Almond Marsala Gelato

I have to admit that I don't eat ice cream often unless I go somewhere like Maggie Moo or Baskin-Robbins where I can get a nice fat waffle cone and sit outside enjoying it in the summer heat with a friend; if I happen to buy something for home, it tends to stay neglected in the freezer, despite my love for the confection. I think it has something to do with memories of adolescent summers, meeting friends at an ice cream shop and hanging out on the trunks of our cars, idly chatting while we relax with our treat. Sitting inside eating a bowl of ice cream simply isn't the same, so I really almost never buy it unless I find something that looks truly delicious (like mascarpone ice cream with hazelnuts and fudge ribbons).

Billy, on the other hand, is an ice cream FREAK. You can bet that nearly every single night he makes himself a bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream sprinkled with extra chopped bits of bittersweet chocolate from our pantry. Of course, he adds the extra chocolate because he's never able to find a brand that adds chocolate in just the right amount using just the right method; if he does happen to find that brand, he usually gets one container of ice cream out of it before it's completely disappeared from the store. That's why, when we saw this Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker, we just had to have it. Finally, Billy could have the mint chocolate chip he'd always dreamed of and I could put my culinary creativity to good work and make as many crazy flavors as I please...scooping them into a cone to enjoy on my back porch, of course ;)  

Yesterday was my family's Fourth of July celebration and, after having made an experimental batch of Cannoli Cream Gelato, my mom suggested I bring that as my dessert. I thought it was a great idea considering the heat and decided to take the chance to make even more and have a little ice cream bar with it all. So, I came up with the second idea of Almond Marsala (inspired by my favorite pie crust), while Billy picked out a wonderful dark chocolate recipe from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home, a book I needed to own after reading reviews that it had recipes for homemade ice cream that actually stayed soft and creamy rather than turning into a gritty, icy mess, which is exactly what my experimental batch of Cannoli Cream Gelato had done. It was so perfectly creamy right out of the machine, but a disaster out of the freezer...more on that when I blog the recipe, though.

So, my original idea for dessert was essentially an ice cream bar where we'd have three ice creams, cones, chocolate sauce, fruit...you know, all the general staples of an ice cream bar, plus the cakes and pies others were going to bring. I had also wanted to make a nectarine tart, though, simply because I have a ton of ripe nectarines on hand and thought it would be really refreshing, especially topped with ice cream (I didn't end up making the tart, yet, but that's beside the point). My problem was that I didn't feel like the two ice creams Billy and I were definitely going to bring were right to serve with fruit and I really wanted something to go with it. So, I racked my brain trying to think of something that would be unique, but would taste wonderful alongside roasted nectarines or fresh, macerated strawberries. That's when I thought of Marsala wine and almonds, which I use in many pie crusts to complement the fruit inside. It seemed like the perfect combination for my purpose, so that's exactly what I did!  

Because I'm absolutely no expert on the chemistry behind ice cream, though, I chose to use recipes from my new cookbook as bases for my own, simply altering the flavors. You know how I love to tell people to take a recipe and make it their own! By doing so, I was able to make an ice cream with great texture, but still have the ability to take credit for the taste. For the Almond Marsala, I used Jeni's "Cognac Ice Cream" recipe, simply replacing cognac with Marsala (actually, doubling the amount, taking the chance that the ice cream would be softer because of the extra alcohol) and adding homemade almond paste as well as chopped almonds. I made sure to reference a recipe containing nuts, though, so I'd know what amount would be proper; I didn't want to end up with only a crunchy bite every so often or having more crunch than cream.

The resulting gelato has a light, overall almond flavor with just the right hit of sweet, fruity wine at the end, a combination that, I find, pairs perfectly with a bowl of fresh strawberries...

Almond Marsala Gelato (makes about 1 quart)


  • 1 1/2 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
  • 3/4 cup blanched, toasted almonds (half ground to a fine paste, half roughly chopped)
  • 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 tbsp + 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup Marsala wine

Whisk the cream cheese, almond paste, and salt in a medium bowl until combined; set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk about two tbsp of the milk with the cornstarch, so that the cornstarch is completely dissolved. As I've said before, cornstarch must be dissolved into liquid that is not heated. This little slurry you create will be added to the warmed mixture later.

In a heavy-bottomed, 4-quart saucepan, combine the heavy cream, remaining milk, sugar, and corn syrup. Bring the mixture to a rolling boil over medium-high heat, boiling for 4 minutes, exactly, and constantly scraping the bottom of the pan so as not to burn the milk. Remove from the heat, whisk in the cornstarch slurry, and then bring back to a boil and cook, still scraping constantly, until slightly thickened; this should take only about 1 minute.

Remove from the heat and gradually whisk into the cream cheese mixture; you want to pour slowly as you whisk so that it mixes smoothly and easily into the cream cheese and almond paste. Once smooth, stir in the Marsala. 

This ice cream base has to be chilled before it can be frozen with your ice cream machine. Jeni's method is to pour the mixture into a 1-gallon Ziploc freezer bag and submerge the sealed bag into an ice bath. I pour the mixture into a 9x13" pan (or larger), cover it with plastic wrap (allowing the plastic to touch the actual mixture so a skin doesn't form), and leave it in the fridge until cooled; it should be ready in an hour or less.

Once your ice cream base is chilled, you can freeze it into ice cream! You should follow the directions that accompany your ice cream machine, freezing until the mixture is thick and creamy. With my machine, it takes roughly 20 minutes; others may differ. Toward the end of the process, though, about five minutes before the ice cream should be ready, add the chopped almonds, ensuring they've mixed evenly before you stop churning the cream.

Pack your dessert into a storage container, pressing a sheet of parchment directly against the surface, seal with an airtight lid, and place in the coldest part of your freezer. Jeni says to allow it to firm up for at least 4 hours, but I'd say you can eat it whenever you'd like; you just may not want to try transporting it elsewhere until it's nicely firmed up.

To serve, I highly recommend mixing it into a big bowl of fresh strawberries and bananas, as I did this morning for breakfast... ;)

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