Long ago I worked for an Italian man in a gelato shop in Atlanta for my summer vacation – a dream job that any self-respecting dessert-lover should do for a week (or two months)! I could hardly understand a word Paolo sung through his thick Italian accent. He said and did everything at the speed of a jet, and he had also been a veterinarian, a pilot and a magician before opening his gelato shop. What a summer!
The gelato was softer, lighter, and smoother than ice cream, with more intense flavor. Every night I would taste a few flavors.
Our conversations often went something like this, from my memory:
“Mo-neeka, Can you pleeze zake ze zash outzide?” (“mo” as in Motown)
“Um… I’m sorry?”
“Can you pleeze zake ze zash outzide?”
“Can you please repeat?”
“Ze zash, outzide, pleeze.”
“Um…” Nervous smile from my part. Still no signs of comprehension.
“Ze zash! Ze zash!” Now the game of charades comes into play.
“Oh, the trash! Right, no problem…” Embarrassed clearing of the throat as I hop on the task.
So what really makes gelato different from ice cream? Legally, it’s a question of fat. 3-10% for gelato and more like 14-17% for ice cream. Gelato is also generally churned at a slower speed, so less air gets incorporated, making for a denser treat. The temperature is also slightly higher for gelato, so it’s not as hard as ice cream. At home I can’t hope to play with the speed or temperature in my little ice cream machine, but no matter!
Kaffir limes are about the size of a golf ball.
Last year in a restaurant in the Roussillon, my espresso at the end of the meal was accompanied with a little bowl of wrapped almond and combava nougat slices. I fell instantly in love with the fragrant citrus flavor, mellow, bitter, and penetrating. I thought I might never come by such a flavor again until one day at the Asian grocery store Bastien spotted the word, combava. Of course we bought a couple of these golf ball-sized wonders. A little research revealed that these are called “Kaffir limes” in English and are used mostly in Southeast Asian cuisine. As soon as I began to zest one, the spritzy aroma filled the air around me and covered my fingers.
At Riberach, where the meal was excellent, the service kind, and the sommelier dedicated and professional. I’m about to discover kaffir limes.
The recipe for this gelato is so simple for such lovely results, I was thrilled. The ingredients are things that most people almost always have, minus the kaffir limes.
recipe for kaffir lime gelato:
I adapted the milk base from Saveur Magazine, but my recipe is a little different because I did not have whole milk. I’ll give you my version because I have not tried the original. The original called simply for 4 cups of whole milk.
2 kaffir limes (if you can’t find those, you can alway substitute one lemon, lime, orange, etc… the milk base stays the same)
3 cups low-fat milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup sugar
3 tbs cornstarch
1 ice cream making machine
Bring 1 cup of heavy cream and 2 cups of milk to a boil in a saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat. Meanwhile, mix the sugar with the cornstarch in a bowl and add the last cup of cold milk. Mix well. Stir into the hot milk and return to heat stirring until the mixture thickens slightly, for about 8-10 minutes.
Remove from heat and pour into a large bowl. Zest the two kaffir limes into the bowl if you have a zester. This way you don’t loose any precious citrus oils that go everywhere when you zest. Otherwise, zest the little guys on a cutting board using a small sharp knife and add the zest to the milk mixture while still hot. Do what you will with the zestless fruit… (mixed drinks or to make a sauce to accompany fish.) Allow to cool and refrigerate for at least 4 or 5 hours, or overnight.
Freeze according to the instructions on your ice cream machine. The motor on mine is dead, so I turned the little paddle by hand for about 15 minutes. Talk about determination! With my little machine, any ice cream is usually still very soft and must be frozen overnight to harden. I don’t know if all home ice cream machines are like this. The end result is still delectable.