato to find out what it is, how it’s made, and what makes it so delightful.

What Makes Gelato Different from Ice Cream?

Gelato is not just a fancy name for ice cream? Here’s what makes gelato unique:

  • Gelato contains less fat than ice cream. Ice cream’s main ingredient is cream, whereas gelato is made mainly from milk. Some gelato recipes use a small quantity of cream, and some use only milk. Gelato also usually uses less egg yolks than does custard-based ice cream, although that depends on the recipe. Fat coats the tongue in a lovely, silky way, but it also tends to mute flavors. Gelato’s lower fat content could explain why people tend to find its taste brighter and more intense. The flavors come through more directly then when they’re blended with heavy cream.
  • Gelato has a denser texture than ice cream. Gelato is churned at a lower speed than ice cream, which means that the finished product contains less air than ice cream, creating the dense texture of gelato.
  • Gelato is served at warmer temperatures than ice cream. Storing gelato at warmer temperatures makes it softer, providing its signature silky texture. Ice-cold treats numb the tongue, but because gelato is served soft, you feel like you’re having a richer treat than its fat content indicates. The warmer serving temperature also allows the flavors to come through better.

How to Make Gelato at Home

First things first: you need the right recipe, of course. There is no single recipe for gelato, and like many culinary specialties in Italy, each region makes it slightly differently. Over the years, I’ve adopted two recipes for basic vanilla-bean gelato.

The first is a classic recipe. Its base is an egg yolk-rich custard that gives it a creamy texture, which I find closer to that of classic ice cream, and a pale yellow tinge.

The second is a Sicilian variation that uses cornstarch, a thickening agent that allows you to use fewer egg yolks, making a bright white gelato and a delightfully silky, mouth-coating texture. I discovered the Sicilian cornstarch trick fairly recently, and it has quickly become my favorite way of making gelato. Click here for the recipe to make Sicilian-Style Vanilla Bean Gelato.

To discover which is your favorite recipe for vanilla bean gelato, you’ll need to try both methods.

Pictured below, at the top: Classic Vanilla Bean Gelato
Bottom: Sicilian-Style Vanilla Bean Gelato

A comparison between Classic Vanilla Bean Gelato, and Sicilian-Style Vanilla Bean Gelato //

Do You Need an Ice Cream Maker to Make Gelato?

Yes, to produce the silky, rich texture of authentic Italian gelato, you do need an ice cream maker. An ice cream maker freezes the custard slowly while continually mixing it, creating a super-fine texture free of ice crystals or harder chunks. Some companies now offer specialty appliances labeled as gelato makers, but all ice cream makers on the market churn at a much lower speed than commercial ice cream makers, which make them perfectly suited for making gelato.

Classic Vanilla Bean Gelato //

The Ingredients You Need to Make Gelato

Using best quality ingredients will produce the most flavorful gelato. Use super-fresh eggs, whole milk, and cream as well as top-quality flavorings, such as vanilla beans, pure vanilla extract, and cocoa powder. If you’re making fruit varieties, use seasonally fresh, perfectly ripe fruits or top-quality fruit purees. I don’t recommend using skim or partially skimmed milk because the texture and taste simply won’t be the same.

If you’re lactose intolerant, you can substitute lactose-free milk and cream.

Ingredients to make Classic Vanilla Bean Gelato //

How to Make Vegan Gelato

I developed a recipe to make a rich-tasting vegan gelato base, which you can use as a substitute in any recipe that requires a classic gelato base. My vegan gelato recipe includes instructions to make delightful Mango and Passion Fruit Gelato. Get my recipe and instructions for making vegan gelato right here.

How to Make Vegan Gelato + Mango Passionfruit Gelato //

How to Serve Homemade Gelato

Last but not least, here’s an important serving tip. Because home freezers are set to very low temperatures, make sure you always take your gelato out of the freezer 10 to 15 minutes before serving it. That will not only make it easier to serve—gelato’s lower fat content means it freezes rock hard—but also soften it to a consistency closer to what you would enjoy at a gelati bar, waking up the flavors and giving it the luxurious texture that is so easy to fall in love with.

