Summer has arrived in Seattle, my friends! The last few days have been pretty darn warm; we hit 97 °C Sunday and 87 °C today. Since so few of us in the Seattle area have air conditioning, the heat can be tough. My latest kitchen experiment has come in handy in this weather: homemade fior di latte gelato (flower of milk, aka tasty, sweet frozen treat!).
The simplest things are often the most difficult to make and the easiest to make badly. Fior di latte is certainly one of the simplest things–gelato made with lightly sweetened milk and often the base of many other flavors.My first taste of fior di latte was in Italy in 2010 on Skip’s suggestion. This is one of his favorites. Oh, it was simple but complex, the flavor was subtle and delicious. With so few ingredients, there’s nothing to hide behind, not even vanilla. This is the true test of any gelato shop. The quality of the milk and the skill of the gelato maker were all that separated wonderful from mediocre. Now, whenever I find fior di latte in a gelateria, I order it; though, it seems to be much harder to find in the U.S.
Gelato rarely has egg yolks, is more milk than cream, has less air whipped into it, and is frozen at a lower temperature compared to American ice cream. Getting the creamy, firm texture of gelato with a standard home ice cream maker is difficult, the temperature and speed of the mixer doesn’t compare to those used in commercial gelaterias. So, making fior di latte at home–one that compares to my memories of Italy–has become one of my on-going food experiments.
My first attempt was with David Lebowitz’s recipe that called for milk, whipping cream, sugar, and lots of cornstarch (almost 1/4 cup!). It looked like pudding when I put the base in the fridge to chill; it tasted almost like a vanilla pudding, though there was no vanilla in it. After chilling, it was pretty thick; after churning in our Cuisinart ice cream maker, I put it in the freezer for a few hours. It was easily scoopable but the texture was sort of chewy and there was a hint of grit, with a flavor that was a little off. When it melted, it still held the shape of a scoop; all that cornstarch really did basically turn it into a pudding. So, back to the drawing board. Next was a recipe with no cornstarch, I used a little less sugar than the 3/4 cup called for in the previous recipe and added 1 tablespoon of vodka to the milk, cream, sugar mix. I’d hoped that the vodka would help the gelato freeze more slowly, preventing the base from becoming rock-hard. The flavor was great; I’d used a local organic whole milk from Jersey cows that has a flavor and color that changes lightly with the seasons but its subtly sweet and grassy, with a high fat content. But, it was pretty hard right out of the freezer after sitting in the freezer overnight and the texture was grainy. It’s scoopability after sitting at room temperature for a few minutes was disappointing–it was a bit crumbly. Again, back to the ice cream churn for attempt #3.
My most recent attempt was, Skip and I agree, pretty successful. I was super pleased with the outcome; the flavor and texture were both close to my memories and that first bite put a smile on my face.
Fior di Latte Gelato
2 C Whole milk, preferably organic & as fresh as possible
1 C Heavy cream, preferably organic & as fresh as possible
3/4 C Sugar
Pinch of salt
1 Tbsp Cornstarch
2 Tbsp Vodka
- Mix the 1 1/2 C milk, all the cream, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan. Heat over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the sugar has melted, about 2 minutes.
- Whisk the remaining 1/2 C milk with the cornstarch to dissolve the cornstarch. Whisk into the hot milk-sugar mixture. Whisk constantly over medium heat for 2-3 minutes.
- Transfer the base to a clean bowl, cover, and refrigerate until cold–overnight if possible.
- Before freezing in your ice cream mixer, whisk in the vodka. Strain if necessary to remove any lumps. Freeze per manufacturer’s instructions. One tip, place a dish towel over the ice cream maker to help keep it cold!
- Chill the container you plan to transfer the churned gelato into by placing in the freezer at least 1 hour before you need it.
- Once the fior di latte is creamy and frozen, transfer to the chilled container. Enjoy!
Note: I’m planning to try this without the cream, using only whole milk…I’ll update once we try it. Then, I’m making stracciatella–basically chocolate chip gelato with fior di latte as the base!
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