Thursday, July 27, 2006

Cooking School: Chocolate Gelato

Gelato is Italian ice cream. While in composition it is not that different from other frozen treats, there are a couple of things that set it apart from a standard ice cream. First, it is generally made with milk and not with cream (some recipes do call for a small amount of cream). I've had many shopkeepers try to impress this upon me as a selling point, since it makes the gelato lower in fat than ice cream is (for the record, it works as a selling point). Second, gelato tends to be more dense than ice cream, with less air churned into it and fewer tiny ice crystals suspended in the mixture. This gives it a rich taste.
The final thing that sets it apart is that gelatos usually tend to have much stronger flavors than other ice creams. I won't go so far as to say that this is a standard feature of gelato, but in my experience, it tends to be true.
It is certainly true of this chocolate gelato. The recipe is from Bittersweet by Alice Medrich. While many chocolate gelato recipes call for melted chocolate, this one only uses cocoa powder to chocolatiness. The gelato is very smooth and very, very chocolaty. You can probably only eat a small amount at a time. I added to the chocolate - not that the incredibly rich flavor needed it - with some chopped chocolate. I opted to go for the varying sizes of chocolate chunks (and shavings) instead of chocolate chips because I thought they would blend better into the gelato. I used a chocolate chipper, which looks like a tiny pitchfork, to get the job done, but your can use a sharp knife to shave off pieces of chocolate.

Chocolate Chocolate Chunk Gelato
(adapted from Bittersweet)
3 cups milk
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1-1/2 tbsp cornstarch
about 3-oz chocolate, shaved/chunked (1/2 cup)

In medium saucepan, bring 2 cups of the milk just to a simmer, which is when you start to see steam rising from the pan.
In a medium bowl, whisk the remaining cup of (cold/room temperature) milk with the sugar, cocoa, and cornstarch. Once the milk in the saucepan has come to a simmer, add in the cocoa mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture comes to a boil and begins to thicken. Cook for one more minute, then remove from heat.
Strain mixture into a large bowl, cover the surface with plastic wrap, and chill until cold. Overnight chilling is best.
Pour into your ice cream maker and churn according to manufacturers directions. Freeze until firm, at least 30 minutes, before serving. Stir in the chocolate chunks/shavings after churning or stir them in halfway through the churning process.
Makes about 1 quart.

Note: You can use any type of milk for this recipe, from skim to whole. I recommed going with low fat (1 or 2%), since it produces a creamy product and one that is lower in fat than one made with whole milk.