How to Make Classic Vanilla Bean Gelato //

Video Class: How to Make Gelato

Video Class: How to Make Gelato: Tips and Recipes to Make the Delightful Italian Frozen Treat //

Never made gelato before? Curious about what makes gelato different from ice cream? Check out my detailed video class: How to Make Gelato: Tips and Recipes to Make the Delightful Italian Frozen Treat. In it, you’ll find out what makes gelato different from ice cream, how to make a versatile gelato base you can turn into a variety of flavors, and all my secrets and tips to churn and serve outstanding gelato. I even share how to make dairy-free vegan gelato! In short, it’s a very thorough, colorful class that will quickly turn you into a gelato master. Watch Now!

Classic Vanilla Bean Gelato //

Classic Vanilla Bean Gelato

Learn how to make gelato, the delightful Italian frozen treat. Get instructions to make the creamiest gelato and tips to turn one base into a multitude of flavors.
Prep Time:10 mins
Cook Time:10 mins
Churning/Freezing Time:2 hrs 30 mins
Servings 1 quart (4 cups/1L)
Author Marie Asselin,


  • 3 cups milk, preferably whole (3.25% m.f.) or partly skimmed (2% m.f.)
  • 5 large egg yolks (about 20 grams each)
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise


  • In a medium saucepan, warm the milk over medium heat until it just starts to bubble around the edge (no need to bring it to a boil). Remove from the heat and reserve.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large mixing bowl if you’re using a hand mixer, beat the egg yolks and sugar together until the mixture is thick and creamy (about 2 minutes at medium speed). With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour in one ladleful of the hot milk into the egg mixture. Slowly pour in the rest of the mixture and beat until the milk is well incorporated.
  • Pour the milk and egg mixture back into the saucepan, add the vanilla bean, and place over medium-low heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the custard coats the back of a wooden spoon.
    Custard coating the back of a wooden spoon // Classic Vanilla Bean Gelato //
  • Remove from the heat. Let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for a few hours, or preferably overnight to infuse the custard with a deeper vanilla flavor.
  • Fish the vanilla bean out of the custard, then pour the custard through a fine mesh strainer into the bowl of an ice cream maker (straining the mixture will ensure a silky smooth gelato). Freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Stop the machine when the gelato is icy but still soft.
  • Transfer the gelato to an airtight container and freeze until firm, about two hours.
  • STORAGE: The gelato will keep, frozen, for up to 1 month.
  • SERVING: Always take the gelato out to room temperature 10 to 15 minutes before serving to soften it and make it easier to scoop.
  • VARIATIONS: Use this versatile base to make a variety of gelato flavors, such as PistachioRaspberry RoseBlueberry, or Cherry and Raspberry Ripple!
  • MAKE IT DAIRY-FREE: Use lactose-free milk or oat milk instead of regular dairy milk.
  • MAKE IT VEGAN: Get my recipe and instructions for making vegan gelato right here -->

Did you make this?

Tell me how you liked it! Leave a comment or take a picture and tag it with @foodnouveau on Instagram.

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Prep Time: 10 mins
Cook Time: 10 mins
Churning/Freezing Time: 2 hrs 30 mins


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Recipe Rating

  1. I made a mistake and added 4 whole eggs instead of 4 yokes for my gelato. It is in the fridge cooling – should I throw it out?

  2. If you’re lactose intolerant how did you eat the gelato while you were in Italy? I’m pretty sure the shops in Italy weren’t using lactose free milk/cream.

  3. hello ms Marie! if i want a cheese flavor, what’s the right process for the cheese do i have to put it in my base when it’s ready for churning? or do i have to melt the cheese first? Thank You:D

    • Hello Anjo, that is a very good question! I have never made or tasted cheese gelato. I would guess you’d need to melt the cheese in the hot custard. I think a creamy cheese such as goat’s cheese or ricotta would work well! Good luck and please report back if you do decide to incorporate cheese in your gelato recipe.

