I have often heard about the wonders of traditional Italian ice cream - otherwise known as Gelato, but up until recently I have never had the opportunity to partake. I say opportunity but it would be far more accurate to say honour or even privilege. Why? Because without the slightest doubt, I can say it was the most creamy and flavoursome ice cream that I have ever tasted in my life. And to call it simply an ice cream is - in my opinion - an insult!

The trouble is, now that I have experienced the delights of this truly wonderful taste sensation, I find that my local Sainsburys does not hold Gelato as part of its myriad stock. An erroneous oversight it may be, but all is not lost! With the miracle of modern science you can make the wondrous Gelato at home - all you need is an ice cream maker! God bless those egg-headed scientists.

What is Gelato ice cream?

While frozen desserts can be traced back as far as 3000 years ago to the ancient Emperors of China, Gelato as we know it today was invented in Italy by Bernardo Buontalenti in 1565.

Originally created for the extraordinarily wealthy de' Medici family of Florence, gelato gained wider popularity after the queen of France, Caterina de' Medici summoned Buontalenti to introduce the unique Italian delicacy to the French court. Gelato has been a formidable success ever since.

Gelato is a combination of whole milk, eggs, sugar, and natural flavoring - usually fresh fruit and sugar. It is similar to ice cream, but lower in fat (ice cream tends to be 10% to 20% fat, while gelato is 8% or less). Gelato is typically flavored with fresh fruit purees, cocoa and/or nut pastes.

If other ingredients such as chocolate flakes, nuts, small confections, cookies, or biscuits are added, they are added after the gelato is frozen.

How to make Gelato

The only special equipment you need is an ice cream maker (either electric or manual) that uses salt and ice for cooling. If you have one of those fancy ice cream makers that uses a gel container that you pre-freeze, use their instructions instead!

Before you start on your home made Gelato you will need the following items:

2 cups milk (whole, lowfat or fat-free)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup fat-free powdered milk
8 eggs (yolks only needed)
1 cup light cream, half-and-half or fat-free half-and-half
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups of prepared fruit (strawberries, peaches,
raspberries, mangoes, or whatever you have!)
1 ice cream maker
ice cubes (about 8 tray's worth)
2 cups (500 ml) table salt
1 large pot
1 wooden or plastic spatula

It may seem an obvious point, but, make sure that you have all the ice and salt you need otherwise you would have failed at the first hurdle. For a typical 2-quart ice cream maker, you will need approximately: 2 cups (500 ml) of table salt and 8 trays of ice cubes. It is NOT NECESSARY to use rock salt or crushed ice for most ice cream makers.

Using a large pan, In a large pot with a heavy bottom, mix the fat-free milk. Bring the mix to a low simmer over medium heat and stir to dissolve the Splenda, then turn the heat down and just keep it warm.

Now separate the egg yolks from the 8 large eggs. Put the egg yolks in a medium bowl and whisk until they are thickened (it only takes about 2 minutes. If you are too lazy to do it by hand then use a hand mixer on low speed.

While constantly whisking, slowly add 1 cup of the hot milk mixture and whisk until it is blended (this will just take a few seconds). Now pour the egg mixture back into the pot of hot milk and increase heat to medium.

Stir the mixture constantly with a wooden or plastic spoon, until the mixture is thickened (like gravy) and registers between 170°F and 180°F - it is best to check this with an instant-read thermometer.

Stir in light cream,and vanilla. Cover and place into the refrigerator for at least 6 hours before continuing with the recipe. Should you need to you can keep the mix in there overnight or even 24 to 48 hours!

Now it is time to prepare your fruity flavoring  You can add almost any fruit you have! If you want vanilla, you already have it, just pop the mix into the maker. If you want chocolate ice cream, just add your favorite chocolate syrup, such as Hershey's or Nestle to the mixer just before it is time to turn on the ice cream maker.

Some fruits work better than others. You get best flavor if you puree the fruit first in your food processor or blender. So fruits like strawberries, raspberries, mangoes, figs and peaches are idea for this, while apples, coconuts and pomegranates might not be such a good choice.

To prepare the fruit just prepare it as you would for eating, then blend it in your food processor or blender for a few minutes. Here are some tips:

Peaches and nectarines: remove skins, pits and bruised areas
Strawberries: remove the cap (the green parts)
Raspberries: just wash them
Blackberries: I like seedless, so I wash them and then run them through a Foley Food Mill to remove the seeds!
Figs: Remove stems and bruises
Mangoes: Peel, and cut the flesh off the stone.

About 45 minutes before you want to serve the gelato, stir the milk/cream mixture together with the pureed fruit. Stir it up well. Remove the freezer canister and pour the milk/cream/fruit mixture  into the freezer bowl. and put the cover on the canister. Put the canister in the cream maker. Layer ice and salt solution as follows:

1. Pour 1 cup (250 ml) cold water into Ice Bucket.
2.  Place a 1 inch (2.5 cm) layer of ice cubes around Cream Canister in Ice Bucket.
(Hint: Cream Canister should stand straight while layering.)
3. Sprinkle 1/3 cup (75 ml) table salt or 1/4 cup (50 ml) Kosher (coarse)
salt on ice.
4. Continue layering ice and salt to the top of the Ice Bucket.
5. Pour 1 cup (250 ml) cold water over top ice layer.

Turn the ice cream maker on and let the maker work until it is thickened, about 20 to 25 minutes. If you are making chocolate gelato, this is the time to add the chocolate syrup. You will need to add about 1/2 cup of chocolate syrup.

From time to time, add more ice cubes and salt as needed. You can tell when the gelato is done, by simply checking the consistency through the opening on the top of the ice cream maker. You will also hear the motor straining, as the ice cream freezes. On some units, the directions with the maker tell you to let it work until the motor stalls and stops.

When it is done, the gelato should have a soft, creamy texture. Gelato should be stored in a freezer that is just below freezing (say 30 F), or else it will become harder - you'll need to thaw it and hand whip it back to smooth and soft!

Now it is time to enjoy the spectacular fruits of your labour whilst day dreaming about those gorgeous Italian women! Don't tell her indoors about the women though!

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