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Coffee-Scented Custard Gelato (Gelato di Crema al Profumo di Caffè)

The basic gelato flavor in Tuscany is not vanilla but crema, made with deep orange egg yolks and milk rather than cream. This quintessential flavor can be lightly scented using coffee beans, as below; vanilla beans; lemon or orange zest; or even a splash of vin santo. Gelato is soft and malleable, more suited for a spatula than a metal ice-cream scoop. Serve this gelato to friends after a summer lunch or dinner, followed by a bracing cup of espresso. Or, serve the gelato with the espresso poured over the top, a favorite Italian treat called affogato al caffè (drowned ice cream).

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups milk 
  • 1 cup sugar  
  • 15 dark-roasted coffee beans 
  • Pinch of salt 
  • 6 egg yolks, lightly beaten 

Directions:

Have ready a large bowl partially filled with ice cubes and water. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, combine the milk, 1/2 cup of the sugar, the coffee beans and salt. Cook until small bubbles appear along the edges of the pan, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine the egg yolks and the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, and whisk until very thick and pale yellow. Whisking constantly, slowly add about 1/2 cup of the warm milk mixture to the egg mixture. Return the egg mixture to the remaining milk mixture in the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until it is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon and leaves a clear trail when a finger is drawn through it, 5 to 7 minutes. Do not let it boil. Remove from the heat and place the saucepan in the bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Stir occasionally to facilitate cooling.

When the custard reaches room temperature, cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until well chilled, at least 2 hours or up to 12 hours.

Strain the custard through a medium-mesh sieve into a bowl. Discard the coffee beans. Transfer the mixture to an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Unless your ice cream maker has a built-in freezing compartment, transfer the gelato to a freezer-safe container. Cover and freeze until the gelato is firm, at least 3 hours or up to 3 days, before serving. Serves 8.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Foods of the World Series, Florence, by Lori de Mori (Oxmoor House, 2004).