  4. just saw your web site I am a celiac who has recently also become lactose intolerant. Could I substitute the milk for soy or coconut milk

    • Hello Claire! Yes, you can absolutely substitute soy or coconut milk for the regular milk. I am myself lactose intolerant so I use lactose-free milk. You just need to make sure the milk you’re using can withstand the heat (so it doesn’t curdle when you prepare the custard). Also, I would recommend using the kind of milk that best suits the flavor of gelato you’re planning to make. Coconut milk has a stronger taste, so it’s best with stronger flavors, such as citrus fruits. Soy milk is more versatile! Good luck with your gelato-making endeavors.

    • If you wanted to make a vanilla custard base, you would add a halved vanilla pod to the cream (or milk) when you bring it to a simmer. Let cool, then fish out the vanilla pod before pouring the cream (or milk) into the egg yolk mixture.

  5. Can you leave the gelato in the ice cream maker, (with plastic on top for airtightness) then let it harden in the freezer ?

    I have limited space, am considering getting the ice cream maker.

  6. Tbanks for the recipe, think I may have had a bit of egg white in my yolks so no matter how long I left it over the simmering water it didn’t thicken. Still very liquedy but I have added some lemon zest as I want to make a lemon gelato into the mix and have it cooling over night. Will still attempt to churn it in the ice cream maker tomorrow.

  7. Hi Marie,

    Thank you, I always thought Ice Cream/ Gelato is a long and tough process. I can do this now.

    However, My Parents are Vegetarian by Religion, hence they don’t even eat eggs, so is there a substitute to eggs that I can use to make the custard?.

    Thanks again for this lovely post.

  8. I forgot to put the mixture into the saucepan after the liquid was added into the yolks(the first time I did, the eggs curdled), now my mixture is sitting in the fridge half-frozen. Can I still salvage it? Or do I have to throw it away?(I don’t like wasting stuff, so if someone can help me save it, I would be most grateful)

    • not sure what your “mixture” is if it does not contain the egg yet it will not be a custard so no good for icecream. if you add the hot cream to the creamed sugar and eggs slowly while beating it will not turn into scrambled egg. then reheat slowly it must not boil or it will turn into scrambled egg so gently does it, and the egg will slowly thicken the cream hence custard! if you are up to the custard stage you can simply thaw it and put it into your icecream maker and away you go.

    • You can make this without a machine it will need to be beaten regularly during the freezing process to get the whipped effect. take it out every now and then if you have a stick blender these are good to get a creamed effect and add air keep putting it back in the freezer after each beating to freeze some more.

  9. I went to Italy (Rome) and Spain (Madrid, Zaragoza, and Barcelona) just last week for 10 days, I actually prefered the Spanish version a lot better. Do you know if I can use an alternative to alcohol? I’m addicted to gelato, and I had it everyday. Strawberry, lemon, peach and pineapple.

  10. Hi Marie;
    I used your Dark Chocolate Gelato recipe last night for Father’s Day and it was a hit!! There’s hardly any left! Now I’m toying with the idea of a gari or pickled ginger gelato, but I don’t know where to start… One of the reasons that I loved the dark chocolate gelato recipe so much is because it didn’t call for cream or eggs. I used 1% milk and it came out GREAT!!!
    So, if you have any advice for a pickled ginger gelato, please share them with me. I have been looking at some of the products by The Ginger People (syrup, juice, pickled ginger & preserves).

  11. Marie – thank you for taking time to reply to all these comments. You clearly care about people’s experiences. The gelato is truly beautiful and I’m planning to try adding peppermint to it for the holiday rather than fruit.
    I did a little looking around re the US milk product fat% thing and think I’ll add 1 tablespoon of cream to 2 1/2 c whole milk, minus 1T, to get the 5% ratio you have in Canada. Turns out that fat % can be calculated by taking the grams of fat and dividing by the overall grams in one cup. So if you take 8g/227g (1 cup of whole milk) and add 4g of cream (1 teaspoon)you get 12g of fat/227g of liquid equalling the 5%. That was sort of fun to figure out as I didn’t feel really pressured to get it right.

