Lush Dairy-Free Chocolate Gelato (Gluten-Free)

DF/GF Chocolate Gelato; 2014 Jane Bonacci, The Heritage Cook

I can eat ice cream and gelato any time of the year but it is a special treat during the heat of summer. What is better than sitting on the porch on a hot summer night, enjoying a bowl or cone of homemade frozen custard? With just six ingredients you can have a delicious treat that everyone can enjoy – even those with lactose intolerance! 

I come by this passion naturally, both of my parents loved ice cream. My mother was a soda jerk in her father’s drug store, back in the days when they were called Five and Dimes, scooping ice cream and making floats for her classmates. She always claimed that her right arm was larger than the left because of digging out the rock hard frozen custard 😉

My father always said he preferred an ice cream sundae or milkshake to a cocktail. Today is the 25th anniversary of my father’s death and I thought it would be appropriate to honor his memory with one of his favorite desserts. I know he would be proud to see the talents of his mother (my grandmother Mimi) being passed down through me to future generations.DF/GF Chocolate Gelato; 2014 Jane Bonacci, The Heritage Cook

Modern ice cream is credited to Bernardo Buontalenti. It is said that he invented an innovative refrigeration technique and presented it along with a recipe to Catherine de’ Medici in 1565. Gelato has been around since the 17th century, but today’s versions remain surprisingly close to the original.

The one aspect of ice cream that seems to truly be an American invention is the edible cone. It was created at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair and was made with a crispy sweetened batter cooked on a waffle iron, very similar to today’s waffle cones. Up until that time it had been served in metal cone-shaped containers and eaten with spoons. I have a few of this style of cup from my grandfather’s drug store that I cherish.

Surprisingly, some of the coldest countries in the world are the largest consumers of frozen desserts. They are always in high demand in the Scandinavian countries, and in the United States, Alaskans eat more ice cream per person each year than any other state. Everyone loves ice cream!

DF/GF Chocolate Gelato; 2014 Jane Bonacci, The Heritage Cook

Churned gelato after freezing

Today’s recipe is from Alice Medrich, the doyenne of chocolate, former owner of a shop in San Francisco called Cocolat, and internationally known for her dedication to quality and depth of investigation into the intricacies of working with chocolate. Reading her cookbooks are like taking a masters class. If you are interested in learning more about chocolate and its interactions during cooking and freezing, I highly recommend any of Alice’s books. Here are a few of my favorites:

Cookies and Brownies

A Year in Chocolate

Chocolate Holidays

Bittersweet by Alice Medrich

Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy Melt-in-your-Mouth Cookies

Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts

Cocolat: Extraordinary Chocolate Desserts

Pure Dessert

Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts

DF/GF Chocolate Gelato; 2014 Jane Bonacci, The Heritage Cook

For anyone who is gluten-intolerant or who doesn’t eat dairy products, this is the dessert for you because it is made with coconut milk. It takes the place of eggs and cream and yet yields the same rich, silky smooth mouthfeel. It is also lower in cholesterol and an excellent substitute for those watching their weight. You can eat this gelato without guilt!

DF/GF Chocolate Gelato; 2014 Jane Bonacci, The Heritage Cook

Coconut milk is a terrific dairy substitute

Coconut milk is slightly sweet, white, about the thickness of half-and-half, and made from the meat of a coconut. This is not the same thing as coconut water, the thin watery liquid found inside the hollow center of a coconut. Canned coconut milk is very shelf-stable, but may separate if it sits long enough. Shaking the can very well before opening blends it smooth again or you can empty it into a bowl and whisk until smooth. It can be used in the place of regular milk, and in most cooked items has only the faintest coconut essence.

DF/GF Chocolate Gelato; 2014 Jane Bonacci, The Heritage Cook

Coconut milk, while not a dairy product, adds a rich creamy texture to many international cuisines. Coconut milk is high in potassium and contains powerful antiviral and antifungal proprieties. I always have a couple of cans in my pantry because it is so flexible and lends itself to so many dishes.

As with all frozen desserts made with an ice cream machine, you must have pre-frozen the bowl prior to churning your chilled custard (unless you have a very high-end machine). I usually put the bowl in several days ahead, and then make the custard two days before I want to serve the dessert. That gives it ample time to be thoroughly chilled before I put it in the machine and turn it into gelato the day before I want to serve it.

