(There’s a lot of words here… but it’s EASY, we promise!)
Making your own gelato or ice cream (we prefer gelato) doesn’t need to be complicated. Yes, it’s true that to become a Gelato Master takes time and there’s a lot that can be learnt about gelato, sorbet, ice cream and the science behind it but that shouldn’t scare you and definitely shouldn’t be a reason not to start!
Whether you want to make gelato or ice cream the principle and method is the same – you’re going to need some sort of base mix, the only thing that differs between the two is the recipe.
The most common steps in the process of making commercial gelato mix are:
Create or source a base mix.
Let your base mix age for at least 4 hours.
Add a flavour to a batch of your base mix.
Churn/freeze the flavoured mix in a batch freezer.
Dispense the frozen product into a display container and garnish.
Display and serve straight away or blast freeze and store in a deep freezer.
1. Make your Base Mix…
Arguably, the most important step is creating your base mix. There’s three common ways of creating or sourcing your base mix…
The ‘Easy Way’
The ‘Cold Process’
The ‘Hot Process’
Your base mix is the foundation of your product. Typically there’s two types of base mix; white and yellow. A basic ‘white mix’ is a combination of; milk, cream, sugar, skimmed milk powder and a stabiliser/emulsifier. ‘Yellow mix’ is essentially the same as white mix, but with the addition of egg yolks, this increases the fat content and richness of the finished product. There are a lot of arguments for and against each type of base mix, and the right answer is purely personal. Most people tend to choose just one, this is usually the white version as this tends to be more neutral and lends itself to being flavoured better. It also this keeps things simpler from an operational perspective.
Once you’re on your way to becoming a Gelato ‘Master’ then experimenting with the different base types is all part of the course…
Method One – The ‘easy’ way…
Source a UHT base mix from one of the many dairy suppliers out there. Suppliers include Jersey Dairies who manufacture a richer, more ‘ice cream style’, UHT base mix, or Lakeland Dairies who manufacture a more neutral white gelato base. There are others suppliers out there too, who we can help you contact…
The UHT method is arguably the most expensive way of making your own gelato. The money which you save in time and effort is spent on the base mix. The other disadvantage is that your product will never be completely your own and will limit your ability to experiment with different finishes, textures and formulas but it’s a great starting point.
Method Two – The ‘Cold Process’…
Making your gelato base mix using the cold process is slightly more complicated than simply opening a carton, but not by much…
The process to make a plain, neutral base mix tends to be as follows; take a suitably sized, sanitised bucket or container. Add whole milk, milk powder, sugar and a cold process stabiliser/emulsifier powder (such as Fabbri Nevepann F). The whole lot is blended together until dissolved. The mix benefits from being left to stand for 10-15 minutes to allow the ingredients to dissolve and re-hydrate fully.
Depending on your local environmental health officer (EHO), they may be happy for you to add cream to this process to increase the dairy fat content. This opinion can vary, as technically, if you mix dairy products (even if they’re already pasteurised) together to make ice cream or gelato then it should be subjected to another ‘heat treatment process’ i.e. pasteurisation.
There are factors which can sway this; origin of ingredients and intended shelf life/serving window are the main ones (for example, if you source local ingredients and you’re looking to make and sell your product in a very short time period then you may be allowed to do it without issue. If you’re looking for a 6-month shelf life for your product which is made from ingredients from the local supermarket then it really needs to go through a heat process). You’ll need to register with your local EHO, so ask them, I’m sure they won’t bite!
Once your mix has rested for 10 minutes or so, your choice of flavour can be added to the neutral base and then the whole mix can be frozen in your batch freezer.
Using a cold mix is a great starting point…
Making a cold mix in this way gives you far greater flexibility on the ingredients which you can use and their origin. It also allows you to control the overall sugar content of the mix, which means that you can fine tune specific recipes for different flavours if you desire, to control the freezing/setting point and overall texture.
Operationally this method can become quite labour intensive as (unless you have a huge bucket and a massive stick blender to make loads of base mix at once) you may end up repeating the weighing out and mixing process over and over again for each flavour which potentially opens the door to mis-weighing something or forgetting an ingredient.