    One interesting note about egg yolks is while they have a high fat content many naturopaths consider the protein and other nutritive values in egg yolks to be healthy for you. Cream is pure fat, no protein. So now when my favorite male friend tells me he’s eating better because he’s switched to gelato instead of ice cream I can just grin at him and no longer worry about his health. (-:

    • I’ve used a similar recipe to make a custard based mint chocolate chip ice cream several times. A single tablespoon of peppermint extract will do the trick for a 1.5qt batch.

  12. Damn this looks good, even though I too am lactose intolerant. But my biggest peeve is having to buy an Ice Cream Maker. Can you hand stir it? I could do it front of the TV and get some exercise. Guess cavemen never had Ice Cream. But these photos are lovely. Absolutely love what you did with the fruit.

    • well I am two years late, but if you don’t have a ice cream maker, layer or pour your gelato in a brownie pan place it in freezer, and stir every 20 minutes, till you reach the desired thickness you like. just place plastic wrap over it to keep it from getting ice on top. then place your gelato in a air tight container and freeze. make sure to place plastic wrap on top of gelato, to keep ice from forming on top. a little more time but it works.

    • I bought a Cuisinart Ice Cream freezer on QVC – about $70 and you don’t have to do it the old fashioned way with rocksalt…it’s easy and I highly recommend it! : )

    • Don’t despair Cinnamon Vogue, you to can enjoy ice cream….. Simply find a Natropathic Physician than practises NAET, to eliminate your lactose intolerance. It’s easy and non invasive. Be warned though, you may put on weight at first as you over indulge on dairy… Good luck!

  13. I was under the impression that “real” Italian gelati is made with milk, sugar, starch and flavorings, there are no eggs in gelati. Have you ever heard that? Thanks..

    • Frank, the definition of what makes gelato different from ice cream seem to differ. Gelato is basically Italian ice cream, and depending on the region, some use milk, some exclude dairy, some use eggs, some don’t. Usually, the gelato base contains less fat than the ice cream base (being made with milk and not cream). Read David Lebovitz’ article (he’s a reference on the topic) for more information and useful links.

  14. I’d like to try a pomagranit version and a watermelon version but would thease be more sorbets or sherbets then gelato’s ? Would there be any changes I’d have to make for the watermelon version that you could think of? Both seem like a lite cool fruit I don’t want to turn it into a heavy thick dessert.

  15. I would love to try this recipe but I’m not quite sure what you mean by 5% cooking cream. I see your edit in the how to section about light cream but even light cream is over 20% fat. What is the 5% cooking fat you mention in the ingredients list? Also, if you’re using such a high cream content in your base wouldn’t you get ice cream (typically 14 – 18% fat) rather than gelato (typically 4-8%)?

    • Sorry if the cream situation is confusing! Cream in Canada is labeled with precise fat percentage instead of just “light” or “heavy”. I believe 5% cream is called “coffee cream” in the US, but you might as well just use whole milk (which, if it’s the same as in Canada, contains 3.25% fat). You’re right that using cream containing a higher fat percentage makes it ice cream, so make sure to choose whole milk or a lighter cream to make gelato.

  16. A children’s book titled Olivia Goes to Venice inspired me to look up recipes and instructions regarding gelato. My son will be so please as he tried some store bought gelato yesterday. I thought we could try making it together.

    • Gelato is a great recipe to make with kids – it’s easy and they love witnessing the transformation from liquid to frozen in the ice cream machine! I hope you try it.

  17. Thanks so much for this! My wife and I made a peach, pear and Moscato wine gelato. It’s to die for.

    • Veronica, after reading your post, I now have to run out and get an ice cream maker and make that moscato gelato. Did you pair it with the fruits or by itself?

    • That combination of flavors really does sound amazing! I’m taking a note of it, would love to try it.

