Inspired by the popular Italian gelato flavor, we created the best homemade stracciatella ice cream recipe that is elegant and sophisticated, using French vanilla ice cream and shavings of the best French chocolate.
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TRAVELING IN ITALY
Gelato is everywhere in Italy, in shops and stands and restaurants. While in Rome, we were staying near Campo de’ Fiori in order to visit the farmers’ market in the square early in the morning. From Campo de’ Fiori it was only a short walk to Piazza Navonna, to find Mastro Cono, an artisanal gelato shop. There are gelato shops everywhere, but this is one of the best.
The flavors are intense and elegant. And stracciatella is one of the most popular. A rich vanilla gelato with flecks of chocolate throughout. It is traditionally made by drizzling a fine stream of melted chocolate into frozen gelato so that the chocolate hardens into tiny pieces when it contacts the cold gelato. This creates the marbling effect and distinctive flavor that have made stracciatella ice cream a favorite throughout the world.
MAKING THE BEST STRACCIATELLA ICE CREAM RECIPE
When we got back home, we were determined to make something similar. To create the best stracciatella ice cream recipe, we opted for a French ice cream instead of an Italian gelato base. The smooth gelato texture is difficult to achieve at home when made the authentic way, but the French version uses ingredients that keep it creamy. Then we added shaved Valrhona chocolate, an exceptional French chocolate. The traditional method of drizzling the melted chocolate into the ice cream did not work with the homemade version. Pouring warm chocolate into the cold ice cream caused the ice cream to melt too much, causing ice crystals to form and ruining the texture. To fix this, we shaved the chocolate to create the tiny pieces like those traditionally found in Stracciatella without melting it. Then froze these tiny pieces before adding them to the ice cream. This was not the commercial way of doing it, but we had the time and luxury of creating an artisanal ice cream instead of using the faster commercial method.
The most important thing is to start with the best ingredients. Brands matter – they vary in quality and can change the way a recipe comes out. So, we have listed exactly what we used when it makes a difference. The ingredients we used for the vanilla ice cream base are described below where we discuss how to keep the ice cream smooth and creamy.
VALRHONA CHOCOLATE – Valrhona produces some of the world’s finest chocolate; unique, artisan quality chocolate with complex, balanced and consistent flavors. Their chocolate is responsibly sourced from growers with whom they have long term partnerships and they have committed to assisting producers, protecting the environment and promoting innovation. Chocolate production is one of the major causes of destruction of the rain forest, and long term partnerships with stable growers is good way of preventing this destruction.
KEEPING THE HOMEMADE STRACCIATELLA ICE CREAM SMOOTH AND CREAMY
THE SCIENCE OF ICE CREAM
We fell in love with European ice cream – dense and creamy, with elegant flavors. It was like nothing we could get back home. So, we researched the science and technique for making ice cream and learned how to make it ourselves. The key to the best flavor was to use the best quality, most flavorful ingredients. But the secret to keeping it smooth and creamy was a combination of ingredients and technique.
There is more to ice cream than just freezing quality ingredients. The key is making it smooth and creamy. This is actually more difficult than it seems. Ice cream stays smooth while it is being churned, but then it is put in the freezer in order to harden, and that’s when ice crystals form, ruining the smoothness.
There is a lot of science to keeping it smooth. Making ice cream requires a method and ingredients that prevent large ice crystals from forming. The method is accomplished with a properly designed ice cream maker that keeps all of the mixture moving, and freezes it quickly. The other key is using certain ingredients that keep the ice crystals small. Cultured cream, eggs, invert sugar and alcohol are the keys to keeping the ice crystals small and the mixture creamy.
HORIZON ORGANIC CREAM – We think Horizon products taste better than any other dairy products we have tried. This is probably because the products are organic and from family farming partners. Just as important, Horizon is a certified B corporation that has committed to sustainability. We save money by buying this by the half gallon at a big box store.
HOMEMADE CRÈME FRAÎCHE FROM HORIZON CREAM – Crème fraîche is cultured cream, like sour cream, but with a much milder taste. The culture in it prevents ice crystals from forming once the ice cream has been churned and is hardening. We make crème fraîche from Horizon cream, which makes this an eco-friendly swap as well, since Horizon is taking action on climate change. We save money by making our own, but it’s also better, and it’s a real crème fraîche, made with a culture. And it’s easy to make because we use an Instant Pot.
