Oh, my big ideas. I am triumphantly not Martha, and I swear I wasn’t trying to be. I wasn’t even trying to emulate her. But she — or her celestial conglomerate, that is — wouldn’t put all those recipes out there into the cosmos if they weren’t intended for regular people to attempt, would she? Or is it all there just to trip us up, to put us in our place, my place definitely not being the land of candy making. A candy maker I’m not. A candy lover, yeah, that describes me. But I’m not a maker, a producer, a fashioner of fine confections. I probably shouldn’t apologize for this particular lack of talent, but there it is anyhow: the trace of failure, the shadow of self-inflicted guilt.
They looked deceptively simple, those truffles. The ganache method sounded facile enough, chopped bittersweet and heavy cream joined together, a smooth, melting pool that beckons one to just go ahead and dive in, head first. Then just toss in a stick of butter and let it sit in the fridge for a while. But later, trying to coerce gobs of the buttery chocolate mixture – pliable yes, willing, no – into perfect truffle shapes à la Martha, it hit me. How impossibly gauche am I that I can’t produce a truffle as lovely as those peering at me from the web page?
But, never fear, today’s story is a success story, after all. Lucky for my ego (and lucky for my chocolate craving), I had a redemption plan, one involving more melted chocolate – but melted chocolate that doesn’t have to conform to picture-perfectness, chocolate that requires nothing but deft scooping and a shiny, happy bowl to look deserving of its deliciousness.
In the wake of the Great Truffle Frustration of 2008, I decided it wasn’t truffle season anyhow, but gelato season. I know, for many of you, it’s still hot chocolate season, but down in these sunny parts, we’ve approached the months of the air conditioner. It’s time, then, to give you all a head start on this tastiest of refreshments so that when you’re ready for it, you’ll know just where to turn.
We have gelaterias popping up all over the place, and their prevalence has turned us into gelato geeks. I grew up on lots of ice cream, but after tasting the Italian version, I now save myself almost exclusively for it. You can eat the smallest scoop and be satisfied because the flavors are so pure and because the concoction is so dense.
We loudly proclaim, to anyone who wants to listen, the authenticity of just one gelateria in town, the one whose gelato leaves me scraping – and scraping – the bowl with my little spoon. Arlecchino is this tiny outfit run by a couple from Trieste, Italy, and the flavors are true-to-form phenomenal, as they use no mixes or anything remotely fake (go figure). The strawberry tastes like strawberries, the banana like bananas, but ones that have undergone this fascinating, freezing metamorphosis. Needless to say, we are regular partakers of this proprietor, and there is one flavor they make only on weekends that I’m always hankering for come Friday. But as it’s a good twenty minutes from my house (a little distance in this case is actually a good thing) and this autentico stuff is pricey stuff, I decided I needed to try to make my own.
I’m growing ever more comfortable with making custards, and it’s a threshold I’m relieved to finally cross. I cobbled together ingredients from two recipes in trying to replicate my favorite chocolate-hazelnut-orange flavor, and froze it in my Rival ice cream maker. It was, as I said earlier, a success (yay!) on all the necessary levels involving texture and flavor. I won’t be making this enough to skip our now-and-again stops for the real stuff, but this has to be a close second.
Chocolate-Hazelnut Gelato with Orange
Adapted from Food Network and Epicurious.com
2 oz. bittersweet chocolate
2 ¼ C whole milk
1/3 C heavy cream
¾ C minus 2 tbsp granulated sugar
1 C unsweetened cocoa powder
4 large egg yolks
½ tsp vanilla extract
½ C Nutella chocolate-hazelnut spread
Coarsely chop chocolate. In medium heavy saucepan, bring milk, cream and half of sugar just to a simmer, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Remove pan from heat and add cocoa powder and chocolate, whisking until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.
Prepare an ice bath (large bowl of ice and cold water). Beat yolks and remaining sugar with an electric mixer until thick and pale. Add chocolate mixture in a slow stream, whisking the entire time, and pour into a saucepan. Cook custard over moderately low heat, stirring constantly, until it becomes thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, about 7 to 10 minutes. Pour custard through a sieve into a bowl set in the ice bath. Stir in the vanilla, Nutella, and the tiniest drop of orange oil (a little goes a very long way). Continue stirring until Nutella dissolves. Chill custard in the refrigerator completely.
Freeze custard in an ice-cream maker, following manufacturer’s instructions.