Now that the weather is finally taking a turn for the hotter, it seems an ideal time to haul out my faithful Cuisineart tabletop ice cream maker.
Okay, who am I trying to kid?
I make ice cream all year ‘round, the same way my partner barbeques everything, including Christmas dinner. In all honesty, it is more a matter of lifting the ice-cream maker down from the shelf, and digging the chiller sleeve from the depths of the freezer.
This is the ideal weather to find “the perfect” homemade chocolate ice cream/gelato, without the fear that my efforts will sit in the freezer gathering ice crystals, as my family and friends opt for “hotter” chocolate options – who wants ice cream in cold, wet weather? Well into July, we were drinking spicy hot chocolate while the rain merrily poured down.
A few weeks ago, I waxed poetic about the recipe that had converted me from a chocolate ice cream hater to a lover: Barbara Kafka’s Chocolate Ginger Ice Cream.
Loaded with cream, chopped dark chocolate and eggs, how could it possibly be anything but delicious? This is what is known as a French or custard style ice cream, as opposed to a Philadelphia style, free from eggs, and made with only a few uncooked ingredients. For the latter type, I definitely prefer seasonal fruit flavours. I freeze bags of local (front yard garden) strawberries, raspberries and blueberries at the peak of their season, so they are available year ‘round.
And then there is gelato. According to Wikipedia:
“Gelato is different from some ice cream because it has a lower butterfat content. Gelato typically contains 4–8% butterfat, versus 14% for ice cream in the United States. Gelato has a higher sugar content than ice cream. Dairy based gelato contains 16–24% sugar and water and fruit based sorbet contains 24–30% sugar. Most ice cream in the United States contains 12-16% sugar. The sugar content in gelato is precisely balanced with the water content to act as an anti-freeze to prevent the gelato from freezing solid.”
I have wanted to try making gelato for a few years, since I first fell in love with it in the Little Italy gelaterias of Vancouver’s Commercial Drive. The idea of a lower butterfat content is very appealing, and since my curiosity about its chemistry needs to be satisfied, I do a little more exploring.
“Unlike most commercial ice creams in the United States, which are frozen with a continuous assembly line freezer, gelato is frozen in individual small batches in a batch freezer. Churning during the freezing process incorporates air into the mix. The added air is called overage. Unlike most commercial ice cream, which contains up to 50% overage, the overage in gelato is low, generally 20–35%. Lower overage results in a denser product with more intense flavors.”
So, the product has much less air in it, has a lower butterfat content, and results in a denser flavour. Gelato is also stored and served at a slightly higher temperature, and does not have the same shelf life (or, more accurately, freezer life) as ice cream. It is churned more slowly than ice cream, and this is the tricky point. The commercial gelato machines have the capabilities to do this, but I don’t know that any of the home models can, to the same degree (pardon the pun).
That being said I am still trying Alice Medrich’s Sicilan Chocolate Gelato.
This recipe appeared in her award-winning book Bittersweet (Artisan, 2003).
I am also trying out Bon Appetit’s wonderfully over-the-top truffle-rich chocolate Ice Cream.
I love the sound of this recipe – because it takes five days to make it!
Because it takes time to “ripen”, I start the Bon Appetit recipe right away, melting chocolate, whisking milk and cocoa powder together, beating egg yolks and sugar. It all comes together smoothly and familiarly – until the sugar syrup. This is different (to me, anyway), and after it boils, in goes the only cream in the mixture (1/4 cup at that). With a satisfying Whoosh! The cream bubbles furiously into the syrup, and I whisk the whole thing into the ice-cooled chocolate custard.
Then it goes into the ‘fridge for 2 days. My ‘fridge is crammed full of hot fudge sauce, so it’s a tight fit, but the perfect excuse to throw out the huge jar of pickles I have been giving the Evil Eye to, for almost a year.
After 2 days, I finally get to churn the ice cream.
After carefully reading through David Lebovitz’ introduction and trouble spotting hints in The Perfect Scoop, (my new bible of ice cream making) I turn on my machine and let it run briefly before pouring in the chilled custard mixture, in a thickened, globby stream. The idea is to have the machine running as the mixture hits it, to prevent a layer of icy, solid ice cream from sticking to the walls of the bowl. It seems to be working, and within a few minutes, there is a satisfying thickening of the mixture on the dashers.
20 minutes later, it is ready to be transferred to a container to ripen in the freezer, but I do this reluctantly, as it looks so good, I want to dive face first into the bowl.
But I am learning patience, and after I have scraped every last morsel from the machine, and sealed it with a tight fitting lid, I obediently consign it to the freezer. I have to sternly ward off attempts by (understandably) eager family members that “NO, you can’t have any until Monday”. Yes, I am mean, but they are used to it.
On to the gelati. This recipe is on the Scharffen Berger website, and this is the cocoa they suggest using in the recipe, but I am using Cocoa Camino cocoa, as it is what I have on hand. It is a very simple, straightforward recipe, without any fancy ingredients … or eggs … or butter … or cream – hmmm. I wonder how it will taste? I absolutely adore Alice Medrich’s cake recipes, so I am willing to give this a try.
It actually reminds me of concocting chocolate pudding. I heat the milk to bubbly, whisk together the remaining milk, cocoa and cornstarch. Sure enough, it looks and smells like pudding! I strain it, cover the surface with plastic wrap and chill it, shoving it in to the ‘fridge in the space the truffle ice cream custard just vacated.
It freezes up nicely, using the same technique to get the mixture into the bowl (thank you Mr. Lebowitz), and is ready to test shortly after resting in the freezer.
Frankly, it is okay, but it definitely tastes like cocoa, not chocolate (no surprise), and doesn’t leave that (to me) satisfying, lingering taste in your mouth which slides slowly down the back of your throat when you swallow. It is clean, chocolaty and … nice, but not great. I would certainly prefer this to a Fudgesicle, any day, but I guess I really prefer something more luxurious, and perhaps that means, with more fat!
To be honest, this is a very nice, light dessert, which I would actually call a chocolate sherbet, as it definitely has a pudding-y quality. Not at all unpleasant, just not what I would call gelato. I am still going to eat the whole tub, though!
So. Finally. Truffle ice cream tasting day.
The boys have been “encouraged” to mow the lawn, and as a perk, afterward test the ice cream (along with payment!).
I am glad I took the tub out when I did, because it is frozen solid and rock hard. Even after 20 minutes, it is still very hard, and I actually break one of my scoop’s mechanisms, trying to pry a perfect sphere out. Hmmm. Better success with an old reliable flat tablespoon, and soon, we each have a small portion in our bowls.
The taste is heavenly. Very thick, very rich. Like eating chilled ganache. Not at all a palate cleanser, this is the ice cream you want on a very hot day when you are craving a piece of chocolate, but know it will melt too fast for you to enjoy it. It did not taste cloying, is not overly sweet or sugary, and satisfied my need for “staying in the mouth” feel.
You can definitely taste and feel the texture of chocolate. The cocoa is undetectable, except as a flavour intensifier and because the sugar was cooked as a caramel, there is no harsh uncooked sugary edge – much the same as the chocolate fudge sauce made with condensed milk taste so much better (to me) than virtually the same recipe made with evaporated milk and sugar. Chemistry is a wonderful thing.
My only negative comment, and it is easily rectified: because it has spent three days in a deep freeze, it really needs, I would hazard a guess, half an hour to thaw, and I think when we have some today, I will put it in the ‘fridge for 40 minutes, before serving.
And now, having eaten so much chocolate ice cream, I am going to take myself off for a long bike ride in the long awaited sunshine.
Well, I have to make room for another bowl, upon my return!