Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Gelatissimo!

When I started this blog, never did I imagine it would lead me to some truly exceptional people with whom Guillermo and I have become firm friends. The feeling of meeting my readers is akin to finding warmth and comfort among kindred spirits in a world that can often be unnecessarily mean and chillingly cruel.

I had one such beautiful encounter yesterday with a wonderful couple. To my utter surprise and delight, they brought me a treasure which brings back many fond memories from a land which seems so far away now...

Pernigotti, the famed Italian chocolate maker based in Torino, is best known for their Gianduiotto. The sweet nuttiness of their cioccolatini is one of many reasons why mortals find Italy so easy to love. Another reason would be Italian gelato which is in a class unto itself even when compared to the best ice creams or helados.

Firstly, gelato is served slightly warmer than the other two varietals, which allows it to keep its smooth and supple texture while the higher temperature means it takes less time to melt and release its aroma on the palate and nose.

Then, gelato flavours are often wonderfully intense thanks two factors. First of all, gelato has a lower fat content than ice cream; and fat, by nature, coats our tastebuds and dulls our perception of flavour. More importantly, gelato is made with a much higher proportion of fresh and natural flavouring agents such as ripe fruits or nuts.

When I laid eyes on the treasure, generously given to me as a token of appreciation for my random scribbles, I intuitively knew I would combine the top two of an endless list of things I love about Italy...I am going to make chocolate gelato!

This most appreciated gift is a large tin of dark, unsweetened cocoa powder, Cacao di Pernigotti. This Piedmontese chocolate maker removes less fat from its cocoa giving the powder an extra boost of mellow smoothness. This wonderful cocoa is lightly Dutch processed and has a touch of real vanilla. Dutch processed (invented by Dutch chocolate maker, Van Houten) refers to a treatment of adding alkali to neutralise the natural acidity in cocoa. This process results in a cocoa which has an especially rich and dark colour.

For aspiring ice cream and gelato makers at home, there are a few ways to get around the lack of equipment. The biggest concern is the resulting texture. Rose Levy Beranbaum, author of The Cake Bible, The Pie & Pastry Bible and The Bread Bible, suggests 1 1/2 tsp of 80% proof liquor per cup of liquid to lower the freezing point so ice cream won't freeze rock hard.

Or like me, you can find a gelato recipe which doesn't require churning anyway and top it up with a splash of booze.

60g fine-quality bittersweet chocolate
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup evaporated milk
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
4 large egg yolks
pinch salt
splash of vodka (for its neutral flavour)

Coarsely chop chocolate. In a heavy saucepan bring milk, evaporated milk, and about half of sugar just to a simmer, stirring until sugar is dissolved.

Remove pan from heat and add cocoa powder and chocolate, whisking until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Have ready, on the side, a large bowl of ice and cold water.

In a bowl with an electric mixer beat yolks, remaining sugar and salt until thick and pale. Add hot chocolate mixture in a slow stream, whisking, and pour into saucepan. Cook custard over moderately low heat, stirring constantly, until a thermometer registers 80C.

Pour custard through a sieve into a metal bowl set in ice and cold water and cool. Add booze and mix well.

Chill custard, covered, until cold. Transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden for several hours.

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