My favourite ice cream in the whole entire world has got to be Italian Coconut Gelato. Now that’s a bold statement I know, but having sampled real Italian Gelato and having lived very close to a Gelato shop in Newcastle I think I’ve tried quite a few flavours and this is without doubt top of my list every time. Yeah chocolate is always lovely but a bit too much of an obvious choice sometimes for my liking. I do love cherry gelato and pistachio is tremendous too but coconut is what is usually what I crave when looking for a cold fix.
I seem to be developing an obsession with coconut, finding ways to incorporate it into all foods. Be that coconut milk, oil, dessicated and dried. In the creation of this gelato I discovered the wonderful ingredient of dried coconut halves which saved me the effort of breaking into a fresh coconut with a hammer and fork (my only suitable kitchen implements I think for such a job!)
I visited Rome just last year for the first time with my Dad. It was gorgeous. We spent a few days wandering round, bouncing from the Trevi Fountain to pasta cafes to St Paul’s basilica. Pausing to absorb the beauty and history of our surroundings and to take on more fuel in the form of pasta and gelato. I dragged my Dad to many cake shops and the beautiful and oldest gelataria in Rome, Giolitti. Not that I heard him complain once
The main difference between ice cream and gelato is the taste and texture. Gelato freezes at a higher temperature than ice cream. This gives a much more intense flavour than you get from eating ice cream which is colder and numbs your tastes buds slightly. The warmer the temperature the more you can taste! Gelato is also made with less fat, so good news it’s better for you than ice cream! (Depending on how much you eat of it of course). Gelato is also much softer and smoother in texture than traditional ice cream. All the better for eating!
The initial stage of heating the milk/cream gives you the perfect opportunity to infuse flavours. You can choose to infuse whatever flavour you fancy into your gelato. Some flavours will require a longer infusion time than others. A vanilla pod may take about 20 minutes over a low heat to impart it’s flavour fully, but something like coffee extract, tea bags, cocoa powder or other flavour extracts will give instant flavour and need little infusion time (maybe about 5 minutes).
You can infuse your base with your favourite flavours, such as vanilla, coffee, tea, lavender, rose, cinnamon, cherry, pistachio and much much more! If you’re going to choose a different flavour it would be wise to choose something with a low liquid content as adding water to the mix may cause ice crystals to form. Adding alcohol in small amounts should be ok, but remember alcohol doesn’t really freeze.
Another flavour option can be created by using a different variety of milk. Even better news for people with food allergies or intolerances! I used coconut milk here but you could just as easily use cows, goats, soy, almond or hazelnut. Each will give you a slightly different flavour and possibly texture. Some milks can become grainy when heated, so it may be wise to try heating up a small amount first to make sure it can stand the heat. before you commit to cooking an entire batch. Or have a fine sieve to hand!
Add your choice of flavour to your milk then heat the cream/milk until it starts to bubble. I added 80g of desiccated coconut to the milk and cream here to infuse even more coconut goodness.
Keep stirring it so a skin doesn’t form on the top. Allow it to cool slightly. Cream and milk have slightly different boiling points so keep a close eye on the pan, you don’t want it to boil over, or get a thick skin on your coconut cream!
Beat together the sugar and eggs until smooth and fluffy. They will become a mellow yellow colour after about 5 minutes of beating with an electric whisk/mixer.
Once the cream/milk has cooled slightly pass it through a fine sieve to remove your flavouring if needed. Squeeze all of you milk/cream out of the coconut so you don’t miss a drop of your infused cream. I kept my creamy coconut mixture to use later on.
As the next stage is to make a smooth custard you can’t add any swirls of fruit/flavours at this point. Your custard needs to be smooth and pure so it can thicken fully. Hang on to any additional flavourings that you would like to add for later on. You can then swirl them in just before the final freeze. After about 5 minutes of beating, the sugar and eggs will inflate slightly and take on a pale yellow colour.
Whilst continuing to beat the fluffy eggs and sugar slowly pour the hot coconut cream into the eggs. Add the hot cream gradually to avoid scrambling the eggs! Adding very hot cream at this stage will give you lumpy egg custard, I don’t think anyone would enjoy lumpy gelato although it may be an interesting texture on the palette!
Once you’ve poured all of the cream into the eggs, keep beating the mixture until it’s fully combined. When it’s ready the custard will start to thicken as the hot cream gently cooks the eggs. The custard will be smooth, fluffy and a very pale yellow in colour due to all those beautiful egg yolks! (Note my leftover egg whites in the jug. I’m saving them for another recipe later on…)
Then all that’s left to do is thicken the custard a bit more. You can do this in a bain marie (in a bowl suspended over a pan of hot water) to avoid burning the custard and gently thicken the mixture. Or if you’re in a hurry, whack it all in a pan and heat the custard over a low heat and stir like mad so nothing burns/sticks to the bottom. The key is to keep stirring to distribute the heat evenly and allow the custard to cook thoroughly.
