Caramel Swirl Almond Gelato for the win...rich frozen custard (lighter in fat than regular ice cream) with a salted caramel sauce ribbon. Yum!
Nobody told me how things would change as I aged. Sure, there are the obvious changes in skin tone (does it have to sag like that!) and hair color (which my hairdresser assures me no one will know about…don’t tell anyone I told you).
But I didn’t know my tolerance for sweets would diminish (hence my overfondness for dark chocolate), and that dairy products would become a problem. If I have something dairy that hasn’t been cooked or processed by bacteria (think puddings, the pastry cream in Boston Cream Pie, hard cheeses, or yogurt), then…uhm…pass the antacids this way, please.
Why make frozen custard?
Homemade ice cream is incredibly easy to make. At its most basic all you really need is heavy cream and a sweetener (that’s the base). After that you flavor your base as you please (vanilla beans, chocolate, mint…) and add mix-ins if you'd like (chocolate chips, nuts, cookie crumbles).
You then churn the base in an ice cream maker, then freeze until it hardens (called ripening). Easy peasy.
An ice cream custard base (aka frozen custard) is in the same family as pastry cream (a version of Crème Anglaise for you purists). The benefit is that frozen custards are richer in flavor and have more body than regular ice creams. With that added richness comes added calories, and that’s where gelato comes into our story.
Gelato…all the flavor, not all the calories
Think of gelato as the lighter (in calories, not in texture) Italian cousin of ice cream…its base typically has twice as much milk than cream, so it has a lower butterfat content than ice cream. You’re not sacrificing any of that ice-creamy goodness though…gelato is still smooth and rich, especially if you’re using a cooked custard base (which I am). Win!
Savory Simple had a recipe for Vanilla Milk Gelato that fit the bill for a custard-based gelato nicely.
Normally I’d be using the vanilla beans called for in that recipe, infusing them into the milk/cream mixture. However, I had run out, so I had the brainwave to use some almond extract in with the vanilla extract (just to up the flavor profile a little). That addition gave the gelato lovely buttery-almond notes.
I also decided to add a salted caramel sauce swirl. I thought it would complement the almond flavor better than chocolate (gasp!). The method for adding the caramel swirl came from Epicurious. So, presenting…Caramel Swirl Almond Gelato!
What you'll need
- Milk: I use 1% milk, but you can use whatever you have on hand
- Heavy cream: This adds richness and body to the gelato. Without it, you just have ice milk, and that's just sad
- Egg yolks: Because we're making a custard, the eggs help thicken the base, along with adding richness
- Sugar: The sweetness has to come from somewhere!
- Vanilla extract & almond extract: For flavoring
- Salted Caramel Sauce: A mix-in. It's not strictly necessary, but why not?
If you want to leave out the almond extract, feel free...just up the vanilla extract to 1-1/2 tsp. Better yet, infuse the milk & cream with a vanilla bean, halved and scraped, letting it steep in the warm milk 30 minutes. Remove the spent bean before tempering the mixture into the eggs.
[Side note: For those of you wondering why I didn't add toasted almonds to my gelato, it's because my husband doesn't like nuts in his ice creams. I totally would have done it otherwise.]
How to make gelato
The process for making homemade gelato is just like that of making ice cream. The difference is that you must chill your base thoroughly before churning it.
Making the custard base is a straightforward process:
- Mix egg yolks with sugar
- Heat milk/cream until just simmering
- Add a small amount of the heated cream into the egg yolks to gently raise their temperature (aka tempering the eggs). No scrambled eggs here!
- Cook the milk & egg mixture until it's thickened, but do not boil it (again, no scrambled eggs wanted!)
- Strain the thickened custard into a clean bowl (in case, like me, you end up with some scrambled egg in the mix)
- Chill the custard in preparation to churn it
...and how about that Salted Caramel Sauce?
Just use my recipe for Basic Caramel Sauce, adding 1 tsp salt after you remove the caramel from the heat.
Tales of an imperfect chef
I did make the mistake of letting my attention wander a bit and I let the custard base boil after tempering in the eggs. The base broke, but after straining and chilling, the base froze like a dream…a rich, buttery, sweet dream.
As for the caramel sauce, after burning the sugar or having the sugar syrup seize on me in the past, I’ve learned to initially add a bit of water and a tablespoon of corn syrup to stabilize the mixture. Also, here I didn’t let me attention wander…the syrup can go from just lightly amber to a black mess in less than a couple of minutes. Be diligent and be warned!
Caramel Swirl Almond Gelato has got to be one of the best ice creams (ahem…gelato!) I’ve ever made, and I’ve made a fair few.
The addition of a drizzle of extra caramel sauce (and maybe a drizzle of hot fudge, too...you didn't think I'd completely be without chocolate, did you?) just adds to the experience.
Most importantly, it makes my tummy happy, in more ways than one!
Slainté! L’chaim! Cheers!
Caramel Swirl Almond Gelato
- 2 cups milk, (16 oz, 454g)
- 1 cup heavy cream, (8 oz, 227g)
- 4 large egg yolks
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar, (5-1/4 oz, 150g)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp almond extract
- Salted Caramel Sauce, see Recipe Notes
- Heat the milk and cream in a medium saucepan set over medium heat until simmering, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks and sugar in a medium-sized bowl until the yolks lighten in color slightly.
- Remove the milk mixture from the heat and pour slowly into the egg yolks while whisking (called tempering. I usually ladle about 1 cup of the hot milk mixture, the idea being you heat the eggs slowly to avoid curdling them) Pour the warmed egg mixture back into the saucepan, scraping the bowl.
- Return the saucepan to the heat and, stir until the mixture thickens slightly, approximately 3-4 minutes. Don't allow the mixture to boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla and almond extracts.
- Strain the custard into a clean bowl and cool using an ice bath (1/2 ice cubes, 1/2 water, reaching halfway up the sides of the bowl). When cooled to room temperature, cover and chill in refrigerator at least 4 hours or overnight. (Chilled custard can be kept several days)
- Pour the mixture into an ice cream maker and prepare the gelato according to the manufacturer's instructions, until it's smooth and frozen, about 25-30 minutes.
- Transfer one third ice cream to a 2-quart airtight container and drizzle one third of the salted caramel sauce over it. Repeat layering with remaining ice cream and caramel sauce. Freeze ice cream until hard, at least 8 hours, and up to 1 week.