Gelato and Brioche: Breakfast in Sicily

For sheer decadent deliciousness, gelato with brioche is hard to beat. Where on God’s earth did such a gorgeous idea ever take root? In Sicily, that’s where. And it’s not even some kind of exotic dessert, reserved for high days and holidays. Sicilians eat gelato con brioche for breakfast.

Long before we left home for the island, excitement at the prospect of trading up from yogurt, fresh fruit, cereal and toast to lashings of ice cream sandwiched inside a sweet, buttery bun began building up. In idle moments while planning the trip, we pondered which flavours we might go for: darkest chocolate, Nutella, coffee, or pistachio? Or maybe mango, peach, strawberry or blueberry? And could Sicilians routinely break their fast on ice cream and brioche, or had we been fed an urban myth?

The first morning we piled into the car and drove to Ragusa Ibla to find out. Threading our way through the cool, shaded streets on the way to the center, we happened upon Chef Ciccio Sultano, drawing on an early-morning cigarette outside his world-famous restaurant Il Duomo. Could he point us to the best place to get gelato. Ma certo, of course. It all depended whether we wanted a café where we could have the full works seated at a table, or a gelateria, where it would be breakfast on the hoof.

We chose the café option and settled down at pavement tables on the square below the Duomo, etched in dazzling white like a gorgeous Baroque birthday cake iced in white against an azure sky. At any moment we expected police cars to screech to a halt and Inspector Montalbano, Andrea Camilleri’s famous Sicilian serial cop (the TV series was filmed here), to leap out with his uniformed team in hot pursuit of some hapless criminal.

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We placed our orders and leaned back expectantly. After a gentle pause, breakfast arrived. Cappuccinos with smileys traced in frothy milk, freshly squeezed orange juice, a couple of cannoli front-loaded with ricotta and candied fruits and the long-awaited pièces de résistance: cushions of warm, softly yielding brioche cradling sinfully smooth, ice cold gelato. We wrapped our hands around them, took a bite, moaned in pleasure, munched again. Heaven.

I could hardly wait to get home to try reconstructing the experience. Two things to keep in mind for gelato con brioche. First, choose ice creams that are assertively flavored and richly coloured – vanilla just doesn’t cut it. I’ve given two recipes below, one for palest peach, the other for deep purplish blackcurrant, though you could just as well buy gelato (but it must be one that believes in itself).

For the peach version it helps to have an ice cream maker as it freezes rock-hard; for lack of such a kitchen toy, make the gelato mixture, freeze it till semi-hard, then either tip it into a food processor and whisk it up till smooth, or beat it like crazy with a hand-held mixer. Then return it to the freezer. The blackcurrant one can be made without an ice cream maker as the egg yolk-sugar syrup combination gives a softer, smoother ice that doesn’t need churning or beating as it freezes.

Then the brioches. These should not be the French-type, Julia Child-variety with a little topknot perched on top, which would be hard to cleave in two and even harder to fill with your gelato. You need a flattish, sweetish, buttery, eggy, burnished bun (think along the lines of a burger bun, but nicer) that can easily be opened up, stuffed with ice cream – ideally with both your chosen flavors – reassembled and eaten on the hand. For breakfast.

Peach gelato with brioche

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Serves 6

1 pound (500 grams) ripe peaches (yellow- or white-fleshed)
5 ounces (150 grams) sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
8 ounces (250 grams) Mascarpone
5 ounces (150 grams) Greek yogurt
6 brioches, about 2.5 inches (6 centimeters) diameter

  • Put the peaches in a bowl and cover with boiling water.
  • Count to 10, then pour away the water and peel the peaches. Remove the pits and chop the flesh roughly.
  • Put the chopped peaches in a food processor with the sugar and lemon juice and process till smooth.
  • Add the Mascarpone and Greek yogurt and process again.
  • Freeze in a metal container for 2 hours or until the ice cream begins to harden around the edges. Beat with a hand-held electric mixer or hand-held blender to smooth it out and prevent ice crystals forming. Return to the freezer to harden and beat/blend again after another couple of hours.
  • Remove from freezer to fridge at least an hour before serving so it softens up.
  • Split 6 brioches in half, not quite through, fill with gelato, close up as best you can and serve at once.

 

Blackcurrant gelato with brioche

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Serves 6

1 pound (500 grams) blackcurrants
8 ounces (250 grams) sugar
3 egg yolks
1 ¼ cups (300 milliliters) whipping cream
6 brioches, about 2.5 inches (6 centimeters) diameter

  • For the puree, wash the fruit and put it in a pan with 4 ounces (125 grams) sugar and 3 tablespoons of water.
  • Bring to a boil and simmer for about 5 minutes, just enough so the juice runs – don’t overdo this step; you don’t want jam, but fresh-flavored ice cream.
  • Push the fruit through a sieve, pressing hard to eliminate pips, and let the purée cool.
  • Put the remaining sugar in a small pan with half a cup of water and heat gently till the sugar is dissolved and the syrup is clear, not cloudy.
  • Raise the heat, bring the syrup to a rolling boil and continue boiling for about 5 minutes to the ‘thread stage’: dip a fork into the syrup and allow it to cool briefly (so you don’t burn yourself), then pinch a drop or two between finger and thumb repeatedly – as you separate finger and thumb, the syrup should form a slender thread.
  • Remove syrup from the heat and allow the bubbles to subside.
  • Using a hand-held electric mixer, start beating the egg yolks and pour on the hot syrup in a steady stream. Continue beating till the mixture is pale, thick and doubled in bulk (about 10 minutes).
  • In a separate bowl beat the cream till stiff.
  • Fold together the purée, egg mixture and cream, lifting and folding with a wire whisk to make sure they are well mixed.
  • Pour the ice cream into a suitable receptacle (recycled ice cream container, metal bowl) and freeze.
  • Remove ice cream from freezer about 10 minutes before serving.
  • Split 6 brioches in half, not quite through, fill with gelato, close up as best you can and serve at once.
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