Screaming for gelato

One of better memories on my trip to Europe were the numerous stops that we made for gelato. Weather in Italy was fairly humid and alot like the heat trapped in a valley. It doesn’t really go anywhere, and there was no wind to blow it out. The solution was obviously to gorge ourselves on cold, fatty, sweet concoctions. Excellent. (I actually know nothing about the geography of Italy. I’m most likely blowing smoke through my ass. Is that even the right expression?).

We heard the word gelato quite frequently, and although it’s not as prevalent in the States, gelato is basically, ice cream. The word gelato means, “frozen.” (Oh, what a surprise). Die-hard ice cream/gelato fans/ Italians would most likely not agree with this simple designation, and would tsk tsk you for this, as there are fundamental differences between standard “ice cream” and gelato.

Drool. *Pant*. Fat. The three required ingredients for ice cream.

Back to basics. (Again).

Ice cream is water, concentrated cream, sugar, and air (yeah…you’re not buying much when you’ve got the late night swunchies (sweet munchies…)). There’s actual percentages, according to HMOFAC (Harold Mcgee’s On Food and Cooking). The mixture made, has to legally be 60% water, 15% milk/milk solids, and 10% butterfat (minimum). Combine these ingredients, and churn the whole dang thing, and you incorporate air while the mixture is freezing (that’s how the air gets in…sorta like beating egg whites; you fold the air in). It interrupts complete ice formation (albeit it still happens) and adds the fluffy, light ice cream texture that we’re all used to (mmm breathe the secret ingredient). There’s also a rapid chilling process at the end, which further solidifies the ice cream so you can scoop it, and not slurp it. The key to correctly freezing ice cream is the formation of small ice crystals. The crystalline structure of water takes time to form. By quickly cooling it, large ice crystals don’t have the time to aggregate. That’s good. Large ice crystals make for grainy ice cream. Bleeh.

What happens if we use too much sugar?

You end up with a slurry. Sugar disrupts crystal formation of water, so ice never really forms (or if it does, it’s runny, and you’ll need a cup for your ice cream). Ever eat sugar by the spoonful? Yeah, that’s pretty much it.

Too much buttermilk/fat/egg yolk?

You end up eating something like butter at the end (Churning buttermilk, is essentially, how they make butter). When you work a thick solution of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, you eventually cause denaturation. Denaturation of proteins can form a solid mass. Butter.

Too much water?

Drippy ice cream. Flavorless. Watery. Compromised structure. More of a liquid than a solid. I’d take an Arrowhead instead.

Too much air?

Uh…breathe? The incorporation of air is actually used to give soup, sauce, cream, or foam an additional layer of lightness. On the molecular level, when the food hits our taste buds, it basically means it won’t be a layer of flavor after another jamming into your taste buds…there will be microscopic pockets of air that interject, and give your senses a break. Hence, “lightness of flavor.” Proper incorporation usually means beating the mixture, either mechanically (stick blender) or with something like a whisk (foamy egg-white for souffles). Mind you, when beating, the solid actually has to be able hold its own in structure, usually augmented with the addition of protein or fat. A good example of this would be the comparison of milk and water. Blow as hard or as long as you want into a cup of water…it’s not going to form bubbles. Do this with milk, and what do you get? Bubbles. Thank casein (protein) and also milk-fat for that. Oh yeah, and lactose.

So what’s Gelato?

Gelato is basically the ingredients of ice cream, with the addition of egg yolk (higher fat content and the addition of an emulsifier). The addition of the emulsifier helps the final ingredient batch come together more coherently but also generates less overrun (the air that is incorporated into the ice cream). Less overrun is generated most likely because the addition of egg yolk requires a heating process, which not only thickens the mixture, but breaks down constituent proteins. Most ice creams can contain up to 100% overrun, meaning half the container you’re buying at the supermarket is air (let’s say you have a liter of ice cream. 100% overrun means the same amount of air exists as there is fat/sugar/solids. Half a liter of air, Half a liter of ingredient (minus air)…yes, you’re getting ripped off. Oh well. It’s good.

In a nutshell, gelato is smoother, fattier, and creamier than normal ice cream. It’s got eggs too. Breakfast food? Hmm…