We all scream for ice cream, but have you considered shouting for semifreddo? Or perhaps wailing for gelato or shrieking for a granita? Pastry chef and cookbook author Maria Capdevielle is a big fan of all three, and will be kicking off our summer Ice Cream and Beyond series with her sold-out workshop.

But even if you weren’t able to snag a spot in her class, Maria wants to educate you about the world of frozen desserts that exists outside the ice cream maker, including her favorite no-churn option, the Champagne granita she serves on romantic occasions and a method for making sorbet out of any fruit. (You can also join the waitlist, or sign up for our Food Processor Ice Cream class, taught by our very own April Dodd.)

The term “ice cream” often is used as a catch-all term for frozen desserts. What makes ice cream different from gelato or sorbet?

Well, the proportion of fat is important, and the temperature [at which it is served] and how it's served is also important. But ice cream is a cream that is icy, so that's the general idea. Gelato has more milk and ice cream has more cream and more fat, and the temperature at which it is served is colder. In fact, when you serve gelato, you leave it out for 10 minutes, and then you serve it so it's softer.

When it's too icy, you don't taste the flavors really well. When I worked in restaurants and we made gelato everyday, whatever was left, we passed it through the gelato maker machine, and then we would leave it out for 10 minutes and then put it in a bucket with ice. It wasn't completely frozen.

In Italy, you can find all kinds of flavors. It gets wild. There is a gelateria called Veleno, which means “poison.” They combine different flavors, even peperoncino, and things like that. But at a gelateria, I would start simple with the basic flavors, especially pistachio, nocciola—you are always going to find those, but yeah, it can get wild in Italy.

Both gelato and ice cream are churned. What is the purpose of churning?

It incorporates air into the mix and that keeps it creamy when it's frozen. Because if you just put it in the freezer, it will be like an ice cube. By moving it, you start to incorporate air and creaminess. And fat also prevents it from becoming completely frozen.

If you don’t have an ice cream maker, you start whipping the cream, and then fold it, and then freeze it, and then every 10 minutes fold it again. So the cream is getting frozen while [you’re] incorporating air inside. So churning is the process of moving, but it's also incorporating air. And then by freezing it, it gets stable. So it has a special texture.

Does agitation prevent large ice crystals from forming?

Exactly. Which [you want to] happen with the granita. These desserts are very different. With the granita, I make a syrup, then add the fruits or the flavors I want, and then I freeze it. And every 20 minutes, with a fork, I start breaking the ice. And because it doesn’t have fat, you feel the ice [crystals]. It's slightly smaller, but you feel the ice, but if I added fat, it would have a creamier texture.

I make [the crystals] very small. With a fork, I keep mixing every 20 minutes, so I make small crystals. And when you go to Italy on the beach, you'll see the machines running, so they make the ice very, very small, so you taste more of the syrup and the fruits.

Do you add alcohol to a granita?

You can. But alcohol prevents freezing, so you have to be careful with the amount of alcohol you add. In fact, I have a Champagne granita that I used to serve for Valentine's Day. But the proportion—it's a bottle of Champagne, and I think it's 4 cups of water and 4 cups of sugar. Of course, it doesn't freeze completely, but you don't get ice cubes because the alcohol depresses the freezing point.

And then there is semifreddo. Semifreddo is very interesting. With gelato, you create the base and then you pass it through the ice cream machine to incorporate air and the machine will do everything. But in the case of a semifreddo, which is lovely, you make a sabayon by cooking the eggs with the sugar in a double boiler. And then you add the flavoring. In this case [for the class], I am going to do a raspberry one, so I will do raspberry puree. And then I whip the cream. So, when you whip a cream, you incorporate air, right? And then you fold it into the sabayon. And then you put it in the freezer. And you don't need to do anything every 20 minutes. And then you can scoop it out like a gelato. It's so amazing. It's so rich. When it's so rich, it's pretty much creamy no matter what.

They’re also served sliced, right?