Gelato made using the ‘cold process’ is considerably cheaper than using UHT cartons and the product can be far superior. Cold process gelato doesn’t have the shelf life or stability of those made using the hot process, which isn’t an issue for small artisans looking to make small batches of product regularly, turning it over quickly. If you’re a big producer, then the ‘cold process’ isn’t really for you…
If you’re on a tight start up budget, these first two methods may be a good place to start as it removes the necessity to buy a pasteuriser in the first instance. In time you can always add a pasteuriser to expand your options by moving on to the ‘hot process’ which gives you the potential to develop your own unique recipe, formula and brand.
Method Three – The ‘Hot Process’
The ‘hot process’ is by far the best method of making your own base mix for your gelato or ice cream. It allows you to create your own completely unique gelato base mix recipe which has your ideal fat and sugar ratio to give your brand the taste, texture and shelf life which you need.
The ‘hot process’ is also the safest way of making gelato from a food hygiene perspective. Ice cream and gelato base mix is the ideal environment for bacterial to grow (both good and bad) and people often forget that pasteurised dairy products still contain microbes, bacteria and sometimes pathogens. By putting your gelato base through a heat process, it reduces the bacterial content of your mix back to levels well below those considered ‘safe’, ensuring that it’s as hygienic as possible and essentially giving you a fresh starting point.
Without a heat process you’re relying on the quality and freshness of your dairy supply chain, and ‘older’ milk and cream could contain higher bacteria levels which could have the potential to cause problems down the line… Don’t forget, putting almost off or sour milk and cream through a pasteurisation cycle may reduce the bacterial count, but it won’t bring back the fresh taste if it’s started to turn. ALWAYS use milk and cream that is as fresh as possible.
If you’re basing your whole business on your own amazing, homemade gelato then you really want to make sure that it’s as good as it can be and as food safe as possible…
The best tool to use for making your base mix is a dedicated pasteuriser. These machines are essentially a posh saucepan, they have the ability to evenly heat and stir your mix without it catching and burning. Good quality pasteurisers like the Frigomat PEB range use a bain-marie system which shrouds the whole mixing vat, heating from the sides as well as the bottom.
Temperatures and times are crucial in the pasteurising process; for pasteurisation to occur effectively, every component of the base mix must reach a temperature of at least 65°C and it must be held there for a minimum of 30 minutes. The higher the temperature which the mix reaches the shorter the period which it needs to hold it there. At 85°C the mix only needs to be held for a minimum of 15 seconds. Pasteurisation at 65°C is sometimes referred to as ‘low temperature’ pasteurisation whereas 85°C is usually referred to as ‘high temperature’ pasteurisation. In commercial gelato production, most white bases are pasteurised at 85°C but due to the egg content, ‘yellow bases’ are pasteurised at 65°C to prevent the egg from curdling.
It’s true that with a bit of practice and patience, you could heat your gelato mix to the correct temperatures for pasteurisation using a large sauce pan and a stove, but the issue usually occurs when it comes to cooling the mix back down again. To fulfil the hygiene regulations for pasteurisation you must cool your mix to below 7°C as quickly as possible with a maximum time limit of 90 minutes.
Without specialist equipment, this can be quite challenging as old methods like ice water baths and running cold taps aren’t quite up to the task. The longer the mix sits at ‘lukewarm’ temperatures, the faster bacteria can start to grow. The EHO refers to this as ‘The Danger Zone’ when it comes to food safety.
A pasteuriser specifically designed to manufacture ice cream and gelato base mixes is always the best option.
A dedicated, standalone pasteuriser, removes all of the worry and skill associated with making a gelato base mix by hand. The process for making a white gelato base using a pasteuriser is typically as follow;
Pour your milk and cream into your clean and sanitised pasteuriser vat.
Select the temperature cycle for your mix (typically 85°C) and start.
Weigh out your dry ingredients; sugar, skimmed milk powder, dextrose, stabiliser/emulsifier powder. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a clean, dry container. (Mixing the dry ingredients helps them mix into the milk when it’s added as the sugar helps draw the lighter powders down into the liquid opposed to just floating on the surface).
When the milk and cream reach 40°C, add the dry ingredients to the vat. Do this in a few batches to prevent the milk foam from overflowing the top of the vat.
