This gelato tastes just like my grandmother’s cannoli filling. Sweet vanilla ice cream studded with tiny bits of chocolate and flavored with just the right amount of canella. I like to top it off with chopped pistachios and then the only thing missing is a cannolo shell 🙂
Cannoli Cream Gelato
(makes about 1 quart)
Don’t forget to check out my Tips, Tricks, and Substitutions at the bottom of the recipe.
- 1 1/2 oz cream cheese, softened
- 1/8 tsp fine sea salt
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 tbsp + 1 tsp cornstarch
- 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tbsp light corn syrup
- 1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped out, seeds & bean reserved
- maximum 2 sticks canella
- 4 oz chopped bittersweet chocolate, 60% cacao
- Optional: chopped pistachios
Cook the ice cream base…
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the cream cheese and salt; set aside.
- In a separate, small bowl, take about two tbsp of the milk and whisk with the cornstarch until dissolved; set aside.
- In a heavy-bottomed, 4-quart saucepan, combine the remaining milk, heavy cream, sugar, corn syrup, vanilla seeds and bean, and canella.
- Bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat, constantly scraping the bottom of the pan, allowing the mixture to boil for 4 minutes, exactly.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the cornstarch slurry.
- Put back on the heat and bring back to a boil, still scraping constantly so as not to burn, until slightly thickened, about 1 minute.
- Remove from the heat.
- Discard the vanilla bean and sticks of canella.
- Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese until smooth.
- Pour gelato base into a large pan (I use a 9×13″), cover with plastic wrap (allowing it to actually touch the mixture so that a skin doesn’t form), and set in the fridge to chill until completely cooled, usually less than an hour.
- Alternatively, pour the base into a 1-gallon Ziploc freezer bag and immerse it in an ice bath, adding more ice as necessary, until cold.
Churn the ice cream…
- To freeze the gelato, follow the directions for your ice cream machine.
- With mine, I turn the machine on and pour the base into the spinning frozen canister, allowing it to freeze until it’s thick, creamy, and has pulled away from the sides (rather than still leaving a coating).
- While your gelato is still freezing, melt the chocolate, allowing it to cool until tepid but still fluid.
- Just before your gelato is finished, slowly drizzle in the melted chocolate, allowing it to solidify and break apart; give it about two minutes or so.
- The result will be wonderful, small flecks of chocolate running all throughout the dessert, just like at Baskin-Robbins 😉
- Pack the gelato into an airtight container, pressing a sheet of parchment paper directly to the surface before sealing with the lid.
- 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.
- Scoop into an ice cream cone or waffle bowl to get the crunch you would with a cannolo.
- For the true frozen cannolo effect, though, spoon into an empty cannolo shell, pressing chopped pistachios or peanuts into the ends and dusting with confectioners sugar 🙂
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.
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.
Vanilla Bean: If you can’t get your hands on a vanilla bean, substitute with about 1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract.
Canella: This is a very specific type of cinnamon, which can only be bought in sticks. It has a distinct flavor that is much different than any other cinnamon and what makes this gelato taste like cannoli filling. Without it, this would simply be chocolate chip gelato or, if replaced with a different cinnamon, it would simply be chocolate chip cinnamon gelato. It would not be cannoli cream gelato.
Canella can be found at most Italian produce stores and on Amazon.com. If there are Italian bakeries in your area that sell cannoli, ask where they get their canella and/or whether you can buy some from them.
If you use canella often and don’t want to use two whole sticks for this recipe, substitute with a maximum of 1 tsp very finely ground.
Bittersweet Chocolate: Honestly, use whatever chocolate you like, but I would recommend either using bittersweet, semisweet, or dark chocolate rather than milk chocolate because it contains barely any actual chocolate (as little as 10%).
Pistachios: Cannoli traditionally have chopped nuts pressed into the ends, usually either peanuts or pistachios. My preference is pistachios, which is why I recommend them as a topping for this gelato.
If you want to add nuts to the actual mixture, chop about 1/4 cup and add to the churning ice cream after the chocolate has broken up properly. Allow the gelato to continue churning for a few minutes until the nuts are evenly throughout.
Alternatively, add them in layers as you pack the gelato into a container.
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.
Can you think of anything that sounds more delicious than the sweet, creamy, cinnamony filling of cannoli turned into gelato? I can’t!! Every time I go to a gelato shop, I wish I could find one based on that flavor, but I never, ever do. And why not? You’d think someone would have come up with this idea by now! And maybe someone has, but I haven’t been able to find that person yet.
