When I was in graduate school, getting my MFA in fiction writing, I dug out the journal I kept when I was seventeen and spent the summer in Italy from my parents' attic. I thought there would be lots of juicy entries—about the nightclub I snuck into with a friend, about the boy who took me for a ride on his moped—that would make excellent fodder for short stories. Instead, the journal was filled with nothing but detailed lists of what I ate: anchovy pizza in Rome, sea urchin in Sicily, and every singe flavor of gelato I tasted. It was in that moment I realized that maybe I wasn't meant to be a novelist, but a food writer. I mean, who hasn't been inspired to greatness by ice cream?
Forever in pursuit of gelato as luxurious and pure as those first few scoops, I was curious to try out William-Sonoma's new gelato starter mixes. Of the two flavors currently available—Stracciatella and Salted Caramel (each $14)—I opted for the caramel. Before you balk at the price, consider that each box contains enough mix to make four pints of gelato. That's less than $5 a pint, which is roughly how much a carton of Haagen-Dazs or Ben & Jerry's will set you back.
Since I don't have a gelato machine (who does have a gelato machine?), I prepared the mix in my ice cream maker. All I had to do to make the "batter" was stir 1 3/4 cups of milk (or a combination of milk and cream) into the mix. While the instructions didn't specify whether to chill the batter before churning it, I let mine sit in the fridge for two hours first. In my experience, the colder the batter, the better the resulting ice cream. After 25 minutes my gelato came out of the ice cream maker the consistency of soft-serve, and after an additional three hours in the freezer it was ready to be scooped and devoured.
First, I have to say that the texture was spot-on. Gelato is thicker and creamier than American ice cream, but it is also looser and more melty. True gelato could never be molded into a perfect orb on top of a cone; rather it is best served slicked into a cup, almost like frozen buttercream frosting. The William-Sonoma is perfect: each spoonful drips just a bit, encouraging you to eat every last bite as fast as you can.
The flavor was equally impressive, bringing together notes of rich browned butter and brown sugar. The caramel taste was so intense, it was almost as if I had churned a jar of caramel sauce in my ice cream maker and omitted the milk and cream all together.
My single complaint with regards to this gelato has to do with the salt. Quite frankly, there wasn't enough of it. While I (and others who tasted it) could discern a faint hint of saltiness, there were no actual crystals to be found. I wish William-Sonoma had thought to include a small bag of fleur de sel or other sea salt with the mix. Then it would have been truly perfect. As it stands, though, it comes pretty darn close.
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