  18. white mountain Ice cream maker the best you can get we had one my whole childhood growing up and mine i have is 20 years old.

    • Thank you Jan for your recommendation! I didn’t know that brand and I looked it up online. Looks like it has a great reputation indeed! I also like how it looks, does yours also look like a small wooden bucket? I love it!

  19. I just returned from 22 days in Italy. Rome, Florence, Cinque Terra, and Venice. I fad Fragola (Strwberry) and Melon (Canalope) DAILY!!! It was amazing!! I am not sure if they were milk based they seemed more fruity then anything. I also indulged in PASTRY several times a week but with all the walking you do EVERYWHERE I DIDN’T GAIN ONE OUNCE IN 22 days. I am hooked. Tomorrow is my Birthdayvand I am going to a store to get me an ice cream maker!! Any suggestions for which major stores might carry the ones you suggested?? I am in the SF East Bay area of CA.

    • Yes, all the walking we do while on vacation is indeed the secret to indulge in all the sweet and savory delights that come our way! The ice cream maker I use is the Cuisinart’s Pure Indulgence 2-qt., it’s a very widely distributed brand. I’m sure you can find it in many department stores in the San Francisco area, or you can order it online from Amazon. Happy birthday to you and I hope you enjoy making gelato at home!

  20. I am also lactose intollerant and i want to make ice cream, the milk i use is lactaid or off brand lactose free milk. Will these work for ice cream and gelato recipes?

    • Hello Amelia, I’m lactose-intolerant too, and I use lactose-free milk or cream all the time to make ice cream and gelato and the result is just as delicious. No reason for us to miss out! Feel free to try it – soy, rice or almond milk are other great substitutes.

  21. Bought a Ti Gelataio maker at a garage sale this morning for $20 (I know, a steal!). My husband found this recipe and asked me to make it. It is almost done and looks amazing! He keeps coming by and looking at it! Thank you for the great recipe. It’s a keeper!

  22. I just went to italy, and the gelato was delicious, and when we talked to the people on the shops, they said that the true fruit gelatoes are what we would consider sorbet, because using any milk dilutes the pure fruit flavor, just to let you know. so yours is a more american version, and not something you would find their, although the base would be delicious and authentic with nutella, pistacio, chocoalte, coffee, or my favorite, tiramisu! im really excited to try this base, would you suggest adding ingredients before, while concocting the liqiud, or while freezing it into the machine?

    • Hi Sarah! Thanks for the info, I didn’t think of asking last time I went to Italy, but my stomach told me they didn’t contain cream as it was easy to digest! How else could they get such vivid colors and sharp fruity tastes??

      As for additions, like chocolate chips, cookie bites, etc.: you should add them 5 to 10 minutes before the end of churning time, when the custard is frozen but still very soft. It’ll distribute evenly into the gelato. Also, it’ll prevent your ingredients to be broken up too much by the churning motion.

      Cheers and a happy, delicious summer to you!

  23. Hey!
    The gelato looks absolutely delicious. However, I do have one question. What was the capacity of the ice cream maker you used, and how much gelato did you make? I currently do not have an ice cream maker, and am looking for an inexpensive model but don’t want one that would be too large or too small for my purposes.

    Thank you!
    Louie Lin

    • Hello Louie! I personally use a Cuisinart 2 quart capacity ice cream maker such as this one. To be honest, I find it a bit bulky and an ice cream recipe that yields between 1 and 1.5 quarts will give you 8 to 12 portions, which I find plenty as I love to try new flavors often! I do recommend Cuisinart machines as they are very reliable, and their entry-level white model, which has a 1.5-qt capacity and sells around $50, would be a great buy.

  24. Hi there,

    It seems that the claim of gelato containing less fat due to the use of regular milk would be somewhat negated due to the fat and cholesterol content of the egg yolks required.

    Is the resulting gelato going to actually contain more fat than regular ice cream?


