It’s that time of year again. As the summer heat beats down on us, the thought of ice cream is enough to make people smile. Most Americans have fond childhood memories of frozen desserts, whether soda fountain treats, street corner shaved ice vendors or soft serve ice cream from trucks.
Unfortunately, as food has increasingly become mass produced, the quality has declined. The ice cream of yesteryear was made from cream, eggs, cane sugar, real fruit and chocolate, but most ice cream today is full of high fructose corn syrup, powdered milk and unpronounceable, man made ingredients. Even seemingly safe choices like “frozen fruit bars” contain more corn syrup, artificial flavoring and coloring than fruit.
What Can We Eat?
This summer, let’s take a tip from our Italian friends and try gelato. This frozen dessert is made in a special machine that rapidly freezes the contents. The quick pace avoids folding in excess air and keeps the ice crystals small, resulting in a dense, smooth dessert with an extremely concentrated flavor.
Why is Gelato Healthier?
To start with, gelato uses milk instead of cream, making this dessert lower in fat, cholesterol and calories. Even though gelato is made with milk, having less air makes it tastes richer than American ice cream. Many people find smaller servings of gelato to be satisfying, thanks to the concentrated flavors and creamy mouthfeel.
The high fat content of American ice cream helps to stabilize the flavor, making it possible to store in the freezer for months. Gelato must be eaten within a few days of being made, guaranteeing that your gelato is always fresh.
Where Do We Find Gelato?
Unfortunately, unless you live in a city with a large Italian population, your chances of finding a gelateria (gelato shop) are fairly slim. The good news is that the short list of high quality ingredients and fast freezing time make homemade gelato a breeze. Combine pure chocolate, nut pastes or ripe fruit with local, pastured milk and natural sweeteners for the most delicious gelato imaginable.
Don’t make the mistake of using a gelato recipe in a regular ice cream freezer, though. This dessert needs to be made in a proper home gelato maker in order to get the low air content and smooth texture.
How Much Does Gelato Cost?
Unless you are using imported ingredients, the basic recipes are fairly inexpensive to make. Go to the farmers’ market for fruit at the peak of ripeness or use real chocolate chips, rather than bars, in order to save money.
What Flavors Does Gelato Come In?
Once you own a home gelato maker, your options are limitless. Traditionally, the bases are either flavored with chocolate, nut or an egg custard. Popular mix-ins in Italy include nutella, cinnamon and hot pepper or candied orange rind with chocolate and stewed sour cherries, but here in the United States, anything goes.
There’s no reason you can’t make fior de latte (a plain cream flavor of gelato that highlights the fresh milk as the primary flavor) with crushed chocolate cookies. Swirl natural peanut butter into chocolate ice cream for peanut butter cup gelato.
Making homemade gelato doesn’t take very long. Nut or chocolate flavors are made without eggs, though cream base gelato requires the preparation of an egg custard as an initial step. Fruit gelato made without milk is also simple, though it is technically called sorbet.
Homemade gelato is the perfect summertime treat. It is simple to prepare, freezes quickly and costs less to make than premium ice cream costs. It’s likely that with some practice, you won’t find yourself picking up packaged ice cream anymore.