How Artisanal Gelato is Made
Perfection is lots of little things done well. -Fernand Point, Famed French Chef
Gelato, more than any other speciality in gastronomy, is an art form and a science. To truly make it well, you should be using specialized, advanced machinery and a number of time-honed techniques. Let’s take a look at how artisanal gelato should be made.
Batch Mixing and Aging
The first step to making great gelato is to prepare a base, which will serve as the foundation for the gelato. From the base, you can make different flavors. There are four different types of bases:
White Base - Milk, cream, sugar.
Yellow Base - Milk, cream, egg yolks, sugar.
Chocolate Base - Milk, cream, cocoa powder, sugar.
Syrup - Water and sugar (used for making sorbetto).
We use a batch mixer to mix and age the bases. Batch mixers are machines that take the mixture though a temperature cycle that ends at about 35˚F, and letting it rest or “age” for at least 12 hours at this temperature. The aging enhances the flavor, because the flavor molecules and fat molecules combine. It also gives time for the protein to hydrate and allows the natural thickeners and emulsifiers to develop. This is essential to make the gelato creamier. The batch mixer is also what we use to make our own yogurt for our yogurt gelato.
Adding Flavors to the Bases
Once the base is ready, flavors are added to it. These can be nut pastes, fruits, sauces, or infusions. Mixing the flavors with the bases well is important because these should be consistently distributed though the mixture to maximize taste. We like to use a large immersion blender for this; it spins its blade at speeds of up to 12,000 rpm, thus blending and emulsifying the ingredients perfectly. With a special attachment, this machine can also liquify fresh fruit with ease.
We like to make our own nut pastes for our gelato. This allows us to select the nuts ourselves and to toast them to our exact specifications. To make the paste, we use a melanger. This is a machine with rotating granite wheels, which crush the nuts to particles of 15 microns in size. (For reference a red blood cell is 10 microns.) This way, all the flavor in the nuts is presented for degustation.
Freezing the Batch
Once the base has been mixed with its flavor, we place it in the batch freezer. The batch freezer is a fantastic machine that churns the mixture while freezing it. Once the batch reaches the desired consistency, it is extracted.
The batch freezer we use can do more than just make gelato; it can actually prepare sauces as well! It can heat as well as cool. One of my favorite uses for this machines is to make fruit pochee. This is a sort of marmalade made with less sugar than marmalade. Making this sauce requires about 12 hours of cooking and stirring over low heat. It’s perfect for frozen desserts because it doesn’t freeze at these cold temperatures. I can honestly say that without my Maestro batch freezer, I would not be able to make these excellent fruit sauces.
The gelato is born into a scorching hot world, so as soon as it is extracted it needs to be put into a blast freezer. This is like a turbo freezer, which hardens the gelato exterior in just a couple of minutes, thus protecting its inner core until it comes to rest in its final home: the display freezer.
Storage for Service
We use a type of freezer known as pozzetti (or “little wells”). Pozzetti storage is the traditional way in which gelato was kept by sellers for generations, until the introduction of glass displays in the ‘70s. There is nothing inherently wrong with the glass displays, but we prefer the pozzetti for a couple of reasons: it keeps the photosensitive gelato shaded from light and the temperature very stable. And, in our cases at least, there is much less oxidation as a result of it being cooled by by a glycol system of tubing surrounding the containers instead of circulating air. Artisanal gelato is a delicate product and this is the best home for it.
Did you know that artisanal gelato is…
-Quite susceptible to oxidation?
-Only lasts for a few days?
-Must be carefully formulated?