Thursday, June 08, 2006
Scream Louder: Gelato for the Aztecs
Every time I venture south into the Big City, I always feel frustrated. NYC is such a gastronomical epicenter, that I always feel that there are too many wonderful restaurants and too little time or too few meals in a day! But I have several absolute favorite, must-have items when I am in the Big Apple. The first is pizza from the Sullivan Street Bakery. I don't even know how to describe the wonder that is the pizza made by Jim Lahey. It is very thin, cracker-crisp, and there are five regular varieties and many more seasonal ones. I love the kind with mushrooms, but the most incredible pizza is the one with overlapping wafer-thin slices of potato, with onion, rosemary, and olive oil. Simple, but simply AMAZING! Another wonderful place to pop in for a snack is Pommes Frites, where they serve you authentic, Belgian-style fries with a kabillion different choices of dipping sauces. Yum! And of course, no trip to New York would be complete without a pastrami sandwich from Katz' Deli on the lower east side! But one of my newest discoveries (I should say, addictions!) is gelato from Jimmy's Gelato in Chelsea Market. And the most incredible variety is the chocolate pepper gelato. Amazingly dense and luxurious, with a real kick of heat in the finish--unusual and incomparable!
Unfortunately, the City is 5-6 hours south of me, and I only manage to make it there a few times a year. And yet, I NEED THAT GELATO! So I have made it my culinary quest to produce a reasonable facsimile of the luscious substance at home, and I think I have an excellent initial attempt, thanks in very large part to Melissa at the Traveler's Lunchbox. Happily, she road-tested three different chocolate gelato recipes, and there was a clear victor in her trial. She modified the recipe and then shared it on her wonderful website. I tweaked it just a little bit more by adding some vanilla and, of course, some cayenne pepper. And then you know that I had to use my favorite Ghiradelli cocoa with ground chocolate in it. It turned out VERY well, I think! However, I might try using a bit more chopped chocolate next time and a bit less cocoa just to see how slightly different proportions influence the flavor and texture. I might also use a cup and a half of evaporated milk and just one cup of whole milk, as it annoys me to have a half cup of evaporated milk left hanging around in a can--plus, it adds such a nice caramel note to the gelato. And although my roommate thought the heat level was just about right, I think I will turn it down a few notches next time. It didn't blow my head off or anything, but I just want a distinct warmth in the background, not such a sharp heat. So my advice is, start with a little cayenne, taste the custard, and then add more (slowly, incrementally!) to taste. And my experience is that it tastes milder when warm, and will be more fiery when it's frozen, paradoxically. Fair warning. Oh, and if this Aztec-influenced gelato doesn't float your boat, why not add some cinnamon instead for a Mayan flair or like Mexican hot chocolate? That would be scrumptious, too. Or you could just make plain chocolate, because this recipe yields a result that is anything but plain! And though I am certainly not claiming that this is health food, gelato does have less fat than ice cream, as it is actually made with milk, not heavy cream. But you'd never know it from the rich, velvety texture! But one tip: let it sit out for, oh say, 15 minutes or so before you tuck in. Gelato is traditionally served 15 degrees warmer than ice cream, and it really tastes better when it's a little melty, like in the picture above. But however you eat it, this recipe is a winner...give it a try!
Aztec Chocolate Gelato
Sources: www.epicurious.com and www.travelerslunchbox.com
Yield: about 1 quart
2 ounces fine-quality bittersweet (or semi-sweet) chocolate
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup evaporated milk
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted (I love Ghiradelli Sweet Ground Chocolate and Cocoa!)
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste--start with 1/2 teaspoon then decide from there )
4 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
Coarsely chop chocolate with a serrated knife. In a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan, bring milk, evaporated milk, and about half of the sugar just to a simmer, stirring until sugar is completely dissolved. Remove pan from heat and add cocoa powder and chocolate and cayenne pepper, whisking until all the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. With an electric mixer, beat egg yolks, the remaining sugar, and salt until thick and pale. Add the hot chocolate mixture in a slow stream, whisking, and then pour it all back into the saucepan. Cook the custard over moderately low heat, stirring constantly, until a thermometer registers 160°F (do not let it boil!). Pour the custard through a sieve into a metal bowl set over another large bowl of ice and cold water and stir the custard until well-chilled. Freeze custard in an ice-cream maker. Transfer the gelato to a large loaf pan lined with plastic wrap or a plastic container with a lid, and let ripen in the freezer for a few hours before serving.