When Eric and I go out to dinner, we rarely order dessert. Usually, we are dining with others and have gone through that whole “I’ll order something if you order something” or “Let’s just get one dessert for the table” dance if we opt to get something sweet. In all honesty, I think that because I do so much baking, it really takes one heck of a dessert to pique my interest enough to give it a try. I mean, key lime pie usually tastes like, well, key lime pie, and the same goes for creme brulee, flourless chocolate cake, and all of the other common desserts on restaurant menus today.
When we order a dessert for the table, I usually go along with whatever the others decide sounds the best, but if it were up to me, the decision would always be the same: ice cream, sorbet, or gelato. Being someone who likes variety in her foods, the best case scenario occurs when a restaurant allows you to mix and match flavors (I once had fresh pear sorbet, cantaloupe sorbet and coconut gelato—yum). Frozen desserts are definitely my weakness, and luckily I have Golden Spoon, my go-to fat-free frozen yogurt place that keeps me away from the Haagen Daaz.
Gelato is different from ice cream in that it is typically made with just milk and/or cream, sugar, and flavorings, while ice cream has eggs in its list of ingredients. Gelato, like high-end ice cream, incorporates less than 35% air, resulting in a dense and highly flavorful product. Gelato made with water and without dairy ingredients is sorbet (or sorbetto in Italy). While it may be initially intimidating to attempt homemade ice cream or gelato, once you’ve tried it, you will be hooked. Ben and Jerry, look out! Here are some tips for making this iced Italian treat:
- The gelato base will keep for one day, refrigerated and tightly covered. The gelato will keep for 5 days in the freezer, but it seldom lasts that long.
- If you don’t have the espresso powder, then you can omit it. The espresso powder just adds more depth to the chocolate taste. Don’t replace it with espresso or coffee grounds, as they won’t dissolve and the gelato will taste grainy. You can usually find espresso powder at specialty foods stores such as Whole Foods or Williams-Sonoma, or you can order it on-line like I do, from the King Arthur’s Baking Company.
- If you don’t have an ice cream maker, and are possibly interested in buying one, you don’t need to buy the most expensive top-of-the-line model. I bought my Cuisinart 1.5 quart model for about $45 in 2000, and it makes fantastic ice cream. My only complaint is that sometimes 1.5 quarts disappears much too quickly!
- For other variations on this gelato, try adding chopped toasted (and cooled) hazelnuts, pecans, or walnuts, toasted coconut, or swirl chocolate or caramel syrup in after the gelato has finished churning.
Chocolate Toffee Chip Gelato
Makes 3 cups
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups whole milk
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup coarsely crushed toffee candy (Heath, Skor, etc.)
Whisk together sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, espresso powder, and salt in a medium saucepan until blended. Gradually add 1/4 cup of the milk and whisk until the cornstarch is dissolved. Whisk in the remaining 1 3/4 cups milk. Whisk over medium-high heat until the mixture thickens and comes to a boil, about 6 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for 1 minute longer, whisking occasionally.
Remove from the heat and add the chocolate. Let the mixture stand for 1 minute and then whisk until smooth and melted.
Transfer the gelato base to a medium bowl and then mix in the cream. Cover with plastic wrap and then refrigerate until very cold.
Process the gelato base in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions, adding the toffee bits during the last few minutes of churning. Transfer to a container, cover, and freeze for a few hours before serving.