I was sitting at work this week, a little uninspired, when I realized my problem. I don’t have ice cream. I’ve been dying for a chocolate ice cream cone for days. It’s what I see when I’m drifting off to sleep at night. As I try to get work done, thoughts of chocolate and cream break all concentration. I can’t even look at savory food—a sandwich for lunch, well-meaning chicken for dinner—without wishing it were chocolate ice cream. I don’t know what’s come over me.
And I don’t want one of those sorry, pale brown soft serve cones that lean on sprinkles for spunk. I want dark, dark chocolate—so dark it’s nearly black. So chocolately you can feel the cocoa grains on your tongue. I’d been dreaming of a chocolate ice cream so intense that I knew I wouldn’t be able to find it anywhere.
I’m talking about gelato, really. No ice cream could come close to what I have in mind. This gelato fever started with a memory of the best cone I’d ever had. In San Leone, Sicily, my cousin brought us to a gelateria that serves sheep’s milk gelato. It was tangy and frankly a little stinky by gelato standards, like a sheep’s milk cheese. This was in 2008. I still think about it daily.
I’m on a hunt for sheep’s milk, or perhaps even just sheep’s milk yogurt, so I can try to recreate it. But in the meantime, chocolate is taking its place. Chocolate and salted caramel. Don’t ask me how I got from sheep’s milk to salted caramel chocolate gelato. I don’t know, but everything about it just sounds right to me. Until the sheep’s milk surfaces, this will hold me over quite well.
I’ve only ever made gelato with the usual slew of egg yolks, but I stumbled on this recipe in Saveur that uses four simple ingredients: milk, sugar, cocoa, and corn starch. It worked perfectly, and is so, so much easier than any other ice cream or gelato recipes out there. I didn’t even use an ice cream maker—just throw it all together and pop it in the freezer.
Adapted from Saveur
3 cups whole milk
3⁄4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup unsweetened cocoa
1. Bring 2 cups of the milk to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat, then remove from heat. Combine remaining 1 cup milk, sugar, cornstarch, and cocoa in a bowl, add to hot milk, and cook until sugar and cocoa dissolve.
2. Set aside to let cool, then cover and refrigerate overnight.
For the caramel, I scoured the old Perigee library for a candy making book they’d published before my time, Who Wants Candy. In my five years at Perigee, I’ve never once cracked this book open. Now my list of recipes I want to try will last me all summer. These candies, which I adapted into a salted caramel swirl, went perfectly with the gelato.
Dorothy’s Never-Fail Caramels
Adapted from Who Wants Candy by Jane Sharrock
The original recipe has you boil the caramel to 248 degrees F. I stopped boiling at around 240 degrees F, which made the chilled candies much softer and easier to melt down into a gelato swirl.
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup half-and-half
1 cup milk
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon sea salt
Generously butter a 9 x 13-inch pan.
In a heavy sauce pan over medium heat, combine the sugars, corn syrup, half-and-half, milk, butter, and salt, stirring until the sugars dissolve and the mixture begins to boil. Reduce the heat to medium low. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches 240 degrees F on a candy thermometer.
Remove from the heat. Stir in the vanilla. Pour into the buttered pan. Let cool. You’ll only need to mix about a quarter of this recipe into the gelato. Cut the rest into squares and individually wrap each piece in plastic wrap or waxed paper. Store in an airtight container, and watch out: the softer consistency means these are killer on your teeth. Be careful for your fillings!
Combine the Gelato and Caramel
Freeze the gelato in a covered container (a Pyrex container is perfect for this). Take it out after an hour and stir with a heavy whisk to maintain a creamy consistency. Do this again after another hour and return to the freezer.
Take about a quarter of the chilled caramel and melt it in a small saucepan over medium heat. Or, you can plan to start cooking your caramel after the second time you swirl the gelato. That way you can use a portion of the liquid caramel mixture before chilling the rest. Just let is cool slightly before mixing into the gelato.
Whether you’re melting chilled caramel or using it straight from the pan, take the gelato out of the freezer after another hour and whisk again. Pour the liquid caramel into the swirled gelato and continue mixing with your whisk until the gelato and caramel are well combined. Return to the freezer and let harden again.