Would you like to impress your guest with a home-made gelato, reminding the one you buy in your favorite gelato shop? Or maybe you just moved and you can’t find a place for a decent gelato? Or, simply, you want to become a master with the most beloved summery dessert? No matter what your scope is, there are three points that you can’t ignore. Preparing a good gelato is not too tricky if you just follow a few fundamental rules.
1. Selecting the right ingredients
It is not just important to select high-quality ingredients, it is also crucial to dose them in the right proportions. Components of all gelato, regardless the flavor, are sugar, water, fats and proteins. Those ingredients must be correctly balanced to obtain a good quality gelato.
Water: if in excess, it can make gelato too hard. Water percentage should be 55-64%.
Sugars: they act as sweeteners and decrease the freezing point of the mixture. Sugars include both added sweeteners (e.g. sucrose) and those present into other ingredients (e.g. lactose). Their percentage should stay between 19 and 27%.
Fats: by taking contact with air, they contribute to the inclusion of air bubbles. The majority of fats comes from milk, cream and, in case of the classic-flavor gelato, eggs. Recommended percentage lies between 5 and 10%.
Proteins: they act as emulsifiers, by bridging the hydrophobic phase (water) with the hydrophobic one (fats). By binding water, proteins increase also the viscosity and make the final product creamier, slowing down the melting. The right amount of proteins should be about 3-6%.
Air: crucial to make gelato, it is introduced in the mixture, during the freezing/stirring step. The percentage must be around 35-40%.
These percentages are indicative and you can find slightly variation of the numbers reported above. They are, however, good reference values to create new gelato recipes.
2. The gelato machine
If you want to make gelato as a pro, consider buying a gelato machine. Do you think it is too expensive? Well, I can tell you that machine is worth every single penny. You would never be able to obtain a professional results without.
Maybe, you heard that you can place the gelato mixture in the freezer, remove it, whip it, put it back and repeat the cycle a few times. Unfortunately, that procedure won’t allow you obtaining a homogeneous and creamy gelato. On the other hand, the mixture will end up being hard in certain spots and softer in other.
The gelato makers with a removable bowl to pre-refrigerate are cheap, but not efficient. Before starting, you must freeze the bowl for at least 24h and, as soon as you start stirring the mixture, the bowl warms up and the gelato has problem to freeze. Long story short, you get a sort of slush, which was not exactly our purpose.
With a serious gelato machine (=the one with an inner cooling system), instead, the mixture is stirred and frozen under constant cooling. This approach has the significant advantage of limiting the growth of ice crystals, which results in a creamy and homogeneous gelato. Usually, the cooling system is bigger than the actual bowl and the machine might occupy some room, but it is essential to obtain a high-quality product. So my motto is that the gelato machine stays to gelato as the standing mixer to panettone :)
Additives deserve a dedicated post (I am going to write it, I swear :)). People might twist their nose, but additives are just substances that are not included among the recipe’s ingredients and are simply added to give special properties to the final product. Many of the additives used to make gelato come from plants and shouldn’t be higher than 0.5-1% of the total mixture.
Additives own different properties, including: emulsifying (e.g. lecithin), thickening (e.g. locust bean flour, pectin) and slowing the gelato melting down. Additives must be carefully dosed, in order to avoid weird textures or unpleasant flavors.
Additives are not mandatory for a good product, but they can help a lot with fruit gelato, where the content of emulsifiers is much lower compared to the classic flavors (they contain eggs, therefore lecithin). Moreover, fruit contains a high percentage of water that might cause an excessive hardening of the product during storage.
I hope you find this information useful. We will see on Thursday, for the usual weekly recipe ;)
H.D. Goff, Colloidal Aspects of Ice Cream-A Review, Int. Dairy J., 1997, 363-373
L. Di Carlo, Tradizione in Evoluzione, Chiriotti Editori, 450-464