Once all of the ingredients are in the vat the pasteuriser will automatically heat and stir the mixture until it reaches the desired temperature for pasteurisation to occur correctly. This is typically 85°C where it is held for a minimum of 15 seconds before the pasteuriser automatically begins to chill the mix back down to below 7°C. Dedicated pasteurisers are specifically designed to complete the cool down phase well within the 90 minutes outlined in the regulations.
Once the mix reaches 4°C (+/-), the pasteuriser automatically holds the mix there until it’s needed acting as an ageing vat. This then allow the mix to age and mature.
All the talk of temperatures and times can sound quite daunting, but in reality, it’s quite simple.
If you have a standalone pasteuriser then it takes all the thinking away from you.
Typically, the process of going from raw ingredients, up to pasteurisation temperatures and back down to 4 degrees usually takes around two to two and half hours.
Regardless of which method you choose to create or source your base mix, you’ll need to keep accurate records of your production noting the date you made it the ingredients used, where they were sourced from and what they were turned in to. No amount of posh equipment can replace good record keeping, ensuing correct due diligence.
What’s ageing I hear you mutter…
Ageing your mix is not essential but if you ask the masters out there they’ll all probably say that it’s a very important part of the process.
Ageing is quite simply doing nothing. Leaving your freshly pasteurised mix to age at 4°C for at least four hours gives it an opportunity to relax. The dry components of the milk proteins and stabilisers can re-hydrate fully ensuring that all of the water in the mix is trapped completely with the other ingredients locking them together. This thickens the mix increasing the viscosity which allows more air (or overrun) to be incorporated into the product when it freezes.
The thickening also makes sure that all of the ‘free-water’ molecules are locked together increasing the quality of the product by ensuring that any ice crystals which form during the freezing process remain tiny, keeping the gelato very smooth. If they grow too big they can create a slightly icy texture, lowering the quality of the product. This is especially important for increasing the shelf life of your product when it’s stored in a deep freeze.
FYI – A good quality commercial pasteuriser will double up as an ageing vat.
Standalone pasteurisers like the Frigomat range from Taylor UK act as aging vats by automatically holding the finished mix at 4°C until it’s needed, gently stirring it every now and then. If you get in to the habit of making your mix in the afternoon of the day before you need it, the pasteurisation process will automatically heat, hold, chill and age your mix so that it’s ready to go when you return the following morning.
Four hours is generally regarded as the minimum time for aging, but it doesn’t benefit from ageing for more than twelve hours. From a food safety perspective, the maximum time you can leave your mix in the pasteuriser (or ageing vat) is three days (72 hours).
If you’re keeping your mix for this long, then you need to question if you needed to make as much as you did. Theoretically you could re-pasteurise the mix but this isn’t recommended as the structure and quality of the mixture begins to breakdown and you will not get a consistent tasting or freezing product.
3. Add Your Flavour…
Here’s where you need a little imagination…
There are hundreds if not thousands of different, commercially available, ice cream and gelato flavours on the market. These range from Arancia to Zuppa Inglese and everything in between!
Commercially available flavours ensure that you produce a consistent finished product at a consistent cost price point. Making your own flavours will allow you to truly personalise your product but you’ll need to take steps to ensure a consistent supply for your ingredients, especially fresh fruits etc. as seasons and weather can affect the flavour and sugar content of these products which in turn will affect your finished product.
Making your own flavours will almost always cost more in time and usually more in money as well. There’s a harsh commercial reality sometimes; you need to know who you’re going to be selling your ice cream to, how much they’re likely to pay for it and which flavours are actually likely to sell. Sometimes you just need to give them what they want.
If your shop is in a trendy, up and coming part of London then you may have customers queuing out the door for your organic, freedom farmed, wild strawberry and balsamic gelato. But, if you’re on a busy seafront somewhere, the children may not be so discerning and simply may want ‘the Blue one!’
To be successful, you need to know who your customers are likely to be…
The key is to have a range of flavours which appeal to a broad spectrum of customers. Flavours like bubble gum don’t cost very much whereas flavours like pistachio and vanilla are affected by global markets and can be very expensive if you’re not careful. You’ll always win more on some and lose slightly on others, getting the balance right is the important thing.
