Gelato is a treat rich in flavor and history. Years of knowledge and practice fill those colorful tins you’ll pass on any visit to Italy. Read on to learn a little about this favorite delicacy and how you can make it right at home!
An old recipe
Gelato and other frozen treats were first produced way back in ancient times, when the early Egyptians and Mesopotamians mixed syrups with snow acquired from nearby mountaintops. A few thousand years later, gelato as we know it was served to the Medici family by another Florentine, Cosimo Ruggieri. Later, in 1686, a Sicilian named Francesco Procopio Cutò started serving gelato at his cafe in Paris. With the introduction of new technologies, including the batch freezer and ice cream maker, gelato soon turned from a dessert beloved by Italy’s richest families to a favorite summer treat the world over. That’s the short story, but you can learn all this and more with a visit to the Gelato Museum in Bologna, home of the first gelato machine.
Gelato vs. ice cream
Gelato isn’t just the Italian word for ice cream, but what’s the difference between the two? Here’s the scoop: Ice cream often has a thicker, custard-like base made with cream and eggs. Gelato is lighter, made with milk as well as cream, and often doesn’t contain any eggs at all. While the ingredients aren’t always cut-and-dry, one thing’s for sure: Gelato is also churned more slowly, which means less air gets incorporated, giving it a richer texture.
On that note, if you’ve ever been on a tour of Italy, you’ve no doubt noticed that some gelaterie sell puffy gelato that’s piled up high in the case. These tourist-friendly treats look appetizing, but they’re made from a mix with artificial thickeners and have been whipped up to give the gelato extra height. The taller the gelato, the less authentic it is—the good stuff doesn’t need to advertise from afar.
I was lucky enough to visit Italy on tour, and had gelato at least once (and sometimes twice) a day. So, I was excited to make one of my favorite flavors, gianduja—or chocolate and hazelnut—at home. Take your own mini Italian vacation with this recipe below!
Ice cream maker
Cheesecloth or a fine mesh strainer
1 1/2 cups (185 grams) hazelnuts, toasted
1 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
4 ounces milk chocolate, finely chopped
5 large egg yolks
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
Start by toasting your hazelnuts. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, then spread the nuts in an even layer on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes, stirring a couple times to keep them toasting evenly, until the hazelnuts are golden brown throughout.
Let the hazelnuts cool to room temperature. Gather the cooled hazelnuts in a kitchen towel. Gently rub the hazelnuts with the towel to peel off as much the papery skin as you can. (You don’t have to make it perfect—you’ll strain these later.) I did this by gathering the ends of the towel to make a little bag and rubbing it for about 30 seconds. Transfer the peeled hazelnuts to a food processor or blender and finely chop.
Warm the milk with 1 cup of cream plus sugar and salt. Once warm, add the chopped hazelnuts. Remove from heat, cover, and let steep for 1 hour. After an hour, strain the hazelnut-infused milk over a medium-sized saucepan. Press down on the nuts with a spatula or your hands to get all the liquid out. Discard the hazelnuts.
Begin heating the remaining 1 cup of cream in a medium saucepan until it begins to boil. Meanwhile, chop your milk chocolate into pieces (if not using chocolate chips) and place in a medium-sized bowl. Pour the heated cream over the chocolate and stir until smooth. Set a mesh strainer or cheesecloth-lined colander over the top of your bowl.
In a separate small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Then, rewarm the hazelnut-infused milk until it is just steaming (around 165-170 degrees on an instant-read thermometer). Temper your eggs by slowly pouring half of the warm milk over the yolks, whisking constantly. It helps to have a second pair of hands for this part! Then, return the warmed egg yolks back to the saucepan.
Continue stirring the mixture over medium heat with a heatproof spatula. When the mixture thickens and coats the spatula (around 180 degrees on an instant-read thermometer), pour it through your strainer and stir into the chocolate mixture. Add the vanilla and stir until cooled over an ice bath.
Chill the mixture in the refrigerator, then freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. The final step: Enjoy!
Recipe adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz
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