    • You’re right, the use of egg yolks probably brings the fat content close to ice cream. However, not all gelato recipes include egg yolks – for example, Sicilian gelato uses cornstarch instead of egg yolks to thicken the iced treat – so if you’re looking for a lighter gelato, you could try and look for those recipes.

  25. i love ice cream so much… but i found the best now, gelato! like ice cream but the textures really smooth no frothy. I would like borrow your recipe for make my own banana gelato and mango. But i have to find my mom ice cream maker first:) thank you for sharing, it have to be done before christmas

    • Thank you! I can’t wait for summer to make more gelato… the only one I can bring myself to enjoy in the heart of winter if a dark chocolate variety that’s so indulgent, you forget it’s cold :) I’ll for sure post the recipe sometime this year.

    • Thank you! They were as delicious as they looked. Italian egg yolks have a very deep yellow color, on the brink of turning orange, which makes pasta and gnocchi rather colorful.

  26. beautiful, what a gorgeous colour! I am learning to love fruit flavours of ice cream and gelato as I've always been more of a chocolate-y or peanut buttery fan myself. I could definitely down this though, it looks so good!

    • Thank you! This gelato is definitely mouth-watering. As for your chocolate preference, I make a dark-chocolate gelato that is to die for. Think the creamy frozen version of a 70% cocoa chocolate bar. Yum! I'll post it to the blog very soon.

  27. My god, this looks so fantastic!! I recently purchased an ice cream maker and this is so going on the must make list. I love the combination of raspberry and cherries and the swirl. It all looks so delicious.

    • Ledelicieux: Believe me, it's as good as it looks! It take a bit of prep time but I think it's worth it. I bought my ice cream machine this spring and I'm really enjoying it! I'm lactose intolerant so the machine allows me to be very flexible in my choice of ingredients. I've made ice creams, gelato, frozen yogurt and sorbets – very happy with all of the yummy results! I hope you like it as much as I do.

    • Katie: Blueberry gelato is wonderful. I would recommend adding blueberry puree to your gelato: simmer 2 cups blueberries, 1/4 cup water, 1/4 cup sugar together for about 10 minutes, then puree and let cool. Then add to your custard base before churning. Another tip: I've seen recipes that use blueberry jam instead of the sugar in the ratio I just gave you. It gives a flavor boost that may be necessary if you're off season – but it's not the case right now, your blueberries are probably ripe and bursting with flavor. I wouldn't recommend adding whole blueberries to the gelato because the fruit contains a lot of water, so they would turn out very hard once frozen. But adding, say, white chocolate chips to your ice cream maker 5 minutes before the end of your churning time would probably be lusicous. Good luck!

  28. "The simplest gelato is made with an egg custard and cream."
    Actually, true gelato has a milk base.

    • Silviu: I did find as much authentic references giving gelati recipes made with light cream as I did with milk. It may be a matter of regional preferences; I know the North tend to prefer richer gelato whereas the South go for fruity and lighter flavors. But the fact that I did write "cream" can indeed seem confusing so I will edit my recipe to make it clearer. Thank you for pointing it out!

    • You're right Edie, I did have my best gelato in Florence. Then again, it was the first place in Italy where I tasted them, so maybe there's a bit of romance mixed in with my souvenir :)
      As for the ice cream maker, I think Cuisinart has the best (automatic) ice cream makers. I scored a deal on the stainless 2-quart model ( and I love it. You put your custard in, turn it on and switch it off when you reach the desired consistency. Can't be easier! They also make a white plastic model ( which I'm sure works just as well (but has a 1.5-quart capacity).
      I hope you'll indulge and try to make your own gelati, it's really worth it!

    • Glutton for Life: Good point! Well, I make mine with lactose-free milk (or soy, rice or almond milk). When I was in Italy, I always chose fruit flavors which seemed to contain less (if no) dairy. But you're totally right, gelato is so good that I will sometimes endure a little stomachache just to enjoy the goodness! That's how gourmande I am :)

    • Indeed I did! And many other flavors too… I'll spread them over the next few months so that people don't think I just eat gelato all day :)