I’ve been a life-long chocolate lover, but my life had been an empty shell before I had Italian chocolate gelato. A creamy, smooth, frozen concoction the color of night, gelato al cioccolato takes me to heights of pure ecstasy. I’m ruined now for chocolate ice cream of the American version—I look at its milky chocolate brown shade with disdain. My beloved’s tone is so deep that it borders on black. It’s taste so pure that a little scoop satisfies the taste buds. During my last trip to Italy, I developed a considerable gelato habit—at least once a day, sometimes twice. Although my new proclivity had the potential to be very unkind to my waistline, it gave me reason to get out and explore.
Florence became my taste-testing ground. In order to reduce the guilt I felt for eating so much gelato, I walked to various gelaterias across the city…briskly. For the taste-test, I got the same flavor at every shop—cioccolato. The winner, for me, was Gelateria dei Neri—a small place located not far from the famed Uffizi Gallery. I loved how rich and smooth the gelato was and the price was good, too. The gelato was so delicious that I had to make a second trip to the shop before we left to get one more taste. A close runner-up was Gelateria la Carraia in the Santo Spirito area. I also enjoyed Perche No! and Grom, but the first two continue to pop up in my dreams.
Once I returned to the States, I was practically despondent thinking about life without that deep, dark-brown ice cream. I wandered the aisles of numerous grocery stores looking for gelatos to try that might possibly resemble those Florentine delights , but nothing came close. I visited one ice cream shop after another, but none had the goods. Since I was too young to retire and move to Italy, I had to come up with a solution so I decided to make my own. I purchased an ice-cream machine and experimented with recipes until I developed one that came close to the dark chocolate gelato I had in Florence. Here is my recipe—the taste is as close as I can get it, but my freezer is too cold for proper gelato consistency. It’s best served right out of the ice cream machine. I use an inexpensive, electric ice cream maker. The machine consists of a bucket with a metal insert that you surround with ice and salt. A paddle is fitted in the metal container and the gelato mixture poured in. The electric mechanism affixes to the paddle and churns the mixture to soft-serve consistency, which is how gelato is served. I hope you enjoy!
- 2 1/2 cups whole milk
- 4 large egg yolks
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup Hershey Special Dark cocoa powder (or a Dutch-processed cocoa powder)
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I like Ghiradelli Intense Dark Chocolate 86%)
Over medium heat, stir together the milk, cocoa, salt, vanilla, and chocolate. Using a spoon, dissolve any cocoa powder clumps in the milk and let the mixture continue to heat and thicken while you prepare the rest of the recipe. Be careful that it does not boil.
Place the egg yolks and sugar in a mixing bowl. Using a hand mixer, whip together the egg yolks and sugar until they are a pale yellow color and a bit stiffer.
When the milk is heated through, but not boiling, it’s time to temper the egg mixture so that you can add it to the milk and not scramble the eggs. Remove your milk temporarily from the heat. Add a big spoonful (mixing spoon size) of the hot milk to your bowl of egg mixture. Stir vigorously until absorbed. Add another large spoonful of the hot milk and stir until absorbed. Slowly add your egg mixture to your milk while continuously stirring.
Return the pot to the heat. Keep stirring the entire mixture over medium heat until the gelato base coats the back of a spoon. This should take 10-15 minutes. When it coats the back of a spoon, pour it into another dish and cool it for several hours (I prefer 24 hours). It should look like dark chocolate pudding when it’s done. At this point it is ready to go in the ice-cream machine. Thirty minutes later (at least in my machine) and you can enjoy!
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