April 17, 2008


I can bet that if you have met anyone coming back from a holiday in Rome, one of the first things he or she mentioned was how good the ice cream was. And it’s true. Italian ice cream is so good that here in North America it is known with its Italian name: gelato. And no Roman holiday is complete without taking an afternoon passeggiata in a piazza eating gelato. Ok, I’m writing Itanglish. Passeggiata is the ultimate Italian social ritual. After work, people gather together, walking through public spaces (typically an Italian square or piazza, usually with one fountain and a spectacular Renaissance sculpture on it), wearing the latest fashions, fancy shoes and über-chic sunglasses – even in winter. To see and be seen is the order of the day. They talk together, they answer their cell phones constantly, and men call their moms for the daily update. People meet their friends, and they drink espresso, eat pizza, and have gelato. As Italians often say: it’s all about conviviality. And what could be more convivial than having gelato!

Going to a gelateria in Italy is quite an experience. They have so many flavors to choose from: amarena, fragola, limone, melone, pesca, nutella, panna cotta, tiramisù, cappuccino, zuppa inglese, cioccolato, nocciola, ananas, pistacchio, frutti di bosco. And they are all SO good. And then the cones: multiple choices here too. Even if there are some gelaterie that are better than others, it is almost impossible to go wrong.

You simply can’t go back home from Rome without a photo of you eating an ideal gelato with the stunning Fontana di Trevi behind you. And if you get your photo with the Fontana di Trevi, and the gelato, and you, throwing coins into the fountain, then you got it all.

Making gelato custard

Preparing homemade gelato is quite easy – once you get familiar with the technique. Gelato is a kind of ice cream, so all you need is an ice cream maker. They are so inexpensive, and nobody wants to do it in the old way (breaking the ice crystals each half an hour I don’t know how many times). So buy one, it’s totally worth it. Then, you have to know how to prepare custard for gelato. It could be a bit tricky, but practice makes the master.

3 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup sugar
4 large egg yolks, room temperature

Beat the egg yolks with the sugar. Then add ½ cup of the heavy cream and beat until a creamy white mixture forms. In a saucepan heat the milk and the remaining heavy cream over medium heat. When bubbles begin to form at the edges, turn the heat off and take ½ cup of the heated milk. Then slowly pour this ½ cup of hot milk over the yolk mixture, while stirring the mixture constantly. This process is called tempering the eggs. You know what happens when eggs are heated: you get scrambled eggs. But have you ever heard about scrambled egg gelato? No, because we don’t want scrambled eggs here. That’s why we are tempering the eggs: we are preparing them for the otherwise terrible shock of heat. Once the eggs are tempered, turn on the heat again, pour the custard into the saucepan with the milk and continue cooking.

You thought that was the trickiest part? Well, no. Now you have to decide when to stop cooking. At this time you have to stir constantly using a wooden spoon. NEVER boil your custard. Check if the custard is getting thick enough. Here is the test: the custard must coat the back of the wooden spoon and when that happens wipe it with your finger. When you notice a clear trail, you’re ready. Ready to quickly pour the custard in a bowl, over another bowl with ice. We want a cold shock in order to stop the cooking process. At this point and if you didn’t curdle your custard, you can start breathing again. Wait until the custard cools down, and then put it in the fridge for at least 2 hours, covered with plastic wrap. Sounds scary, I know: the imminent risk of curdling the custard and obtaining scrambled eggs is always present. But – just as with the purchase of your ice maker machine – this process worth it. Once you have your own homemade gelato, you’ll forget all the fuss. And then you’ll become an expert.

OK. When the custard is cold, it’s ready for the ice maker machine. Then follow the manufacturer’s instructions and in about 30 minutes you’ll have gelato!

Why all the fuss? The custard has to be thickened in order to have the correct texture. What if you overcook it? Then you’ll have scrambled eggs, sorry. What if you undercook it? Then you’ll have a harder texture. And what if you tried – you really tried, but you curdled it? Then quickly put the custard over the ice, as if nothing happened and whisk as vigorously as you can, while praying to our Lord. In most cases you’ll be able to save your custard.

Gelato uses more milk and less cream than American ice cream. Even if at first it might seem that because of this it will be less creamy, in fact it’s quite the opposite. Because it’s lighter the final result is creamier. Nice, right?

Finally. I have to admit that although homemade gelato is really good, it’s not as good as real Italian gelato artigianale. But it’s almost as good, and you made it! So it’ll be better!!! (The difference is that homemade gelato has a tendency to get harder when frozen. You can use some special and hard-to-find sugar to avoid this, but when using regular sugar just remember that it works really well if you take the gelato out of the freezer about 15 minutes before serving).

PS: Juan, thank you for the photos of the gelateria in Rome! Rolf, looking good with the Fontana di Trevi behind you, and we can see a little bit of your gelato!

Posted by Daziano at 11:45 AM |  
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