Homemade gelato freeze too hard? Here's how to fix it easily!


The hallmark of a good gelato place is a good fior di latte. If you've had them on trips, they're unforgettable. The best Italian cuisines tend to have incredibly simple ingredients (think cacio e pepe - they weren't kidding about just cheese and pepper!). Who knew that vanilla ice cream wasn't plain enough? Fior di latte, which word-for-word translates to "flower of milk", roughly means "best of milk". It is a name given to fresh cow's milk mozzarella and this classic gelato, which calls for just milk, cream, and sugar; no egg yolk, no vanilla, no other extracts or flavorings. The simple, sweetened dairy alone is the star of the show. It is surprisingly flavorful for how few ingredients it involves. The downside, in my experience, is that it doesn't transport as well to the US. 

For starters, gelatos are served at a higher temperature than US style ice cream. With a higher milk to cream ratio (and therefore lower fat content), gelato tend to freeze very hard when stored in the typical US home freezer. Some egg or alcohol based gelato can remedy this, with emulsification and freezing point depression. But the plain and simple fior di latte has very little in it that could preserve the quality if not enjoyed right after churning. Eating all the ice cream in one sitting isn't a reasonable thing to do for anyone who's not constantly having a house party. So I looked into the nutritional labels of various commercial products to see how the store bought gelato stayed so soft. Some common candidates showed up. They're common commercial enhancers for US style ice cream too.

The first easiest option is incorporating starch. Corn starch can be easily found, and better yet, is already blended into store bought confectioner's sugar to prevent clumping. Just substitute granulated sugar with confectioner's sugar, and heat it to at least 72°C to thoroughly gelatinize the corn starch in it. Alternatively, you could use plain sugar with corn/potato/tapioca starch added, and heated to each of their respective gelatinization temperature.

One thing to note is that even if you're skipping the starch, you're still going to want to warm up the mixture to dissolve the sugar fully. Fior di latte deceptively lead people to think it's a no-cooking recipe, because nothing in it needs to be pasteurized for food safety. What's easily overlooked, is that stirring alone often tend to not sufficiently dissolve coarse granulated sugar in cold mixture. Under-dissolved sugar will negatively impact the texture of even freshly churned gelato. 

On the flip side, you also don't want to bring the mixture to boiling either, especially over the stove top. Stove top cooking often run the risk of scorching the milk, which changes the flavor. This is one recipe we don't want Maillard reaction to take place. Also why evaporated milk and condensed milk aren't good substitutes here. They have a distinctly 'cooked'/toasty flavor, that while not unpleasant, is overpowering for fior di latte. I like to warm my mixture in the microwave, not just because it's quicker, but also because it's a lot more fail-safe. It is very hard to burn your milk in the microwave, unlike on the stove. 

In addition to starch, another potent texture improver is corn syrup. It is easier to find than pure inverted sugar (sugar processed to break sucrose into free glucose & fructose, by heat, acid, or enzyme), and it is more flavor-neutral than most commonplace syrup that contains invert sugar and similar properties (think golden syrup, malt syrup, or honey). A little corn starch will make even a dairy-free sorbet freeze soft. Too much of it though, could make your ice cream melt too quickly when served. Also, since its sweetness is weaker and different from table sugar, in large quantities the "off" taste will become noticeable. Try start with ~5% by weight and increase gradually to your preference. 

If you want to get close to commercial stuff even more, try getting some maltodextrin, an effective texture enhancer that's often used as a fat replacer, because of its remarkable ability at creating a creamy, smooth mouth feel. A study at Penn State University found that a 14% fat ice cream recipe could be reduced to 6% with the remaining made up by maltodextrin, while still scoring very close to the control product in blind tasting tests. The standard gelato recipe has a milk-to-cream ratio of 2:1, which is already a quarter of the standard US style ice cream (which is the other way around, 2 part cream to 1 part milk). With maltodextrin, you could potentially reduce the cream amount even further. the typical heavy cream is ~36% fat and milk is ~3.5% fat. This standard recipe I'm using adds up to roughly 9% fat: (0.36*120g+.0035*240g) fat /491g total weight. You can comfortably further cut 33% of the fat with maltodextrin.
Lastly, a little pinch of gum will keep your gelato stabilized over extended storage, such that it'll taste close to fresh churned. Common options you may see in grocery stores are xanthum gum and guar gum. xanthum gum is more versatile, and used for hot and cold applications, while guar gum is primarily geared towards cold application. While both would work, xanthum gum is very easy to overshoot, resulting in a sticky, gummy mixture that is just offputting. For beginners, the comparatively less potent guar gum is more forgiving. Even as it's not absurdly strong as a thickener, you still want to use it very sparingly. something like 1/8 teaspoon is plenty.You want to almost not know it's there when tasting the final product. 
Fior di latte is also a perfect base to build on, drizzle in melted chocolate, and you have Stracciatella. Fold in some Amarena cherry, and you’ll have a gorgeous cup that’s anything but plain. Once you get used to using the texture enhancers, you can apply them to US style ice cream recipes too, and yield home made ice cream and sorbets that are amazingly soft, creamy, and fresh tasting, straight out of our home freezers.

  • 1 cup milk (240g)
  • 1/2 cup cream (120g)
  • 2/3 cup powdered sugar (80g)
  • 2 tbsp corn syrup (20g)
  • 1 tbsp maltodextrin (10g)
  • pinch Guar gum (~1g)

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