Cooking School

Ice creams around the world

Gelato Author: Canadian Living Credits: Gelato

Cooking School

Ice creams around the world

In January, 1980something, I took a trip to England. My then hubby is a Brit, and it was my first trip to meet the in-laws. In my host's teeny-tiny ice box there was a small plastic tub of what was purported to be ice cream. It tasted like sweetened margarine, with an even worse texture: mealy and oily.

Clotted cream to the rescue

If only I had known then what I know now, that just a wee drive away, down to the town of Cornwall was some of the most spectacular ice cream known to mankind: ice cream made from Cornish clotted cream. And in true English eccentric fashion, check out these flavours: Butternut Squash and Honey, Lemon Curd, Gooseberry Fool, Cornish Blue Cheese and Pear, Cardamom, and this classic: Rhubarb Crumble and Clotted Cream!

Frozen sweets go back as far as the 5th century BC when vendors sold snow cones of shaved ice with honey and fruit in the markets of Athens. Today, we're spoiled here in Canada for awesome ice cream. We've welcomed folks from all over the world who have brought their own versions and flavours of frozen treats.

While we probably won't find Scandinavian reindeer's milk or Middle Eastern camel's milk ice cream here - though goat's milk ice cream is getting easier to come by, and it's delish! - we do have a lot to choose from.

Ice creams around the world:
The ice cream of India and Pakistan, it's richer and more dense than Western ice cream because it's made from condensed milk, slowly boiled down until sticky, sweet and thick. In exotic flavours—rose, cardamom, saffron, pistachio, and mango—kulfi is the perfect way to put out the fire of that vindaloo you just braved at dinner.  

Dondurma is Turkish goat's milk ice cream, flavoured with salep, the powdered tuber of an orchid, and thickened with resin. It's described as a chewy ice cream, sometimes even eaten with knife and fork. Don't go looking for it here though, exportation of true dondurma is forbidden as the orchid is being harvested to near extinction. Perhaps someone should suggest vanilla?

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Discover Ais kacang, gelato, sorbetto, semifreddo and tartufo on page 2!

Ais Kacang
Ais Kacang is a Malaysian or Singaporean snow cone, all dolled up with sweet syrups, sweetened red beans, evaporated milk, grass jelly, sweet corn, and sometimes, stinky durian fruit, which is a real acquired taste. I've been told that if you can get it past your nose, durian tastes like a creamy, custard-y, combination of pears and ripe brie.

In many ways gelato is very similar to typical North American ice cream, and yet, there is nothing typical about it. I think it has to do with the quality of the ingredients used; pristine fruits, super fine chocolate, the freshest nuts. The Italians have no fear of flavour, and so a lemon gelato is super-lemony and a coffee gelato is like a cup of icy espresso. A trip to a gelato shop is a wondrous thing. Rows and rows of flavours, piled high in jewel-like colours. Choosing is next to impossible, so thank goodness many shopkeepers encourage sampling.

Sorbetto is gelato made with water in place of dairy ingredients. It's also known as sorbet, and as some Canadians back in the bad old days called it, sherbert. While gelato originates from northern Italy, sorbetto hails from the warmer south, and since it doesn't contain cloying milk fat, sorbetto is more refreshing than gelato or ice cream and a godsend for folks who suffer from lactose intolerance.

Semifreddo means half-frozen in Italian. The Spanish call it semifrio. This is a chilled dessert, somewhere between a custard and mousse. Anyone can make at home as it doesn't require a fancy ice cream maker or any other special equipment, just a loaf pan or casserole and 24 hours in a freezer. The finished product can be scooped or for a more formal presentation, turned out and sliced.

Tartufo is Italian for truffle. As in the black, round, subterranean fungus. Not the chocolate truffle, which is also named after the fungus. Tartufo is named after the truffle because, like the chocolate truffle, it resembles the fungus. A ball of ice cream, often chocolate, is filled with a fruit sauce, or sorbetto, then the whole thing is covered in a shell of chocolate, nuts, or dusted with cocoa powder. A revelation to Canadian's in the 80s, it's now available in most grocery chains.

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Learn about Granita, soft serve, and frozen yogurt on page 3Granita
Are you getting the idea that the Italians have a bit of a frozen dessert fetish by now? Here's another one of their creations: granita. Think slushy sorbetto (or fruit sauce), in traditional flavours of lemon, coffee, almond, chocolate, mint, jasmine, orange, and berries when in season. It's become popular in North America and the UK of late as a palate cleanser between courses, with adventurous chefs whipping up more savoury flavours like tomato, rosemary, and basil.
Soft Serve Ice Cream
True confession time. If it was my last day on earth, and I was requesting my final meal, it would include a Dairy Queen soft serve, chocolate dipped. I love the stuff. I know it's not chi-chi or gourmet. I know it has a few weird, unpronounceable ingredients in it, but man it's good! When I was a kid and lived in a small town, the nearest DQ was about 20 minutes away by car or about 45 minutes, uphill, by coaster bike. More often than not, it was a long, hot, peddle. But the reward was great! I still have one—just one—every summer. And just in case there is any confusion, the soft serve that comes off the trucks these days is nothing like a classic, one-of-a-kind, original DQ, which was invented in the early 1930's by the founder of Dairy Queen, John F. McCullough. It is airy, creamy, and light, with less butter fat than hard ice cream. So go ahead, enjoy guilt-free, especially if you ride your bike to and from!

Frozen Yogurt
Oh dear, more confessions. I'm old enough to remember the introduction of frozen yogurt to the marketplace, but it was a very different thing back then in the 70s. Hippie ice cream, really. It was very simply yogurt that had been frozen. It was cultured, less fatty, and very tart. In the beginning it came in one flavour: plain. Then came the machine that blended a block of frozen yogurt with a handful of frozen fruit and everything changed. These days you might find a brand claiming to be enhanced with probiotics, but really, there isn't all that much difference between frozen yogurt and ice cream in terms of sugar content and taste.

One Last Bite
Ice cream has inspired some pretty creative and, well, kind of weird culinary creations, beyond the ever-popular banana split and sundae, or over the top baked Alaska. In the 1960s, a German citizen, Dario Fontanella, invented an ice cream concoction that looks just like a bowl of spaghetti with tomato sauce called   Spaghettieis. Vanilla ice cream is passed through a Spätzle maker to form ice cream noodles and topped with strawberry sauce and grated white chocolate standing in for parmigano.

Did your family call sorbet sherbert, or was that just in my house? Come to think of it, I also called Neopolitan ice cream, Napoleon, so it might very well have been an idiosyncratic variation. Please comment, and help clear this mystery of my childhood up for me!

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Ice creams around the world