may 3, 2013
Spring means strawberries are in season, and strawberries are the crown jewel of the dessert family. I’ve got a serious hankering for a creamy, frozen dessert and I want to invite strawberries to my ice cream party.
Although weather has been pleasantly cool in Richmond, unlike the rude slap that was 94 degrees earlier in April, I find myself wanting ice cream or something like it nearly every day. The packed popularity of local ice cream, frozen yogurt and gelato shops indicates that folks scream for ice cream all year long. No need to wait for summer. My ice cream maker is my friend, and my neighbors are my friends who are the official tasters of all things frozen and sweet.
How is gelato different from ice cream? Made in the classical manner, gelato is churned at slower speeds so that less air is incorporated. Final product is more dense and creamier, and usually less sweet than its ice cream counterpart. It is also served, and stored, at a higher temperature so that creaminess is maximized.
If you find the addition of cornstarch in today’s recipe offbeat, consider that Southern Italian (Sicilian) gelato traditionally employs cornstarch as a stabilizer and thickener. Mark Bittman of the New York Times did a nice piece a few years back on the use of cornstarch in making ice cream , consulting noted food scientist Harold McGee about its value in creating a creamy mouth feel without the addition of egg yolks. Cornstarch also reduces ice crystal formation, so the finished dessert is less grainy.
Today’s electric ice cream makers are inexpensive, easy to use and less cumbersome than those available to the market years ago. I use one made by Cuisinart, and although a bit noisy, it consistently turns out perfect ice cream, frozen yogurt, sorbet and gelato in only 20-25 minutes. In summer I keep the canister frozen and ready for when the urge strikes, and it strikes whenever a new fruit comes in season or a novel ingredient presents itself to my imagination.
This strawberry gelato has a secret ingredient recently discovered at Little House Green Grocery : local chocolate balsamic vinegar from Chocolates by Kelly. Kelly Walker followed her life’s passion, and honored her family’s history, by perfecting the art of making chocolates. She practices her craft in a shop off Forest Hill Avenue in South Richmond and has an online store. At a recent demonstration of her sweets at Little House Green Grocery, I swooned over her handmade confections, particularly the chai spiced and sea salt caramel candies. During Easter week I grabbed the very last peanut butter filled dark chocolate egg from the shelf; it met its timely demise before I arrived home.
I digress from my rhapsodizing over Kelly’s chocolate balsamic vinegar…you could make a mess and bottle your own, but her vinegar is elegantly bottled, fragrant, tart, slightly sweet and absolutely addictive, so why agonize? My biggest problem is deciding on foods which would not benefit from a splash of chocolate balsamic vinegar.
The top note of balsamic in this vinegar gives the gelato a sprightly, peppery bite, and the low note of chocolate complements but doesn’t overwhelm, allowing strawberry to be the diva of this dessert. Adding pure chocolate would make this a decidedly chocolate dessert despite the addition of the berries (nothing wrong with that), but adding Kelly’s chocolate-kissed vinegar to my gelato covers most of the dessert bases : creamy, sweet but not cloying, chilled, tart, fruity and spoon-licking good.
strawberry balsamic gelato
recipe by Michele Humlan, The Good Eats Company
makes about 4 cups
1 pound strawberries, preferably organic/local, cleaned, stemmed, chopped coarsely
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
1 level T cornstarch
3 T chocolate balsamic vinegar
2 t pure vanilla extract
- Puree strawberries in bowl of food processor, leaving some visible pieces; best to use pulse method; set aside.
- Combine milk and cream.
- In heavy medium saucepan, whisk together sugar and cornstarch.
- Gently and gradually whisk in milk mixture.
- Over medium heat, stir constantly with heatproof spatula until mixture begins to thicken slightly and bubble.
- Off heat, whisk in strawberry puree, chocolate balsamic vinegar and vanilla.
- Chill mixture in glass or metal container at least 4 hours or overnight.
- Process gelato mixture in electric ice cream maker according to manufacturer directions.
- Remove after 15-20 minutes or until thickened and creamy and spoonable.
- Serve immediately if you like a soft serve texture, or freeze until solid, at least several hours.
- For best texture, allow gelato to sit at room temp about 20 minutes before serving.