Gelato al fior di latte

It’s that time of year again. There’s no breeze and all that cobblestone and concrete are conspiring to retain the heat, day in, day out. With no relief from the scorching temperatures, all I want to eat is pasta salad, bruschetta, anything, in short, that is raw or that does not have to be cooked or served hot. Turning on the oven is out of the question, though I am tempted from time to time by the sight of ripening and annoyingly short season ramassin plums and blueberries in Corso Brunelleschi to make a crumble. TP and TT would certainly appreciate it if I did, despite the sudden rise in room temperature emitting heat from our oven would bring. They love fruit crumbles. Really though, and TP and TT know it too, the most weather appropriate dessert to make and eat is gelato.

So, after months of being relegated to the back of the kitchen cupboard, my ice-cream maker is now sitting in my freezer, waiting to reach the right temperature to churn the gelato al fior di latte gelato mixture in the refrigerator.

TT, sensing that some gelato-based activity is going on the kitchen, abandons the toys on her her little table in the dining area and heads straight towards the freezer. In Italy, unfortunately for parents, freezers are often located within a curious toddler’s reach. That is, at the bottom half of refrigerators. She opens the door and gestures for her treasure.

“There is no gelato in the bowl yet,” I explain. “The mixture needs to cool down still. I’ll churn it in an hour while we’re having dinner.”

I pull out one of the freezer draws so TT can see the empty bowl.

TT does not look pleased with my explanation. On our walk home from her nido, I’d already said no to stopping at Fiorio, a torinese institution which makes excellent gelato, for a pitstop. No tantrum had ensued, for once.

Wishing to maintain the delicate equilibrium I’ve managed so far, I open the fridge door and hold TT up so she can see the contents. As I had hoped, she immediately notices the apricots I bought from the market this morning. I grab three, wash them and put them on her plastic plate. She takes the plate to her little table and starts making strategic tiny incisions into the plump and juicy drupe I’ve given her. She then stops once she’s reached the pit and hands it to me so I can remove it for her. After removing the offending seed, I offer to pre-empt the situation and pit the remaining apricots for her beforehand. Unusually for her ultra-independent self, she agrees. While I remove the offending noccioli, her attention turns to playing with her toy fruits and chopping board. The plate with the pitted apricots remains close by though should she feel the need for a quick nibble.

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Relieved to see her occupied at last, I can now turn my attention to getting dinner (another no-cook affair including tomato and basil bruschetta accompanied by borlotti beans that I had cooked earlier) and mostly importantly for TT, dessert ready.

Italian gelato differs somewhat from what we in the English-speaking world refer to as ice-cream. It’s for this reason I’ve refrained from translating the word gelato to its apparent English-language equivalent. Firstly, there’s the fat content. Unlike ice-cream, which, as its name suggests, is heavy on the cream, gelato uses a higher milk to cream ratio. Egg yolks, too, are used sparingly in a handful of flavours requiring a rich custard-base such as vaniglia and crema. In Sicily, gelato makers generally eschew panna (cream) and tuorli (egg yolks) altogether by creating a custard-like crema rinforzata made up milk, sugar and cornstarch as an emulsifier to enrichen their gelati instead. Secondly, the texture of gelato is denser due to the slower speed at which it is churned. In contrast, both artisanal and mass-produced ice-cream are airier due to the faster churning process involved in making them.

Last summer, I made a variety gelato and sorbetto flavours. Since then though, I’ve come full circle and now appreciate the simplicity of a flavour that often gets overlooked in many a gelateria patron’s quest to try the latest unusual flavour. Fior di latte, which translates to ‘flower of milk’ or ‘the best part of the milk’, is made with precisely that, milk, a bit of cream and sugar. Yes, that’s it. Monastically white and silky, this wonderfully unassuming gelato has been described by Nick Palumbo (from Sydney’s Gelato Messina) as a ‘naked flavour’ with nowhere to hide because no other flavours are involved. Basically, if you can master this deceptively simple gusto and its structure, it’ll be easier to learn the flashier ones later on. And, as far as I’m concerned, a good fior di latte is also one of the best tests of a quality gelateria. Fiorio, the gelateria known to induce squeals of delight in my little one the second she spots it (and tantrums if mamma decides not to stop by), makes an outstanding one.

Gelato al fior di latte (serves 6-8 people)

Ingredients

  • 500 mL whole fat milk
  • 250 mL heavy cream
  • 135 g caster sugar
  • 25 g cornstarch

Method

In a bowl, dissolve sugar and cornstarch in 250 mL milk. Stir thoroughly to ensure no lumps are formed. Set aside and combine the remaining milk and cream in a saucepan on low to medium heat. Bring to just below boiling point. Tiny bubbles should appear around the edges of the saucepan. Remove from heat. Add the milk in which you have dissolved the sugar and the cornstarch to the saucepan, stir and return to heat. Bring to just below boiling point again ensuring that you stir constantly. Your mixture should have the consistency of a custard. Cover and leave to cool. Once it has reached room temperature, refrigerate your crema. When sufficiently chilled, assemble your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Add the crema and churn until frozen. This should take about 30 minutes. For a softer-style gelato, serve immediately. For a firmer consistency that lends itself more easily to scoops, transfer to an airtight container and freeze for 1 hour before serving.

For a non-completely ‘naked’ gelato al fior di latte, you may want to try Emiko Davies’ recipe for fior di latte al rosmarino. The Tuscan-based Australian food writer infuses her milk and cream base with rosemary. Other aromatic herbs such as mint and thyme work wonderfully too. Also, a scoop of fior di latte lends itself perfectly to being dunked or ‘drowned’ (this is the literal meaning of ‘affogato’) in a shot of espresso coffee. To savour that irresistibly hot-cold contrast simply place a scoop (or two!) of the gelato in your drinking glass of choice and pour your shot of coffee on top. Dessert/coffee is served!

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Caffé Fiorio and gelato in Turin

Located in portico-lined Via Po, Caffé Fiorio is one of Turin’s historic cafés. Founded in 1780, it quickly became a fashionable meeting place for artists, intellectuals and politicians during the 19th century. Camillo Benso di Cavour (Italy’s first prime minister) and Friederich Nietszche were just some of its notable patrons. With its elegant, velvet interiors and mirror-lined walls, it continues to be a favourite haunt of torinesi (and BlogPiemonte bloggers!) for a coffee, gelato or aperitivo. You can try the café’s fior di latte and other flavours (I’m also very keen on their cioccolato fondente, which is essentially a chocolate sorbet) at Via Po 8, 10121 Turin.

Caffé Fiorio also runs gelaterie at the following city addresses:

  • Corso Rosselli, 92
  • Via Tripoli, 72
  • Piazza Gran Madre, 2
  • Corso Tortona, 22
  • Corso Francia, 320

For more tips on where to eat gelato in Turin, here is the food guide to Turin I recently wrote for Italy Magazine. My friends, Sonia of Texas Mom in Torino and Lucia of Turin Epicurean Capital, have also written about the gelato scene in Turin. Here are some links you may enjoy from them:

Giro del gelato

5 gelaterias in Turin

Pepino’s pinguino gelato

gelatoalfiordilattefiorio-

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N.B. Some of this post’s content and recipe also appeared in Italy Magazine on 22 July 2016.

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