When B. got an ice cream maker for his birthday, I quickly started looking for gelato recipes online because I’d always wanted to try it homemade; that’s when I found out that, generally, it’s made with a milk base rather than heavy cream. At the same time, I read that Sicilian gelato tends to be made with a base of milk and cornstarch and found a recipe for dark chocolate gelato using exactly that. As I read the recipe, I realized that, outside of the cocoa powder used to flavor it as chocolate, it looked eerily similar to my family’s biancomangiare recipe (biancomangiare is the term for cannoli cream), which has a base of half and half, cornstarch, and sugar, with canella (a unique type of cinnamon) used as flavoring.
When I realized the base for gelato was generally identical to the base for biancomangiare, I knew that would have to be my very first attempt at gelato…or ice cream…or any frozen dessert made at home. I immediately found our biancomangiare recipe and compared the amount of half and half to the amount of milk so that I could calculate how much canella to add. After a few other flavor tweaks, I poured the base into the machine, adding chopped chocolate and pistachios at the very end. When the gelato had finished freezing and I took my first bite…I nearly died. It was perfect, identical to the flavors of my absolutely positively favorite dessert of all time and it was so creamy and soft, just as I like it. So, I filled a container, placed it in the freezer, and quickly emailed my mother to brag, who then said I should bring it for the Fourth of July!
A few hours later, I went back to the freezer for another taste and my heart sank. My soft, creamy gelato had become hard, gritty, and icy. The texture was incredibly unappetizing, especially with the chocolate and pistachios mixed into the icy cream. I did some research to find out what went wrong and it looks like this is a common problem with homemade ice creams! They’re great right out of the machine, but icy and gritty out of the freezer. It bothered me because who wants to make just enough ice cream to immediately eat? B. and I had wanted pints and pints of flavors in our freezer to enjoy at the drop of a hat! And what was I to do for the Fourth of July? Make the gelato that very afternoon and hope it doesn’t melt at my aunt’s before it gets eaten? I don’t think so.
That’s when I found Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home, which I mentioned in my last entry. It was actually probably the third book I looked at. First, I browsed a couple gelato books because…you know…I’m just obsessed with gelato a bit more than ice cream! Since the results were lacking, though, I decided to search for ice cream books, instead, and the very first one I saw was Jeni’s, which I had to click on because I’d seen her ice cream before! I’ve never purchased any, just lusted after them. I mean, with flavors like Brown Butter Almond Brittle, Wildberry Lavendar, Rockmill Golden Ale and Apricots, and (seemingly everyone’s favorite) Salted Caramel, how could I not? How could anyone not? She even has unique sorbets, frozen yogurts, and ice creams made with goat cheese!
So, I clicked the link to read about her book and knew I had to search no further; only one reviewer gave it fewer than four stars (and that person sounded like a giant crab) and the whole foundation of the book was about finding the perfect recipe for homemade ice cream so that it retained the same texture as anything you could buy in the store. Hello! Exactly what I was looking for! The next day, B. went out, bought the book, and we immediately got to work 🙂 Flipping through her recipes, I realized…this homemade ice cream was, really, closer to homemade gelato. Could my day get any better? Her ice cream base does contain heavy cream, but the ratio is nearly two parts whole milk to only one part heavy cream, so that’s good enough for me. Despite the preponderance of unique ice cream flavors, I quickly located one for a simple vanilla bean and decided that would be the basis for my Cannoli Cream Gelato–the only thing I would have to do is add the unique flavors of biancomangiare, so it was truly meant to be 🙂
This time around, once the gelato had set up in the actual freezer, I ran a spoon through it, took a taste…and my smile must have reached from ear to ear or as close as it could get. Jeni knows what she’s doing! Her technique for adding chocolate (so that you can make something like mint chocolate chip ice cream) is exactly what B. and I were looking for too; she calls them “chocolate freckles” and they’re amazing. So, I used that technique to imitate the chocolate chunks we mix into the biancomangiare before spooning it into cannoli shells or cassata cake…or simply our mouths. All I left out, this time, were the chopped pistachios, which is because B. isn’t a fan of nuts and I wanted him to try the gelato so he could give his opinion on the chocolate bits (for future use in his mint chocolate chip!). Something like that could be added later, anyway, so the outcome was still exactly what I was looking for and exactly something I would be proud to present to my family.
So, if you own an ice cream maker and are a fan of cannoli, I highly, highly encourage you to make this recipe. If you’ve never had a cannolo…I’m sorry…and beg you to either go out and buy one or at least make the cream at home if your particular location is void of proper Italian bakeries. Of course, you could always just make this gelato because, I promise, it tastes exactly the same 🙂