gelato or ice cream?
My first experience with authentic Italian gelato was during my summer trip to Italia. I sampled many gelatos in Sora and Roma and I instantly fell in love with all of them. The rich, densely creamy texture with all the intense flavors, I could not get enough of the sometimes strange and wonderful varieties.
Italians prefer the dark chocolate (cioccolata fondente) and chocolate hazelnut (gianduia) flavors; I chose my favorites that year; chocolate chip (stracciatella), pistachio (pistacchio), hazelnut (nocciola), vanilla (fior di latte) and coffee (caffe) gelato.
Ice cream has whole milk, heavy cream and sugar thats heavily whipped to add lots of air to the mix; I believe this step changes its flavor and texture index. Ice cream on average also has a higher percentage of butterfat, fourteen to twenty-five percent, while gelato weighs in around five to nine percent (per single serving.)
Italian gelato is made with whole milk, sugar and flavors, some recipes do ask for egg yolks. Gelato yields a denser, richer and creamer texture with little air making the flavors seem stronger and more refreshing. I prefer the deep flavor-rich varieties like dark chocolate gelato as I do not go for overly sugary, sweet treats of any kind.
NOTE: This recipe calls for 3/4 cup sugar, I always use only 1/2 cup as is my preference; choose the sugar balance you prefer for you and your family.
I wanted to share a basic vanilla custard “fiore di latte” gelato (which means “flower of the milk”) that is a family favorite. My daughter, Isabella prefers it’s creamy vanilla essence alone or with fruit and biscotti. This basic recipe can be used to create other flavors by simply adding different flavor ingredients during or after cooking.
Our bartender split open a freshly baked, and still warm, classic brioche bun (the kind with a knot); dropped in a large scoop of my favorite, cioccolata fondente and handed me the plate.
A sort of “gelato intramezzare” (sandwich), simultaneously warm and cold, creamy and wonderfully chewy, truly genius by design. This experience is still one of my most memorable food moments.
I later found out that this strange serving method originated in Sicily and migrated up the southern coast of Italy as it was so loved by all who tasted it.
Italians do not buy gelato to eat at home as is custom here in the U.S. This cold treat is savored at an early morning stop at the café or during an outdoor stroll through the city’s piazza under the evening stars, especially after a gratifying meal with famiglia e amici.
Eating gelato in Italia is one of the country’s greatest food experiences. Italians perform this food-driven social act with great finesse and style every day.
I know this gelato will inspire you to create a lovely outdoor experience for you, your family and friends. It will be something you will remember so make it one of your favorite traditions for future summers to come.
fiore di latte gelato
4 fresh organic egg yolks (save the whites to eat or use in another recipe)
1/2- 3/4 cup fine granulated sugar
whole vanilla bean pod (about 1/2-3/4″ in length, split in half)
grated lemon zest (1 lemon), optional
2 cups whole milk
ice cream maker (set-up and prepared per manufacturer’s directions)
Blend the milk, split vanilla bean pod and the grated zest if desired. Add 1/2 the amount of sugar you choose to work with and mix well. Place this mixture in a medium stockpot on medium heat, stirring constantly until you start to see small bubbles (do NOT allow to boil.)
Remove from heat and set aside to cool to room temperature. Add the egg yolks to your mixer bowl and beat with the remaining sugar until well combined and creamy in texture. Add in the cooled milk mixture and blend well for 1- 2 minutes until combined.
Add this mixture back into the stockpot and place on medium heat, constantly stirring with wooden spoon to keep mixture smooth. As mixture heats up you will notice it thickening, remove from heat every once in awhile to ensure it does not overcook or burn (check your heat settings and adjust as needed.)
Once the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of the wooden spoon, remove from the heat and pour through a strainer (this removes any lumps and the zest if you desire) into a clean deep bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until well chilled.
Prepare your ice cream maker as directed and add the chilled mixture to the mixing bowl and start the churning process as directed by your manufacturer’s guidelines (approximately 20-30 minutes or so.)
Once this is complete, remove the gelato from the mixing bowl and serve immediately or place in a glass covered container in the freezer.
Serve with fresh summer fruits or as an “affogato”, a sinfully sweet and creamy Italian treat (see recipe below.)
Remove from the freezer about 15 minutes prior to serving as all gelato should not be served frozen solid, but in a slightly softened state.
affogato (when translated means “drowned”)
To make an “affogato” simply scoop a single serving of the fiore di latte gelato in a serving cup or glass. Slowly pour freshly brewed hot espresso over the top and sides. The gelato will slowly melt into the hot espresso adding sweetness and a creamy texture and flavor to the coffee, quite simply one of my perfect summer evening treats.
So when you are visiting Italia, remember to order an affogato in the evening at the local cafe and enjoy it while planning your next day’s activities. I recommend taking in one of my most beloved pastimes when I travel, the art of people watching.
Note: Photography provided by Carina A. Favale