Make it, buy it, steal it or borrow it, however you source your gelato flavours, the principle of flavouring your base is essentially the same.
Take a ‘batch’ of base mix in a suitable sized jug or bucket.
Blend in your chosen flavour until smooth.
Transfer to your batch freezer to freeze.
Typically, you need 3.5 KG of liquid base mix plus the chosen flavour to produce one standard 5 litre Napoli gelato container.
Flavours fall into three types (there are exceptions and additions to this):
Sugar syrup based – bubblegum, mint, some vanilla’s, tiramisu etc. these have a dosage of 30-50g per KG of base mix.
Fruit Puree – strawberry, fruits of the forest, mango etc. these have a dosage of 70-100g per KG of base mix.
Chocolates/Nut pastes – chocolate, pistachio, hazelnut, grandulla etc. these have a dosage of 50-80g per KG of base mix.
The churning action of the batch freezer will macerate and blend any solids and inclusions which are introduced when the mix is still liquid in the freezing barrel. Inclusions like chocolate chips and fruit pieces are added and incorporated into the finished Gelato while its being dispensed from the freezer.
4. Freeze Your Flavoured Mix…
The crucial factor when it comes to freezing your gelato is speed. The best quality gelato and ice cream has a very smooth texture which is formed of incredibly small ice crystals, the faster your product freezes the smaller the ice crystal that form.
Vertical batch freezers tend to be more traditional in their operation where the operator needs to control all of the variables involved in the process, namely the direction of the beater, the speed of the beater and how long the compressor (the chilling factor) runs for, which if you’re not paying attention, can make things go wrong if you’re not careful. These are described as ‘Artisan’ machines but with a little practice, anyone can make great gelato using one of these pieces of equipment.
Gelato Masters or Artisans love the hands-on operation of a vertical batch freezer.
The traditional design makes vertical batch freezers slightly less powerful in comparison to the newer, more technologically advanced horizontal batch freezers but a batch will typically freeze in 12 minutes. Since the operator needs to be part of the process, these machines are usually cheaper to buy than their more sophisticated horizontal cousins.
Horizontal batch freezers use cutting edge, direct expansion freezing systems making the transfer of the cold to the gelato faster, reducing the freezing time which ensures that the ice crystals are kept as tiny as possible.
Horizontal batch freezers are the cutting edge when it comes to gelato manufacture.
The advanced technology found in horizontal batch freezers like the C118 allow them to work in an automatic way; the machines monitor the viscosity of the mix in the freezing barrel, as the product freezes it thickens up and when it reaches a point where it cannot freeze any further the machine alerts the operator that it’s ready to be dispensed.
Should the operator not be ready to extract the product, the horizontal batch freezers automatically switch into a conservation mode, ‘holding’ the product until the operator is ready. Batches freeze in around 8 minutes in a horizontal freezer. Since most of the ‘thinking’ has been taken away from the operator, horizontal freezers are usually more expensive than vertical ones.
Regardless of which type of batch freezer you have, making sure its suitably sized for your operation is most important. If you have four shops, there’s no point scrimping too much and buying an machine which can only freeze one Napoli per batch! You’ll be there all day and spend far more in wages than the cost of the right machine.
Alternatively, there’s no point having a massive machine if you’re only going to make one Napoli at a time as it won’t freeze properly and may not dispense properly either, which will become frustrating and a waste of time. There’s batch freezers in all sizes and capacities ranging from 2 KG per cycle to 15 KG per cycle.
Simply pour your flavoured liquid mix into your batch freezer, begin the freezing cycle and in 8 to 12 minutes (flavour and mix formulation dependant) it will be ready to dispense.
5. Dispense your product…
Gelato freezes to approximately minus 7°C when it’s ready to be dispensed. This is firm enough for it to hold its shape and structure but still soft enough to be worked and manipulated if required. Extracting your gelato from your batch freezer in a swift, efficient and stylish way will take a little practice. Horizontal batch freezers tend to be easier to use as they’re usually more ergonomically designed making it easier.
Ripples and inclusions are incorporated into the Napoli containers as the product is being dispensed. This may initially feel like it requires two pairs of hands but with a little practice, you’ll be doing it like a master in no time.
It’s All About Presentation!