Yeah, and I want to show both. I was more of a restaurant chef, so I like to do plated desserts. If you have beautiful cups, you can fill them up and then put some sauce on top. But another option, which I love, is [to freeze it in] a loaf pan lined with parchment, then you put the cream inside, and when it's frozen you can slice it with some sauce, in this case, raspberry sauce or chocolate sauce. Some people like the fruit and the chocolate. If I don't have an ice cream machine, I will do all kinds of semifreddo, which is perfect.

Is semifreddo your favorite no-churn frozen dessert?

That's my favorite because I can be super creative. I get bored. I am consulting in a bakery and last summer we did a semifreddo and people loved it. So every week I will change the flavor, like pistachio or caramel. That and granita. Granita is so versatile and so easy, and it can be part of a composition. I never serve it alone. Granita is something that needs to be served with something else. And in Italy they also use it as a palate cleanser in between courses.

I saw that it’s usually paired with brioche.

Yeah. It's not my favorite thing. When I do a composition I use different textures and different temperatures, and then if you can activate all the flavors—salty, citrus, sweet, bitter, umami—if you can try to incorporate all of these elements, people remember that dessert. So I try to do this kind of contrast, and it's more attractive and not boring. Because if you eat a bowl of granita, at the end you are kind of bored, right? It's the same flavor over and over and over. But if there's something salty in there and something warm in there, then you're like, “Huh, this is interesting.”

What's your favorite plated granita presentation?

I did a Champagne granita with a lemon tart. It had the warm meringue topping. And I don't remember exactly, but I probably added some caramelized nuts. But I tried a granita last week that was amazing. We went to Las Vegas for a concert. It was a strawberry profiterole, so it was shaped into a doughnut, then it had a strawberry granita in the middle, and a pastry cream with fresh strawberries inside, and then like a very subtle strawberry cream or glaze plus strawberry sauce. It was amazing, the combination of flavors.

Lately when I go to a restaurant, I don't feel like the dessert menu is interesting—here in the San Francisco Bay Area. So I kind of stopped ordering dessert. I usually order something different so I can get inspired, but it's always the same. Flourless chocolate cake or crème brûlée. But in Las Vegas? I was amazed.

How is sorbet different from a granita?

That's the other dessert that I love—sorbet. I love sorbet. You make a syrup. When I was in the restaurant, I always had syrup—one part sugar and one part water and bring it to a boil so the sugar dissolves. Then I'd add the fruit puree of my choice. It's really easy. If you have it [the syrup] cold, you just add the fruit puree. It has to be cold as well. In the bakery I am working now, they buy the puree from France, but I love making my own puree. I just cook it over low heat until the fruit breaks apart, maybe with a little bit of water, and then blend it and strain it if necessary. Some fruits I like complete, for example peaches; I just take the skin off, and then I blend it and I like the texture of the fruit. But raspberries, some people don't like the seeds. I don't mind the seeds, but I may strain it for a more delicate texture.

Sugar also affects ice crystal formation, right?

The more sugar, the softer [it is], because it also prevents freezing. And you always need more sugar than you think.
When you taste your sorbet, the base, when you add your puree, taste it. There is a proportion I use: Combine 2 cups of fruit purée or juice with 1/2 cup of sugar and 2-4 tablespoons of your choice of acid. If using simple syrup, you may need to use up to 1 cup, but start with less and work your way up. But when you taste it—I usually taste my base before freezing it—if it doesn't taste sweet, you need to add sugar.

Because for some reason, freezing makes things tastes less sweet. And depending on the fruit, you may need to add more sugar or less sugar. Raspberries usually need more sugar, because they are tart, or lemons, but then oranges are very sweet. Strawberries, depending. Now I am getting some very sweet ones, but usually strawberries also need sugar, all the berries kind of need more sugar. They have more tartness than sweetness, except cherries. Cherries are very sweet. In my family, everyone is a fan of cherries. Plums are delicious for sorbet, I love plum sorbet, but it needs sugar.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.


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