DF/GF Chocolate Gelato; 2014 Jane Bonacci, The Heritage Cook

Once you have churned it, you will need to transfer to a different container and freeze until more solid. Depending on the coldness of your freezer, this can take a couple of hours or up to overnight. Make sure you plan ahead.

The speed of churning is also important to the final texture of the ice cream. The custard mixture must be stirred slowly while cooling in the ice bath to add air and prevent large ice crystals from forming. Once churned, this gelato will hold in the freezer at least a week, so make it early and then you don’t have to worry about dessert on the day of your party. But resist the urge to try a bite of this ~ the next thing you know the whole batch will be gone and you’ll have to make more LOL!

Enjoy your Chocolate Monday treat and have a wonderful week!! DF/GF Chocolate Gelato; 2014 Jane Bonacci, The Heritage Cook

Jane’s Tips and Hints:

Cocoa comes in two primary version, Natural and Dutch-Processed or “Dutched.” As Alice Medrich writes, Dutched cocoa has been treated with alkali, which neutralizes the acid content of natural cocoa. This results in a darker cocoa with a smoother flavor. While they can be used interchangeably most of the time, occasionally a recipe, such as this one, will benefit from the higher acid content of natural cocoa. If all you have on hand is Dutched cocoa, don’t panic, it will work just fine here!

A third version, called Black Cocoa, is a very strong, nearly black in color and can be used when you want an extra dark dessert. But because of its lack of full flavor, you want to combine it with natural or Dutched cocoa.

Creamy Chocolate Gelato
Yields 1
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  1. 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably natural (see Tips and Hints above; gluten-free if needed)
  2. 2 (14 oz) cans “lite” coconut milk (about 3-1/2 cups), divided
  3. 1 tsp vanilla extract
  4. 3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp sugar
  5. 2 tbsp cornstarch
  6. 1/8 tsp salt
  1. Pre-freeze the container of your ice cream maker.
  2. Put cocoa in a medium bowl and whisk in enough coconut milk (about 2/3 cup) to make a smooth paste. Stir in vanilla.
  3. Mix sugar, cornstarch and salt in a medium saucepan. Gradually whisk in the remaining coconut milk. Heat over medium heat, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon* or heatproof spatula, until the mixture begins to barely simmer around the edges. Then, stirring constantly and scraping the sides and corners of the pan to prevent scorching, let the mixture simmer for 2-1/2 to 3 minutes to fully cook the cornstarch.
  4. Scrape the hot mixture into the bowl with the cocoa mixture. Whisk until well blended. Let cool, undisturbed, for about 45 minutes. Cover and refrigerate until cold, at least 3 hours. Can be made ahead to this point; refrigerate up to 1 day.
  5. Pour the gelato mixture into the frozen canister of your ice cream maker. Freeze according to manufacturer’s directions.
  6. Store gelato in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 1 week. For the best texture, let soften slightly before serving.
  1. Yield: generous 1 quart
  2. * If you are gluten-free or cooking for someone who is Celiac or gluten-intolerant, use brand new wooden spoons or better still, a new silicone spoon that cannot absorb any flour particles. The residual gluten on wooden utensils can make people sick.
Adapted from Alice Medrich, featured in Eating Well magazine
Adapted from Alice Medrich, featured in Eating Well magazine
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  1. says

    Thanks for a lovely recipe, Jane! My mom’s dad also had a drug store with a soda fountain, in Chicago. I’m not sure she worked there so much as helping herself to ice cream and whipped cream sundaes.

    In Southern Italy and Sicily gelato is typically thickened with a starch in this manner rather than by making a custard with egg yolks. I prefer it because it lets the ice cream’s flavor really shine through, and it’s also easier. I like to use tapioca in place of cornstarch. Now that you have awakened a craving for chocolate ice cream, as I don’t have coconut milk on hand I’m going to try this with fresh almond milk.

    Thanks again, and wishing you many sweet memories of your parents.

    • Jane Bonacci says

      How fun that your mom and mine had similar childhoods in the Midwest! I love gelato too and can’t wait to hear how it worked out with almond milk!! Have a wonderful warm summer Jennie!

    • Jane Bonacci says

      I think using honey would give it a beautiful undertone Katrina. Let us know how it turns out!

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