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  • Writer's pictureScott Rotella

For the love of frozen desserts: Ice Cream, Gelato, Sherbet and Sorbet

Updated: Nov 2, 2023

When entertaining, I often use a frozen confection for dessert. Sorbet is my favorite with meals that are heavy or with high fat content as it is the lowest in both fat and calories within the ice cream family. For a lighter meal, I might slip in an ice cream. Gelato and sherbets are a good middle ground. But for pizza parties, I always serve either a sorbet or sherbet.

Very Berry Sorbet served on a graham crumble with fresh raspberries and a sprig of mint.

What are the differences:


Ice Cream





Milk, cream, sugar, eggs (sometimes)

Milk, cream, sugar

Milk, sugar, fruit juice or purée, sometimes cream

Fruit juice or purée, sugar

Fat content

10% or more




Air content






Smooth and creamy

Dense and creamy




Rich and complex

Rich and intense




  • Ice cream originated in China in 2000 BC. It was made by mixing milk, rice, and snow.

  • Sherbet originated in the Middle East in the 7th century. It was made by mixing fruit juice, honey, and snow.

  • Sorbet originated in Italy in the 16th century. It was made by mixing fruit juice, sugar, and ice.

  • Gelato also originated in Italy in the 16th century. It is a denser and creamier version of ice cream, made with less air and more milk.

Which one is healthier?

Sorbet is the healthiest option, as it is dairy-free and has no added fat. It is also the lowest in calories. Gelato is a good option if you are looking for something that is creamy and flavorful, but still relatively healthy. Ice cream is certainly the most decadent.

Making Frozen Desserts

In this post, we will dive into different base recipes for 3 types of frozen desserts and provide some variations on flavors and some tips on presentation. But the number of flavors is only limited by creativity. I will add some gelato recipes later.

The process is very similar for all types:

  • Make the base

  • Let the base get cold in the refrigerator (overnight is always a good option)

  • Load the base into an ice cream maker

  • After the churning process, add any mix-ins if appropriate

  • Scoop into storage containers and freeze for a few hours before serving


Ice Cream Maker:

There are many types of ice cream makers on the market. In summary there are:

  • Old fashioned hand crank machines where you use ice (or snow) and rock salt to provide the cold element. I grew up with a hand crank ice cream machine.

  • Old fashioned hand crank style machines with an electric motor using the same cooling technology of ice and salt.

  • All in one devices that includes a compressor which provides the cold to freeze the ice cream.

  • Simple electric machines that have a freezer bowl that contains a cooling liquid in between the dual insulated bowl that you put into the freezer.

Plus, there are various other types of machines, including ones for soft serve and even the Ninja Creamy which reverses the process a bit—you freeze the base and then put it into the machine to turn the frozen base into dessert.

I currently use a very basic and simple machine with the bowl that goes into the freezer and makes my desserts in about 20 minutes of hands-free work.

You can check out the Hamilton Beach Electric Automatic Ice Cream Maker here.

Kitchen Scale:

Weighing food is the most accurate method to replicate your food. Volume measurements lead to inconsistent results, especially when using dry ingredients. THis is especially true in baking where the science of recipes requires precision for accurate results. I use this OXO scale for most of my weights in the kitchen. I especially like that it has a pull or read-out making it accommodate larger bowls flawlessly.

Food Mill

Food mills have many uses from making things like applesauce to making tomato sauces from whole tomatoes. I also use it to make juices from frozen fruits and berries for sorbets. OXO makes very good products and this food mill is no exception.


Perfect Sorbet: Sorbets and sherbets can get a little icy and hard to serve. To counter that, I use an ingredient called Perfect Sorbet. This is basically a combination of dextrose and cellulose that keeps your sorbet less dense and easy to scoop. It is a minor ingredient, but does a great job at transforming the sorbet. It is certainly optional.

The typical instructions are to weigh your base and then add .5% of that number into your ingredients. Given that my sorbets bases are typically around the same weight, I just measure out 4-5 grams on my scale to include in the recipe.

Frozen Fruit: Frozen fruits are excellent to incorporate into your frozen dessert. They are picked and frozen at the peak of ripeness and flavor. I find that Trader Joe’s has very well priced and an excellent selection of frozen fruits.

Ice Cream:

Vanilla Ice Cream / Ice Cream Base

Cinnamon Ice Cream with a Snickerdoodle Cookie

This is a custard based ice cream resulting in a rich and decadent dessert. I use this as a starting point to make various flavors of ice cream. It just takes a little thought and maybe a change to the process to get different flavors. In this recipe, I will share the basic vanilla and then ideas to mix it up–including two of my favorites: Cinnamon and Mocha Java Chip.

Mix It Up

  • Replace the sugar with a different sweetener such as monk fruit or allulose.

  • Replace 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract with 1 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste

  • Cinnamon: Make cinnamon ice cream by adding 2 teaspoons of cinnamon at the same time you add the vanilla. You can also swap half of the sugar with brown sugar to give it a deeper flavor reminiscent of cinnamon rolls. Serve with a cinnamon cookie like a snickerdoodle or even a churro.

  • Mocha Java Chip: Add 1 tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder and 1 tablespoon of instant espresso with the vanilla. I like to use one packet of Starbucks Via Instant French or Italian roast. After making the ice cream in your machine, you can also mix in one chocolate bar that has been cut into small chunks, Alternatively, you can mix in mini chocolate chips instead of the chocolate bar. I prefer to use a nice quality dark chocolate. I prefer to mix the chips in by hand at the end of the ice cream machine cycle.

  • Salted Caramel: Add ½ cup of the sugar and two tablespoons of water to a sauce pot over medium heat. Swirl the pot over the heat constantly until the sugar turns a very deep caramel color. Of heat, carefully and slowly add the remaining sugar, cream and half-and half to the pan and continue with step 2. Add a ¼ teaspoon of flaky sea salt as a mix in during the end of the churning process.

Fruit Sorbet

Sorbets are fun and easy to make and are a delicious treat. Plus they are a fairly healthy way to end a meal. One of my favorites is using a frozen blueberry, blackberry and raspberry mix from Trader Joe’s. I will sometimes add some frozen strawberries to that for an awesome berry mix. I encourage you to try out different combinations, such as mango or peach and a slash of orange juice. Keep in mind that you may lose some quantity during the process. The goal is to have about 2 ¼ cups of juice. If you have less, decrease your sweetener or add additional juice.

I will often serve this with a graham cracker crumble, some fresh berries and a sprig of mint. Let me know in the comments if you would like a recipe for the graham cracker crumble.


Lemon Sherbet

Sherbets take fruit juices and adds a creamy component–which is milk products. The lemon sherbet recipe below is an adaptation of a family favorite. This was my grandparents' recipe. My grandmother would prepare the base and my grandfather would make this in a hand-crank machine. I have nothing but fond memories of making ice cream with my grandfather when we visited upstate New York. We would even make this in the winter using snow and rock salt to freeze the sherbet. It is a very light and extremely refreshing dessert.

Lemon Sherbet

I like to serve this with a store-bought lemon cookie and a sprig of mint. I will also ask adults if they want a splash of lemoncello on it.

Enjoy and scroll down to enter any comments, questions, requests or suggestions.


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Wendy Clay
Wendy Clay
Aug 10, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Very informative. Thanks. I had switched to sorbet when I was on dialysis and it was so hard to find. I will have to try and make it on my own. And although Dad still continues the lemon sherbet tradition with the snow and Rock salt. I may look into that link you shared for a new ice cream maker!

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