Once the custard is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon it’s good to go! The custard needs to cool before you can freeze it and unfortunately this can take up to 6 hours…. Not great when you need a gelato fix right this second! A quick cheat is to carefully place your hot pan of custard into a bowl (or in my case a sink) of cold water to rapidly cool the custard. Keep stirring it every now and then to stop a skin from forming. You can chill it further in the fridge before cracking out the ice cream maker.
After all this patience the end result is not far off! I recently bought myself an attachment for my Kitchenaid mixer. The ice cream maker! This was my very first experiment and venture into ice cream making. You will need to follow the instructions for your own ice cream maker as they’re all a bit different, but for the Kitchenaid, I had to freeze the special ice cream bowl in the freezer for 15 hours (it now lives there permanently for all ice cream making emergencies) . Once I had fitted the blade to the Kitchenaid mechanism it’s good to go. One important thing to note is that you should pour the custard in whilst the machine is running as the custard may freeze solid instantly and could break your Kitchenaid if you’re unlucky.
It takes about 20 minutes in the Kitchenaid to freeze the gelato to a ‘soft set’ . I couldn’t resist a sneaky taste of it at this stage and it tasted pretty amazing. It will be quite sweet at this stage as when it’s set further in the freezer the sweetness is reduced.
So with 20 minutes on your hands you’ve got plenty time to have a cup of tea and start the washing up. Once the gelato has reached the ‘soft set stage’ where it starts looking like slightly melted/soft ice cream you can stir in any additional flavours. I added 2 tablespoons of the left over desiccated coconut for good measure. You can see some of it lurking on the top of the blades!
You could probably eat it at the soft set stage if you like your gelato extra soft, or scoop it into a freezer container, smooth it down and leave it in the freezer to set fully for about 5 hours. As Gelato contains less fat it freezes much harder than ice cream, so you may need to take it out of the freezer to soften before serving. You could pop it in the fridge for 15 minutes if it’s a bit difficult to get it into a bowl.
Taking my trusty vegetable peeler I shaved the dried coconut halves into thin slivers to create some pretty coconut curls. I quite like the dark brown edges of the coconut rind against the white coconut flesh. It’s makes a tasty decoration too! Pop a couple of curls on the top of your gelato for a quick and sophisticated looking decoration.
I didn’t eat it all myself. I promise! My friends came round for tea and we all quickly cleared our bowls of gelato which marks it as a clear success! It was smooth, creamy and extremely coconutty. Just my kind of gelato! I liked it so much that when I was washing up after my friends left I decided to start making some more custard, but this time I experimented with Italian Espresso Gelato instead.
What I used to make Italian Coconut Gelato (Gelato di Crema)
- 1 x 400ml can of coconut milk (which is equal to 1 and 3/4 cups)
- 109ml of double cream (1/2 cup)
- 55ml semi skimmed milk (1/4 cup)
- (you can use your own combination of cream/milk here to total 545 ml or 2 and 1/2 cups of liquid)
- 5 egg yolks
- 110g (or 1/2 cup) granulated sugar (I used vanilla infused sugar)
- 80g (or 1 cup) desiccated coconut (add your flavour to infuse at this stage)
- Keep 2 tbs of the desiccated coconut back to add to the soft set gelato before putting it into the freezer.
Coconut Gelato Method Summary
- Add flavouring and heat cream and milk until boiling
- Beat eggs and sugar together until fluffy
- Cool cream slightly
- Pour hot cream into eggs and sugar while continuing to beat the mixture
- Thicken the custard in a bain marie/pan until it coats the back of a spoon
- Cool the custard until chilled throughly
- Freeze the custard using ice cream maker for about 20 minutes until soft set
- Set the ice cream in the freezer for about 5 hours
Many thanks to Thomson Al Fresco who supplied the ingredients for me to make this Italian Gelato creation! If this recipe has whetted your appetite for all things Italian you might enjoy camping in the beautiful Lake Garda, Lazio, Tuscany, Adriatic Coast or the Venetian Riviera. I’m already dreaming of my next Italian adventure.
If you want to make another Italian classic you could try making your own Espresso Gelato, using the same method but a slightly different recipe.
- 3 tbs coffee essence
- 273 ml (1 and 1/2 cups) milk
- 218 ml (1 cup) double cream
- 1 tsp cocoa powder
- 5 egg yolks
- 110g (or 1/2 cup) granulated sugar (I used vanilla infused sugar)