Almond Marsala Gelato

This gelato has a light, overall almond flavor with just the right hint of sweet, fruity wine at the end, a combination that, I find, pairs perfectly with a bowl of fresh strawberries…


THE RECIPE


Almond Marsala Gelato

(makes about 1 quart)

Don’t forget to check out my Tips, Tricks, and Substitutions at the bottom of the recipe.

Ingredients

Gelato Base

  • 1 1/2 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp blanched, toasted almonds ground to a fine paste
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 tbsp + 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup Marsala wine

For Churning

  • 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp blanched, toasted almonds, roughly chopped

Directions

Cook the ice cream base…

  1. Whisk the cream cheese, almond paste, and salt in a medium bowl until combined; set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk about two tbsp of the milk with the cornstarch, so that the cornstarch is completely dissolved.
  3. In a heavy-bottomed, 4-quart saucepan, combine the remaining milk, heavy cream, sugar, and corn syrup.
  4. Bring the mixture to a rolling boil over medium-high heat, boiling for 4 minutes, exactly, and constantly scraping the bottom of the pan so as not to burn the milk.
  5. Remove from the heat and whisk in the cornstarch slurry.
  6. Return to heat and bring back to a boil, cooking, still stirring constantly, until slightly thickened; this should take only about 1 minute.
  7. Remove from the heat and gradually whisk into the cream cheese mixture.
  8. Once smooth, stir in the Marsala.
  9. Pour the mixture into a large pan (I use 9×13″), cover with plastic wrap (touching the plastic to the mixture), and place in the fridge until cooled, usually under an hour.
    • Alternatively, pour the mixture into a 1-gallon Ziploc freezer bag and submerge the sealed bag into an ice bath, replenishing the ice as necessary, until cool.

Churn the ice cream…

  1. Follow the directions that accompany your ice cream machine, freezing until the mixture is thick and creamy, beginning to pull away from the sides of the bowl.
    • With my machine, it takes roughly 20 minutes; others may differ.
  2. About five minutes before the ice cream should be ready, add the chopped almonds, ensuring they’ve mixed evenly before you stop churning the cream.

To store…

  1. Pack the gelato into an airtight container, pressing a sheet of parchment paper directly to the surface before sealing with the lid.
  2. Store in the coldest part of your freezer.
    • If you plan to transport it, try to keep it in the freezer for at least four hours to ensure firmness.

Serve…

I highly recommend mixing it into a big bowl of fresh strawberries and bananas, as I did this morning for breakfast… 😉


Tips, Tricks, and Substitutions

Cream Cheese: This sounds like an odd ingredient, but its purpose is to help prevent the ice cream from forming ice crystals once frozen, which tends to be a problem with homemade ice creams. I promise, you can’t taste it.

Sea Salt: If you don’t have fine sea salt, any fine salt should work. It’s really the size of the grind that matters more than the type.

Ground Almonds: If you don’t want to grind the almonds yourself, substitute with 1/4 cup almond paste. And, of course, sub with any other ground nut that you’d like to experiment with.

Whole Milk and Heavy Cream: In my opinion, using whole milk is important because the fats help the ice cream stay soft once frozen, which is why this recipe calls for a combination of whole milk and heavy cream, which has an even higher fat content. If you want to attempt with a lower fat milk, by all means, experiment. Though, rather than worry about fat content, I would simply eat less 🙂

If you’re dairy free, I would try to use a full-fat dairy alternative.

Sugar and Light Corn Syrup: This isn’t simply to sweeten the gelato, but helps keep ice cream soft once frozen, just like fats do.

Marsala Wine: This wine is very sweet, so it lends itself perfectly to ice cream. As I always say, though, experiment! Try your favorite wine, who knows how it’ll turn out 🙂 I, myself, would love to make a Riesling ice cream some day…

Blanched, Toasted, Chopped Almonds: You can buy almonds that are blanched, which simply means the bitter skin has been removed. If you need to do it yourself, at home, you can boil the almonds to loosen the skin before removing, but this is a tedious task.

Toasting the almonds deepens their flavor; I much prefer it to raw almonds. Simply toast over medium heat on the stovetop, stirring often to ensure they don’t burn, or toast in a single layer on a sheet pan in a 375 degree oven. Again, checking on them often to ensure they don’t burn.

