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What’s the Difference Between Ice Cream and Gelato?

It’s high season for frozen treats! Truthfully, we’ll eat most of these no matter what name they go by, but is there really a difference between ice cream and gelato? Or is gelato just a fancier name for regular ol’ ice cream?

Ice Cream: Fluffy and Full of Fat

Ice cream is a frozen dairy dessert made of milk, cream, sugar, and (typically) egg yolks. Traditionally, French-style ice cream contained egg yolks and was richer than American-style ice cream, which didn’t initially contain eggs. However, American ice cream has now evolved to also include the yolks.

The ingredients in ice cream are first cooked together into a rich custard. After the custard base is cooled, it’s churned at a fairly high speed to incorporate air and increase its volume (cheaper ice creams tends to have more air whipped into them).

Ice cream is served at a fairly cold temperature that makes scoops hold together, and the finished product is smooth, light-textured, and creamy.

Ice Cream Recipes

  • Basic Vanilla Ice Cream
  • Peach Pie Ice Cream
  • Buttery Popcorn Ice Cream
  • Coffee Ice Cream with Hot Fudge Sauce
  • Strawberry Ice Cream with Cocoa Nibs

Gelato: Dense and Intense

Gelato is the Italian word for ice cream. It starts out with a similar custard base as ice cream, but has a higher proportion of milk and a lower proportion of cream and eggs (or no eggs at all). It is churned at a much slower rate, incorporating less air and leaving the gelato denser than ice cream.

Gelato is served at a slightly warmer temperature than ice cream, so its texture stays silkier and softer. Because it has a lower percentage of fat than ice cream, the main flavor ingredient really shines through.

Gelato Recipes

  • Chocolate Gelato with Salted Caramel Pecans
  • Chocolate & Hazelnut Praline Gelato

Although I love both of them, my mood sometimes dictates what I prefer. If it’s a really hot day, I would rather have ice cream since it won’t melt as quickly and I don’t have to quickly eat it. If I just want a little bit of dessert, though, I choose gelato since it has a more intense, satisfying flavor that I can savor.

Do you prefer ice cream or gelato?

We break down what constitutes ice cream and what constitutes gelato.

French-Style Ice Cream

2 – Didn’t like it

This traditional ice cream has an egg-rich custard base. Molly Moon’s Christina Spittler says the egg yolks help make a denser ice cream. Slideshow: More Great Ice Cream Recipes

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Recipe Summary

Ingredients

Set a medium bowl in a large bowl of ice water. In another medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks with 1/2 cup of the sugar until pale, about 3 minutes.

In a medium saucepan, combine the cream, milk, salt and remaining 1/4 cup of sugar and bring to a simmer, whisking until the sugar is completely dissolved. Whisk the hot cream mixture into the beaten egg yolks in a thin stream.

Transfer the mixture to the saucepan and cook over moderately low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the custard is thick enough to lightly coat the back of the spoon, about 4 minutes; don’t let it boil. Pour the custard through a fine-mesh strainer into the medium bowl in the ice water. Let cool completely, stirring frequently. Refrigerate the custard until very cold, at least 1 hour.

Pour the custard into an ice cream maker with flavorings, if using, and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer the frozen custard to a plastic container, cover and freeze until firm, at least 3 hours.

Notes

Add flavorings to the ice cream maker at the beginning of the freezing cycle.
Chocolate-Toffee: 1 cup broken chocolate-and-toffee-covered saltines or pretzels
Blackberry-Sage: 3/4 cup blackberry preserves mixed with 1 tablespoon minced fresh sage
Salted Caramel: 3/4 cup pourable salted- caramel sauce
Strawberry-Jalapeño:1 cup strawberries macerated in 3 tablespoons sugar with 1 teaspoon minced jalapeño

This decadent ice cream base is made from a rich egg custard. It's delicious mixed with caramel sauce, chocolate and nuts.