We're in lock down in Barcelona. And there's no herbs growing on my terrace. In fact there's nothing growing on my terrace at the moment!
Luckily the boys in the flat above us threw down a bunch of mixed herbs from their terrace, mostly mint and lemon balm (which they recommended we make into soothing teas).
The weather's hotting up now though, so instead I knocked up a quick ice cream based on a recipe in the excellent Ices: The Definitive Guide by Liddell and Weir.
It uses a light French vanilla custard base, infused with the grassy flavors of the herbs using a vigorous muddle and a bit of a steep.
The end result was slightly chewy ice cream with a lovely, herby fresh mint flavor that's lifted by the citrusy lemon balm.
Perfect for eating on our plantless terrace, as we enjoy the last of the days sun and dream about when the garden centers will open again...
Fior di latte is perhaps the simplest, purest ice cream of all. It’s a Sicilian gelato and fior di latte translates from Italian as “flower of milk”. Or “the best of the milk”.
And that’s all it is: a sweetened, milky ice cream. No eggs. No vanilla. Nothing but milk, cream and sugar.
I’ve seen it described as “monastically simple”. And while there is something quietly spiritual about those soft, white waves, there should be nothing austere about this gelato.
Thick, dense and creamy, as long as it’s not too sweet there’s a whole load of complex dairy flavors to explore here.
For many, a Fior di latte is the best test of a gelato shop. I suppose because any shortcuts an inferior gelateria might try to hide behind other flavors will be starkly apparent in their Fior di latte!
And that’s why it such a great place to start when you start learning to make ice cream. You can really concentrate on finding a balance of sweetness and creaminess and a texture and body that work for you.
I recommend making it again and again and again!
In this Fior di latte recipe I wanted to keep everything as simple as possible. So I’ve tried to keep the ingredients to a minimum and the preparation as straightforward as possible. Let’s have a look at each ingredient in more detail:
In this recipe I’m using 3.5% full fat milk. You could use semi-skimmed or even skimmed. But then you’d need to adjust the recipe.
This because when the milk is combined with the cream, we’re looking for a 7% total fat content. So if you use lower fat milk, you’ll need to use a higher proportion of cream.
Why 7%? Any less and it starts to taste a bit “hard” and “metallic” to me. And the sweetness is accentuated so it can start to taste like candy. Any more and the creaminess can leave a slightly cloying aftertaste.
Although it’s called Fior di latte, every recipe I’ve ever seen contains some amount of cream. And as I mention above, with too little cream it starts to taste a little “hard” to me.
There is in fact a variation called Fior di panna (“flower of cream”, obviously). But it’s not clear to me at what point the amount of cream means it’s a Fior di panna rather than a Fior di latte!
Anyway I’m using 36% fat cream. You can of course use cream with a different fat content. Just be aware that you won’t get the 7% fat that I’m aiming for without adjusting the recipe.
Most ice cream tastes far too sweet to me. But we don’t use sugar just for the sweet taste. It also keeps the ice cream thick and soft and stops it getting icy. So we can’t just use less sugar when we want a less sweet ice cream.
What we can do, however is use different types of sugar. This is because different sugars have different levels of sweetness. So here we use a combination of table sugar (sucrose) and the less sweet dextrose.
Dextrose (also called Glucose) is only 3/4 as sweet as table sugar. So if we replace some table sugar with dextrose we still get all the structural benefits of sugar, but the ice cream will be less sweet.
Dextrose also reduces the freezing point of water more than table sugar, which means our ice cream will be softer too!
With no eggs to emulsify and stabilize this low fat gelato, we need to add something else to thicken the ice cream and stop it becoming icy and coarse.
Fior di latte gelato probably originates in Sicily and is essentially a frozen crema rinforzata which is a sweet milk pudding, thickened with cornstarch. And we could use cornstarch here.
But it’s a little bit more difficult to make Fior di latte with cornstarch. And more importantly, I’ve never managed to do it without being able to taste the cornstarch in the final gelato.
Locust Bean Gum works in the same way as cornstarch but is much more effective, much easier to use and most importantly: adds no discernible taste to the final gelato!
You probably won’t be able to find it in your local supermarket. But it’s widely available online, it lasts for ages and as we’ll see, a little goes a long way.
OK, the recipe…