Artisan presentation is the essence of what makes the aesthetic of gelato exquisite, where stunning presentation is not only eye-catching, but memorable and inspiring. Unlike traditional American ice cream, which is usually served in concealed tubs, traditional Italian gelato is served in Napolis, and tediously designed to first create visual appeal.
Peaks – Gelato waves are the classic way gelato is presented in a Napoli. The waves are created during the extraction from the batch freezer with a spatula. The gelato maker will carefully collect the gelato with a spatula and place large dollops of gelato until a beautiful mountain of waves is formed.
Sculpted – Gelato can be designed into a mesmerising mound of wavy goodness. Utilising a gelato spade following extraction from the batch freezer, the gelato chef will sculpt a filled pan of gelato into rounded waves of eye-appeal.
Garnishes – Whether displayed with high, delicious peaks or sculpted into creamy waves, adding decorations using ingredients that showcase the actual flavour profile, such as chocolate pieces, fruit wedges, or cookies highly emphasises the appeal. Garnishes including sugar pieces, fresh flowers, spices, cones and much more can really make your product stand out..
Sauce Drizzle – The addition of rich dessert sauce or coating, either carefully drizzled over the Napoli or folded into the gelato for a marbleised effect.
With a little confidence and practise, anyone can make attractive gelato displays.
6. Serve Immediately or blast freeze and store?
Traditionally, gelato should be made and served straight away. The soft ‘paddle-able’ texture of freshly churned gelato is part of what makes it unique. However, gelato displayed and served straight from the batch freezer will have a very short shelf life as, due to its softness and ‘warm temperature’ will allow it to collapse quite quickly.
Gelato is typically dispensed from the batch freezer at around minus 7°C, at this temperature the product is very soft and will start to sag quite quickly if it’s put straight into a display counter which are usually set to display gelato at minus 14/16°C. Display cabinets are designed to display products which are already fully frozen, they don’t necessarily have the power to rapidly drop the temperature of products.
If you need your product to have a reasonable shelf life, then you need to get it as cold as possible as quickly as possible. There’s a number of reasons for this; firstly, shock or blast freezing your beautifully created Napoli will make sure that it remains in the perfect state visually, just like when you first created it, it stops the product melting and sagging. Secondly, and more importantly, blast freezing to well below minus 25°C ensures that the ice crystals in the product don’t grow too big, stopping the product from developing a slightly Icy texture which sometimes happens when Napolis are frozen down too slowly and unevenly.
Once your product has been blast frozen, it can be transferred to your display case. Display cases usually operate at a temperature of minus 12/14°C, the product is still frozen but it is soft enough to be balled or paddled and is ‘warm’ enough to allow the flavours of your gelato to come through.
Once your product is on display it will have a shelf life of approximately seven days. The warmer temperature of a display case will allow the gelato to start melting and after a few days a crust may start to form on the exposed surface. The product will probably still be food safe after seven days, but the quality may deteriorate, especially if staff have been clumsy in their serving by contaminating flavours with dirty scoops.
In a perfect world, you would have a separate storage freezer which is set at the same temperature as your display, this is sometimes called a tempering cabinet. The tempering cabinet can be used to store your display Napolis overnight in a more stable way which will improve shelf life and quality. It can also be used to bring Napolis which have been deep frozen up to serving temperature slowly and evenly, again helping to maintain quality.
A ‘Tempering Cabinet’ is one of the best presents you could buy your gelato or ice cream parlour.
If you’re going to store your homemade gelato, then you will need a good quality storage freezer which is ideally set to below minus 21°C. The low temperatures help to prevent ice crystal formation, preserving quality by locking everything together. In simple terms, for long term storage the colder the better!
Gelato shouldn’t be stored in your display cabinet for long periods of time. All cabinets need to be emptied and switched off at least once a week to allow the evaporators to defrost fully as ice can build up in certain types of display. If the ice build up becomes too much this can cause the cabinet to struggle and not be able to maintain its temperature correctly which could cause your products to start melting and be spoiled.
The other main reason for turning off your cabinet once a week is to clean it. You cannot clean a display which is frozen properly, so defrosting is essential. All good operators will maintain a clean and tidy cabinet, it’s your shop window, it needs to look good!