EGGS – eggs increase the fat and protein in the mixture. The eggs are raw when whipped with the sugar, but are cooked when the hot cream is slowly added. It is important to bring the mixture to a safe temperature (160° F, 71°C according to the USDA). This method will do that without having to go through the added steps of making a custard and risking over cooking the eggs. French ice cream is made with a custard, which requires cooking and tempering, so this method is much easier. Heating the eggs will also denature the protein in the eggs and prohibit ice growth.
INVERT SUGAR – We use corn syrup for the required invert sugar. It lowers the freezing point of water, making the ice crystals smaller and the ice cream smoother. Corn syrup is NOT the same as high-fructose corn syrup. Honey, and some syrups are partially invert sugars and will do the same thing, to some extent, so we use these for certain flavors. However, honey and syrup will add a lot of flavor.
WHOLESOME ORGANIC SUGAR – Sugar lowers the freezing point. The sugar molecules interfere with the water molecules becoming organized into a solid as it freezes.
ALCOHOL– This lowers the freezing point, making the ice crystals small. It also keeps ice crystals from forming as the ice cream hardens. Too much, however, and the ice cream won’t freeze. Use one tablespoon of an 80 proof alcohol, and adjust the amount for liqueur that contain more or less alcohol.
HEILALA VANILLA PASTE – We use Heilala vanilla paste in ice cream because it has a wonderful vanilla flavor without adding anything else. Using a paste makes it so much easier than using a vanilla bean and scraping all the seeds out. The paste includes the seeds so the ice cream will have the traditional flecks in it.
AIR – Air is also an important ingredient. It softens the ice cream and provides insulation allowing the flavors to be tasted even though the ice cream is cold. The air is added continuously as the ice cream is churned.
THE ICE CREAM MAKER
Making ice cream also requires a method that prevents the cream from freezing solid. The mixture must be constantly churned in an ice cream maker to add air and to keep the ice crystals small, so the ice cream stays creamy. When selecting an ice cream maker, the important thing is that it keeps all of the mixture moving, and freezes it quickly. There should be very little space between the paddle and the walls of the container, and the paddle should be designed to turn over the mixture as it rotates. If there is a gap allowing too much ice cream to build up on the container walls it will cause ice formation. The temperature must be cold enough to freeze the mixture quickly, before ice forms.
We use a Whynter Ice Cream maker (model ICM-200LS) which does an excellent job of freezing it quickly. It doesn’t require ice and rock salt or freezing the insert, so it is really easy and convenient. It has a capacity of 2 Quarts, but we found the ice cream is better when we make 1 Quart, so our recipe makes 1 Quart.
It also helps if everything is cold. Make the mixture and thoroughly chill it down to 45° F (7° C) before putting it in the ice cream maker. Making it the day before will ensure that it is thoroughly chilled and also improves the flavor. Let the ice cream maker run for five minutes before putting the mixture in, so it freezes as fast as possible. Freeze a glass container to store the ice cream. And work quickly when the ice cream has finished churning. Allow it to harden overnight.
Ice cream is made from dairy products and eggs, so it is very important to take steps to ensure food safety. Follow the instructions in the recipe carefully.
- Start with everything washed in hot soap water, including knives and cutting boards.
- Use pasteurized cream.
- Simmer the cream and fruit mixture for two minutes to bring it to a safe temperature.
- Add the hot cream mixture to the egg mixture, which will bring the eggs up to 160° F. (71° C), the safe temperature for eggs.
- Fresh fruit can not be added after this, because it is not cooked and could contaminate the ice cream.
- Some recipes call for adding things after the ice cream is churned, such as nuts, preserves or chocolate. These should all be fresh, clean, and handled in a manner to keep them clean. Nuts should be toasted and cooled just prior to adding. Anything chopped should be done on a clean cutting board with a clean knife. Preserves should be a newly opened jar.
- The ice cream should be consumed within a week.
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Photos by Tony Fitzgerald Photography