Nocciola Gelato (Without an Ice Cream Machine)

Posted on 28 June 2016

We recently backpacked mountain trails from Salerno to Sorrento along the Amalfi Coast, famous for both its sheer beauty and its sheer drops. Dan mapped hikes that led us to a mountaintop church unreachable by roads, up and down hundreds of flights of stairs built for pack animals, between terraced groves of lemon trees bright with fist-sized fruit, and through a meadow where electric wildflowers thankfully distracted me from the nearby precipice. We ended each sweaty day at a fine hotel where we could wash up, get presentable, and go find gelato.

I learned a lesson when we took our kids to the Grand Canyon. No matter how breathtaking your location, the better the snacks the better the vacation. And what could enhance a Mediterranean panorama better than nocciola gelato?

Italy has an enduring relationship with the hazelnut [see Hazelnut (Nocciola) Biscotti Dipped in Chocolate]. Besides inventing Nutella, Italians perfected hazelnut ice cream with intense, intoxicating flavor. While Dan opts for silky, dark cioccolato, I always choose the complex sweetness and toasted nuttiness of nocciola.

So I set out to recreate the soft consistency and aromatic nuttiness of the third most popular gelato in Italy (after cioccolato and crema), without gelateria equipment or artisan pomp. I found that this home version whips it up fairly easily. As with my Double Chocolate Sorbet, ice cube trays and the food processor magically replace an ice cream machine. The mixture freezes quickly in the trays, reducing ice crystals. The food processor transforms the cubes into a glorious swirl you can eat immediately as a thick frappe or freeze into moderately soft ice cream.

I use Frangelico hazelnut liqueur to help keep the gelato soft and scoopable, since alcohol’s got a ridiculousy low freezing point. You can probably substitute vodka without much difference. If you still find the gelato hard, nuke it for a few seconds to get the perfect softness.

Note that I refuse to strain out the flecks of nuts, though, as other recipes specify. The texture is plenty smooth, so why toss out fiber or flavor?

As I’ve said before, chocolate is hazelnut’s soulmate. So don’t hesitate to pour on the fudge sauce.

Nocciola Gelato (Hazelnut Ice Cream Without an Ice Cream Machine)

  • 2 cups whole milk (or equivalent of nonfat or low-fat with cream)
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ cup hazelnuts, toasted (Trader Joe’s)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3 tablespoons Frangelico hazelnut liqueur, or vodka
  1. Finely grind toasted hazelnuts with 2 tablespoons of the sugar in food processor, until it almost turns into a nut butter. Set aside.
  2. Heat milk on the stove or in the microwave until it is very warm but not boiling.
  3. In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks, adding the remaining 4 tablespoons of sugar gradually. Continue to beat about 3 minutes until the mixture is light and pale yellow.
  4. Gradually add the warm milk, stirring until blended.
  5. Pour the mixture into a saucepan and add the hazelnuts. Warm over a medium heat, stirring constantly to avoid any burning. Be careful not to let the mixture boil. It should thicken slightly, enough to lightly coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat.
  6. Stir in vanilla and Frangelico liqueur.
  7. Pour carefully into ice cube trays placed on a rimmed baking sheet. Freeze for two or three hours, until solid.
  8. Use a fork to stab the edge of each frozen cube and slide it into the food processor. (This avoids turning over the ice cube tray, which can create a mess.) Whir until smooth. Spoon into a quart container and freeze until firm. You can stir it up from time to time if you want to aerate a little more.
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