I had a customer ask me what the difference is between gelato and ice cream. After some delicious research, here are some facts and opinions about frozen desserts.
*Ice cream: To meet U.S. standards, ice cream must contain 10 percent fat. Ice cream is made from cream, eggs, sugar and various flavorings. Air is churned in to prevent ice crystals from forming, thus giving it its creamy texture. The more expensive the ice cream, the less air churned in. Cheap ice cream may have as much as 50 percent air churned in to make it stretch out and appear fluffy, when really it is poorly made. You know the difference immediately when you taste Haagen Dazs vs. store brand. This is the main reason why.
*Gelato: The wonderful Italian ice cream is made with milk or cream, eggs, sugars, and flavorings. Gelato uses less egg yolks than ice cream and often more milk vs. cream. Another famous Italian dish that began with a rich custard base using only the yolk of the eggs is Zabaione. Gelato generally has less air churned in than ice cream, so it is denser. In Italy, gelato must have only 3.5 percent fat. Now you don't have to feel guilty eating gelato if you go to Italy. Mange! Prego.
*Sorbet: I love the coolness and lightness of sorbet in the summer or after a heavy meal. My way of menu planning is heavy meal/ light dessert, light meal/decadent dessert — unless the customer wants otherwise, of course. Sorbet is made with sugar, water, flavorings and often alcohol, (which lowers the temperature of freezing so must be dealt with differently when preparing). There is no dairy and no air whipped in. Remember, you can still make it in your ice cream maker as the arm just stirs it. The French claim it, but I think it is really stolen from the Italians.
*Granita: This semi-frozen dessert originated in Sicily. It is made with the same ingredients as sorbet, but coarser because there is only occasional stirring. When I make it, I put it in a large pan and stir it about once an hour to keep the ingredients from separating. If you make it in a machine, it will really be like sorbet. If you want a true granita, don't use a machine and make it on a day you are going to hang around the house to reach in the freezer and give it a stir. Like maybe on the day you are having me over for dinner.
*Italian ice: Contrary to the misinformed, this is not shaved ice like our snow cones. The flavorings, usually fruit juices or concentrates ARE the ice, not poured over ice. Italian Ice is frozen, stirred occasionally, then taken out and sharded with a fork. It is light and flavorful and great for a hot, hot day.
There you have it. Which one do you prefer? I'll take them all!