Only three days in Florence, with a gelateria on every corner . I do what I can. A scoop of chocolate as I stroll along the Piazza Santa Croce, Pistachio as I gaze over the Ponte Vecchio, Stracciatella as I catch my breath in front of the Duomo, having just climbed the 400 or so steps winding up Giotto’s bell tower – although in this case, I must admit, the gelato is (almost) trumped by the view. I am quite pleased with myself, in an efficient, did-what-I-came-for kind of way.
And then its my last night in the city. I wander into a gelateria on the Piazza San Marco, a short walk from the Galleria dell’Accademia where I have just visited Michelangelo’s towering David, his eyes staring pensively into the distance. “Gelateria Delice Glace,” a modest shop without a web site — could it live up to its name?
While my niece and nephew blissfully eat their way through two scoops of vanilla (for Gabrielle), and chocolate (for Brian), I stand in front of the glass case separating me from rows of enticing flavors in a rainbow of equally enticing, bright summer colors. What should I choose? This might, after all, be my very last Florentine gelato for a very, very long time.
And then I notice it. A tub of pale-as-cream gelato, garnished with a sprig of green leaves. My eyes had skipped over it, dazzled by the competing citrus yellows, kiwi-greens and strawberry-pinks. The tub is full; no one else has noticed it, either. I lean down and peer at the faded, hand-scrawled label: Gelsomino. Sounds pretty. But is it good? And what is it, anyway?
Jasmine. Jasmine-flavored gelato. The man behind the counter is enthusiastic. I wonder if he’s sincere, or if he’s trying to unload a flavor flop. Then I remember my grandmother’s small balcony in Athens, two jasmine plants growing in clay pots, reaching up to the bright blue sky, framing each side of our balcony door. Every summer, the shrubs would blossom in a profusion of small, white, fragrant flowers. Yiayia always said that her jasmine plants, while perennially vibrant, never flowered as gloriously as they did the summer my aunt got married, and the summer I was born.
So I order a scoop, a small, tentative scoop. And then I am sorry. I should have ordered two, or three. The gelato tastes as light and fragrant as the jasmine flowers on Yiayia’s balcony. The man behind the counter smiles. We are both very pleased.
Now, all too soon, I am a world away from Florence. What can I do? I live in Wisconsin, and no one has fresh jasmine flowers. So I order some natural jasmine extract on the Internet, and take down my ice-cream maker. Two hours later, I take my first, tentative taste. I close my eyes and I feel myself standing once again in front of the pleased gelato man, in the gelateria on the Piazza San Marco, remembering my grandmother and her beloved jasmine plants flowering on our balcony in our long-gone house in Athens.
Jasmine Ice Cream
This ice-cream can be flavored with an infusion made from food-grade jasmine flowers, or with jasmine tea, or jasmine extract. I made it using the extract. The ice-cream tastes JUST like the flowers smell, so if you like jasmine tea, or jasmine rice, or jasmine rice-pudding, you will LOVE this. My friend, who does not like any of these things, wrinkled her nose and said she felt like she was eating an incense stick.
The following recipe makes one quart.
- 1 cup whole milk
- ¾ cup sugar
- 2 cups heavy cream
- Pinch of salt
- 6 large egg yolks
- Jasmine extract**
** I use 1 teaspoon jasmine extract, but you may find the flavor too strong. When the recipe calls for adding the extract, start with 1/2 teaspoon and taste. If the flavor is too subtle, keep adding more extract in 1/4 teaspoon increments. Keep in mind that the flavor intensifies as the mixture cools. You can also add a bit more extract just before pouring the mixture into the ice-cream maker if needed.
In a medium saucepan, add milk, sugar, 1 cup of heavy cream and pinch of salt. Warm gently over medium-low heat.
Pour remaining 1 cup cream into large bowl and set a fine sieve on top.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Very slowly, add the warmed milk mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Pour the egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan.
Place the saucepan over medium heat and continually stir until mixture thickens and coats the back of the spoon. Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the cream. Add the jasmine extract (starting with ½ teaspoon and adding more to your liking) and stir until cool. The jasmine flavor will intensify when the custard cools.
Chill the mixture thoroughly in your refrigerator. Freeze in your ice-cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.