How to Make the Best Stracciatella Gelato

A step-by-step guide to making stracciatella, Italy's classic chocolate-flecked gelato.

stracciatella gelato

Fior di latte is gelato in its purest form, a celebration of fresh dairy's subtle complexity, without any eggs (or even vanilla) to distract. Its beauty hinges on starting with top notch ingredients, treated with great care. Like a classic caprese salad, it demands the best of the best, and if you can't manage that, why bother?

Stracciatella takes that philosophy a step further, building on the delicacy of fior di latte to transcend the American concept of chocolate chip. Because of the inherent simplicity of that fior di latte base, there aren't any yolky-custard or vanilla flavors to smooth over the harsh notes of mediocre chocolate.

What's more, icy temperatures dull our sense of taste, muting the flavor and aroma of chocolate from the start. That means even a good, middle-of-the-road chocolate may seem lackluster in stracciatella*.

*My go-to supermarket brands may be awesome in baked goods, but they proved less than ideal for stracciatella. That's no slight against them, only a reflection of the fact that different recipes have different needs.

overhead shot of stracciatella gelato

The solution is brute-force deliciousness, using chocolate so extraordinary that it tastes amazing even when frozen. It's the perfect excuse to spring for a high-end, single-origin chocolate; the sort you wouldn't dream of chopping into cookies or brownies even if you could afford to. Fortunately, it only takes 2 ounces of chocolate for a quart of stracciatella, so it's a splurge that needn't break the bank.

By focusing on beans from a single country, this type of chocolate coaxes out flavor profiles distinctive enough to deliver a rich, satisfying, and complex chocolate flavor even in chilly conditions.

From recipe testing, my favorites were from Dandelion Chocolate in San Francisco, in part because their chocolates have no added cocoa butter, so they don't get as waxy as couverture when frozen. I loved their Kokoa Kamili (Tanzania), Maya Mountain (Belize), Costa Esmerelda (Ecuador), and Tumaco (Colombia) in particular, each one an adventure of its own, changing the character of the stracciatella at every turn.

bowls of stracciatella

I also enjoyed the batches I made with chocolates from Harper Macaw, a DC-based company that sources exclusively from Brazil. I had a chance to visit their shop and stock up back in December, but their bars are sold online and through Whole Foods, so they're reasonably easy to find. My favorites for stracciatella were their 75% Atlantic Forest and 67% Dark Blend, which both had a fresh, bright quality that paired nicely with the creaminess of the gelato.

Of course these are just the specific bars I tested and loved, there are countless amazing chocolates to try. For stracciatella, what's important to look for is a chocolate that's perhaps a little bolder and more intense than you'd be inclined to snack on by itself; not necessarily in terms of cocoa percentage, but in terms of flavor profile, because so much of what you taste at room temperature will soften and mellow in the freezer.

bowls of stracciatella

Armed with a fantastic chocolate, the real trick to straciattella comes from melting it with a spoonful of refined coconut oil. It's a flavorless, odorless infusion of saturated fat that lowers the melting point of chocolate. Normally, that's right about body temperature, giving chocolate its characteristic "melt in your mouth" consistency. But when spoonfuls of gelato chill your tongue, bits of pure chocolate take longer and longer to melt, which makes them seem greasy or waxy.

With coconut oil, the cold chocolate still seems snappy and crisp, but by lowering its freezing point it will melt more quickly even when our mouths are cool. This in turn lets the chocolate better flood our taste buds, so we're able to perceive as much of its flavor as possible. Liquid oil will lower the freezing point as well, but because it's unsaturated it tends to give the chocolate a soft, rather than crisp consistency.

Traditionally, the chocolate mixture is poured directly into the gelato right before it comes off the machine. As the stream of warm chocolate hits cold gelato, it solidifies into a ribbon that is pulled through the gelato as it churns; as the ribbon freezes, it begins to pull apart and break into shards both big and small (straciattella comes from the Latin word stracciare, which means to tear or rip).

traditional method for making stracciatella

This method's classic for a reason—fast and efficient—but not without its downsides, as the chocolate ribbon tends to cluster and clump around anything and everything cold: the dasher, the bowl, and even the machine's lid if they happen to touch.

chocolate congealed on equipment

The traditional method produces lots of chips, but also large clusters and fine shavings, a haphazard blend that muddies the gelato itself a bit, flavoring every bite with chocolate. To a certain extent, this can be controlled by monitoring the temperature of the chocolate.

The warmer it is, the longer it will take to freeze, and the more the chocolate will be homogenized into the gelato, producing a finer mix of chips. The colder it is, the more quickly it will seize, creating a greater proportion of large and distinct pieces.

But there's another way, although it isn't quite traditional: Instead of pouring the chocolate into the gelato, I like to pour it out on a sheet of parchment, so I can precisely control the thickness of each chip.

spreading the chocolate on parchment

After a few minutes in the freezer, the chocolate will solidify into a sheet. From there, I can crush the chips as much or as little as I want. Since churning or mixing will crush the chips even further, it's best to leave them a little larger than ideal.

homemade chocolate chips

The results are as different as the techniques. The traditional method gives stracciatella a slightly darker color, with chocolate flavor mixed into the gelato itself, and a higher proportion of small shards and flecks. It takes no special effort to achieve, and produces a gelato where every bite contains its own unique mix of chips, chunks, flecks, shards.

The sheet method keeps the chips distinct from the gelato, with chips that are more uniform overall. It certainly takes a bit more time and effort than the classic technique, but it allows for a more evenly textured gelato. There's no right or wrong here, so choose the method that suits your personal taste.

traditional stracciatella on the left, stracciatella with homemade chips on the right

However you incorporate the chocolate, transfer the stracciatella to a well-chilled container. Glass or ceramic loaf pans or baking dishes are ideal, as their high proportion of surface area helps the gelato freeze faster, and provides a nice straightaway for scooping. But of course any nonreactive vessel will do.

a frozen dish of stracciatella

The result of this attention to detail will be a fresh and milky gelato studded with chocolate chips that shatter and melt on your tongue, releasing a bold chocolate flavor. It's a beautiful study in contrast—dark and light, crisp and creamy, mellow and intense—perfect for savoring one scoop at a time.