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Sweet Dreams are Made of This (Gelato)

As a sufferer of vicious ice cream headaches (or—excuse me—the cold stimulus headaches that Johns Hopkins comically refers to as an “unpleasant quirk of our existence rather than a serious disease”), I’ve learned to steel myself for the chill of frozen treats. It’s a bit of a hassle, but I can roll with it because what is waiting at the end of the spoon is (usually) worth it. What I haven’t quite gotten used to is the hardcore New England mania of eating ice cream in below freezing temperatures. I’m from Washington, DC, so my Toscanini’s stops pretty much end in November, to resume in the spring. That was especially the case this winter (shudder). I mean, it would have been like eating ice cream with Jon Snow on The Wall.

So now, just when ice cream and gelato are back in my good graces, I stumbled upon a Washington Post headline about gelato caldo, or “hot gelato,” and I was utterly and completely flummoxed. Hot gelato? This is turning a pastry cook’s world upside down right now!

My heart is thumping out of my chest as I keep reading. I’m already trying to conceptualize this oxymoron. Is it gelato with a molten liquid center? Are we talking a Baked Alaska made with gelato instead of ice cream at its core? Is this some sort of Wiley Dufresne–molecular–gastronomical sleight of hand?

The anticipation is killing me. I read the article, and when I come to the end, I’ll confess that gelato caldo remains an enigma (and therefore even more enticing).

After doing some digging around on the interwebs, I have more questions than answers. (I also had some good laughs upon hitting a wall of Italian websites and reading some horrible English translations, including this gem: “The hot ice cream cannot be described in words…E ‘as the fireplace after the snow, as the land after years of sailing: a riot of joy for the taste. An ice cream thrilling … hot!” [sic])

But I digress… It seems that gelato caldo was created to encourage sales of ice cream in winter months. It also has the added (albeit unintentional?) benefit of maintaining its integrity in hotter weather. It is, at least texturally, a bit of a gelato-mousse mash up.

At the Washington, DC, gelateria Dolci Gelati, Italian proprietor Gianluigi Dellacio may just be the only pastry chef this side of the Atlantic churning out the sweet treat. The former water polo player and father of catalog-cute-calibre children (some people live a charmed life) fires up his stand mixer to whip up his pistachio gelato combined with milk, meringue powder, and pistachio cream. As if this weren’t caloric enough, he serves up the scooped gelato caldo with more pistachio cream, chopped pistachios, some melted and chopped chocolate, and profiteroles (cream puffs). Dellacio is planning to roll out additional hot gelato flavors with which to roll you out of his store, including chocolate and coffee-chocolate. Now what would really be my ultimate sweet dream is to get these two flavors together with his pistachio gelato in one bowl.

Feature Photo Credit: “gelato ice cream” by Christos Theologou | Shutterstock

Johnisha Levi

Johnisha Levi is a Boston-area pastry cook and one of those very rare (think Pegasus) D.C. natives. If ithere's a documentary on food or true crime, chances are that she's seen it (or it's waiting in her Netflix queue). She's a culinary history nerd who is eager to spend her summer at culture learning more about cheese.