I have very fond memories of tasting gelato on my trip to Italy way back when, but my first taste of gelato didn’t happen in Italy; it was actually in Bogota, Colombia. Centro Andino was a pretty new shopping center when I lived in Bogota in the early 90s, and they had a gelateria that drew me in every time I visited the center. I always ordered the dark chocolate gelato with whole almonds because the chocolate was so rich and almonds were my favorite nuts. I don’t fully trust my memory of the taste of that gelato, after all it was 15 years ago, so I haven’t tried to recreate it, but I have been in search of a dark chocolate gelato that would satisfy my cravings.
Epicurious had a recipe for chocolate gelato from the Hotel Cipriani in Venice that seemed promising. The recipe starts with caramelizing sugar, a twist that got my attention, and has both cocoa powder and bittersweet chocolate. I was a bit disturbed by the amount of cocoa powder listed, a whole cup in addition to the bittersweet chocolate, and some of the comments confirmed my suspicions. I reduced the cocoa powder to ¼ cup, and we were very pleased with the result. The gelato is deep, rich, and sweet, one of those desserts that can satisfy a chocolate craving with just a small scoop. I toasted some hazelnuts to mix in and made hazelnut praline to top it off, a useful skill I learned in the Daring Bakers.
Some stores carry blanched skinned hazelnuts, which will save you a little work, but if you can’t find the skinless kind you can skin the nuts at home. Skinning hazelnuts is one of those things that I don’t get too worked up about. I’ve always roasted then rubbed the hot nuts in a towel to loosen the skins, but as you can see I’m not particularly successful with it. As long as loose pieces of skin aren’t floating around in the ice cream, I’m happy.
If you have never caramelized sugar, you’ll find it’s pretty easy but demands attention. You can’t walk away from hot sugar and leave it unless you really don’t mind cleaning burned sugar off a pan. It can burn quickly, so stay nearby and keep an eye on the sugar color. The dry method (melting sugar over heat without any liquid) is a standard method but can result in crystallization. You can add 1 tablespoon of corn syrup, which will help prevent crystals from forming.
Chocolate Gelato with Hazelnut Praline
- 3-quart heavy saucepan
- double boiler or metal bowl + saucepan
- stand mixer with paddle attachment, or hand mixer and large bowl
- candy thermometer
- ice cream freezer
- 10-inch heavy skillet
- sheet pan, greased or lined with a silicone mat
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon corn syrup (optional)
- 2 cups whole milk (hot)
- ¼ cup Dutch processed cocoa powder (sifted)
- 3½ ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (chopped)
- 4 large egg yolks (beaten lightly)
- 1 cup hazelnuts (toasted and skinned, roughly chopped)
- 1 cup hazelnuts (toasted and skinned)
- ⅔ cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon corn syrup (optional)
- In the 3-quart heavy saucepan cook ¼ cup (44 g) sugar, over moderate heat until it begins to melt and cook. Don’t stir the sugar until it has begun melting, then stir with a fork until melted completely and deep golden brown. Don’t be tempted to walk away; you need to keep a close eye on caramelizing sugar. (You can add 1 tablespoon of corn syrup to the sugar once it starts melting to help prevent crystallization, but that’s optional.)
- Add the hot milk very, very slowly. Start with just 2 ounces (60 ml) and pour very gently, whisking. The hot mixture may bloom up the side of the pan, so do this very carefully. Add a little more and continue whisking until all the milk is in the pan. If the caramel hardened, continue cooking until it has melted. Whisk in the sifted cocoa until combined well. Keep the mixture warm. (Alternate directions for the more cautious: After caramelizing the sugar, remove pan from heat and dip pan briefly into a bowl of ice water to stop cooking. Caramel will harden. Cool pan about 5 minutes and return to heat. Add milk and cook over moderate heat, whisking, until caramel is melted.)
- In a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water (or a double boiler), melt the bittersweet chocolate, stirring, and remove from heat. (You can also do this in the microwave in a glass bowl. Heat 30 seconds at a time until almost all the chocolate is melted, then stir in the remaining.)
- In the bowl of the stand mixer, beat the egg yolks with remaining ¾ cup (131 g) sugar until thick and pale. Whisk in caramel mixture and chocolate in streams until combined. Pour custard into the 3-quart heavy saucepan and cook over moderately low heat, stirring constantly, until the candy thermometer registers 140° F/60° C. Stir and cook custard, 4 minutes more. Do not allow it to boil. Remove the pan from heat.
- Cool the custard to room temperature, than overnight in the refrigerator. Freeze in an ice-cream maker according to manufacturers instructions. Store churned gelato in a plastic freezer container with tight-fitting lid.
- In the heavy skillet, cook the dry sugar over medium heat until the edges start to melt. Do not stir. As the sugar melts, you can swirl the pan a little to get the melted sugar moving around the pan. Continue cooking until the melted sugar turns a deep golden brown. Again, stay with the sugar while it cooks. (You can add 1 tablespoon of corn syrup to the sugar once it starts melting to help prevent crystallization, but that’s optional.)
- Scatter the hazelnuts onto the sheet pan lined with the silicone mat and pour the hot melted sugar over the nuts. Allow to cool completely before breaking apart the praline.
- Serve scoops of gelato with shards of praline on top.