I know, it’s the middle of winter and I am posting a recipe for Italian ice cream. Crazy? Maybe, but I can eat ice cream (or gelato) any time of the year!! And some of the coldest countries in the world are the largest consumers of frozen desserts. In the United States, Alaskans eat more ice cream per person each year than any other state. Go figure – everyone loves ice cream!
Gelato dates back to frozen desserts made in ancient Rome and Egypt, made with snow and ice brought down from the mountains. 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. She then introduced the frozen custard to France, and a Sicilian fisherman perfected the first ice cream machine over a century later in 1686. Gelato made without dairy ingredients is known as sorbet.
Today’s recipe is from Alice Medrich, the doyenne of chocolate, 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 cooking with chocolate. If you want to learn about the whys and wherefores of chocolate, just read any of her cookbooks. They are like taking a masters class for chocolatiers.
This recipe, found in the Feb 2011 edition of Eating Well magazine, says, “This ultra-chocolatey, dairy-free Sicilian-style gelato — made without eggs or cream — is relatively lean but still creamy-smooth and flavorful. The coconut milk used for the base gives it a silky, rich mouthfeel and subtle coconut flavor.”
Coconut milk is slightly sweet, white, a little thicker than water, 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 well before opening blends it smooth again. It can be used in the place of regular milk and in most cooked items, has only the faintest coconut essence. Coconut milk is not a dairy product and adds a rich creamy texture to many international cuisines. Coconut milk is high in potassium and saturated fat but it’s a saturated fat that is actually good for you. It contains powerful antiviral and antifungal proprieties.
As with all frozen desserts made with an ice cream machine, you must have pre-frozen the bowl prior to churning your chilled custard. I usually put the bowl in a couple of days ahead, then make the custard at least a day before I want to serve the dessert. 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. 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.
Enjoy your Chocolate Monday treat and have a wonderful week!!
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 to soften 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. A third version, called Black Cocoa, is a very strong, nearly black cocoa that 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.
- 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably natural (see Note)
- 2 (14 oz) cans “lite” coconut milk (about 3-1/2 cups), divided
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp sugar
- 2 tbsp cornstarch
- 1/8 tsp salt
- Put cocoa in a medium bowl and whisk in enough coconut milk (about 2/3 cup) to make a smooth paste. Stir in vanilla.
- 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. 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.
- Pour the gelato mixture into the canister of an ice cream maker. Freeze according to manufacturer’s directions.
- Store gelato in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 1 week. For the best texture, let soften slightly before serving.
- Yield: generous 1 quart
- Cocoa powder comes in two styles: natural and Dutch-processed. Dutch-processed cocoa has been treated with alkali, or "Dutched," to neutralize the natural acidity of cocoa, while natural has not. For this recipe, we prefer the taste of natural cocoa powder, although either type can be used.