Gelato just might be the most misunderstood form of ice cream in our great, ice cream-lovin' nation. We know it's smooth, intense and delicious but what makes a gelato real gelato?
Here are the three elements that differentiate real-deal gelato from the traditional American stuff:
1. Gelato has less fat than traditional American ice cream. That means it's usually made without egg yolks (unless they're being used for their color) and modern recipes often call for cornstarch to keep the texture soft.
2. Gelato has less air than traditional American ice cream. Gelato machines spin more slowly than ice cream machines, especially in commercial factories, so the amount of air incorporated into the base as it freezes (the technical term is overrun) is significantly lower. Fortunately for home cooks, every home-use ice cream machine I've ever seen actually spins at gelato speed, so you've been making gelato this whole time and you didn't even know it.
3. Gelato is (traditionally, at least) stored and served at a warmer temperature than traditional American ice cream. Without all that fat and air, they have to do something to keep the ice cream soft and scoopable! That's also why gelato often seems to have a more intense flavor than ice cream—it's warmer, so it doesn't numb your tongue as much and you experience the flavors more intensely. Our ice cream proverb of the day: the difference isn't in the gelato, it's in you. To recreate this component of traditional gelato technique at home, take your gelato out of the freezer about 20 minutes before you plan to eat it, to let it warm up a little bit. You can also store it in wide, flat containers (Chinese take-out containers, anyone?) to help it come to temperature faster and more evenly.
For this recipe, we decided to do a caffeinated twist on everyone's favorite summer ice cream flavor: mint chocolate chip. We paired the mint with a spicy, refreshing ginger bite, and swapped out the chocolate chips for crushed chocolate-covered espresso beans. The ginger and mint play off each other beautifully—you taste the mint at the beginning and ginger at the end, and the espresso beans add a great bitter counterpoint and a very satisfying crunch. Perfect for a summer (or October) afternoon.
Ethan Frisch is the chef and co-mastermind behind Guerrilla Ice Cream, the only ice cream company that looks to international political movements for inspiration and donates all of its profits. He's traveled around the world (30 countries, 5 continents) and worked as a pastry chef and line cook in some of NYC's great (and not so great) restaurants.
Max Falkowitz writes Serious Eats' weekly Spice Hunting column. He's a proud native of Queens, New York, will do just about anything for a good cup of tea, and enjoys long walks down the aisles of Chinese groceries.
- Yield:1 quart
- Active time: 45 minutes
- Total time:8 hours
- 2/3 cup milk
- 3 1/3 cups heavy cream
- 5-6 stalks of fresh mint, roughly torn (stems and leaves still attached)
- About half an inch of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/3-1/2 cup chocolate covered espresso beans, crushed
Mix the milk and cream in a heavy pot and set on low heat. Add mint and ginger. Cook until mint and ginger are infused into milk, about 40 minutes.
Pour the dairy through a fine sieve to remove the mint and ginger, and whisk in the sugar. Let the mixture cool overnight (or for at least 4 hours) in the fridge.
Spin the mixture in your ice cream machine according to manufacturer's instructions. While spinning, place large mixing bowl in freezer.
When the ice cream is finished spinning, remove it from the machine directly into frozen bowl and fold in the crushed espresso beans. Return bowl to freezer until ice cream solidifies, at least 1 hour.
Pass around some spoons and share it directly out of the bowl. Gelato doesn't really improve with age, so try to force yourself to eat it within a few days of making it. But we don't really foresee that being a problem.