And, as always, if you’re up for experimenting, go ahead and try any other nut you like! Just think about how it pairs with the wine you use.

Dissolving Cornstarch: Cornstarch clumps up when added directly to warm liquid, which is why it’s dissolved in cold milk, for this recipe, prior to adding it to the warm mixture.

Why Add Wine at the End? If you added the wine during the cooking process, the alcohol would burn off, which would change the overall flavor of the gelato. If you’d prefer that, by all means, try it!


THE STORY


I have to admit that I don’t eat ice cream often unless I go somewhere like Maggie Moo or Baskin-Robbins where I can get a nice fat waffle cone and sit outside enjoying it in the summer heat with a friend; if I happen to buy something for home, it tends to stay neglected in the freezer, despite my love for the confection. I think it has something to do with memories of adolescent summers, meeting friends at an ice cream shop and hanging out on the trunks of our cars, idly chatting while we relax with our treat. Sitting inside eating a bowl of ice cream simply isn’t the same, so I really almost never buy it unless I find something that looks truly delicious (like mascarpone ice cream with hazelnuts and fudge ribbons).

B., on the other hand, is an ice cream FREAK. You can bet that nearly every single night he makes himself a bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream sprinkled with extra chopped bits of bittersweet chocolate from our pantry. Of course, he adds the extra chocolate because he’s never able to find a brand that adds chocolate in just the right amount using just the right method; if he does happen to find that brand, he usually gets one container of ice cream out of it before it’s completely disappeared from the store. That’s why, when we saw this Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker, we just had to have it. Finally, B. could have the mint chocolate chip he’d always dreamed of and I could put my culinary creativity to good work and make as many crazy flavors as I please…scooping them into a cone to enjoy on my back porch, of course 😉

Yesterday was my family’s Fourth of July celebration and, after having made an experimental batch of Cannoli Cream Gelato, my mom suggested I bring that as my dessert. I thought it was a great idea considering the heat and decided to take the chance to make even more and have a little ice cream bar with it all. So, I came up with the second idea of Almond Marsala (inspired by my favorite pie crust), while Billy picked out a wonderful dark chocolate recipe from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home, a book I needed to own after reading reviews that it had recipes for homemade ice cream that actually stayed soft and creamy rather than turning into a gritty, icy mess, which is exactly what my experimental batch of Cannoli Cream Gelato had done. It was so perfectly creamy right out of the machine, but a disaster out of the freezer…more on that when I blog the successful version of the recipe, though.

So, my original idea for dessert was essentially an ice cream bar where we’d have three ice creams, cones, chocolate sauce, fruit…you know, all the general staples of an ice cream bar, plus the cakes and pies others were going to bring. I had also wanted to make a nectarine tart, though, simply because I have a ton of ripe nectarines on hand and thought it would be really refreshing, especially topped with ice cream (I didn’t end up making the tart, yet, but that’s beside the point).

My problem was that I didn’t feel like the two ice creams B. and I were definitely going to bring were right to serve with fruit and I really wanted something to go with it. So, I racked my brain trying to think of something that would be unique, but would taste wonderful alongside roasted nectarines or fresh, macerated strawberries. That’s when I thought of Marsala wine and almonds, which I use in many pie crusts to complement the fruit inside. It seemed like the perfect combination for my purpose, so that’s exactly what I did!

Because I’m absolutely no expert on the chemistry behind ice cream, I chose to use recipes from my new cookbook as bases for my own, simply altering the flavors. You know how I love to tell people to take a recipe and make it their own! By doing so, I was able to make an ice cream with great texture, but still have the ability to take credit for the taste.

For the Almond Marsala, I used Jeni’s “Cognac Ice Cream” recipe, simply replacing cognac with Marsala (actually, doubling the amount, taking the chance that the ice cream would be softer because of the extra alcohol) and adding homemade almond paste as well as chopped almonds. I made sure to reference a recipe containing nuts so I’d know what amount would be proper; I didn’t want to end up with only a crunchy bite every so often or having more crunch than cream.

The result, I think, turned out pretty great! Sweet, nutty, with just a hint of wine 🙂

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