I found the Holy Grail

If I ask you to tell me the flavors of your childhood summers, I bet you won't even hesitate.  My formative years were defined by family barbeques, and I don't mean the 80-person lazy Sunday afternoon ones.  No, more likely it'd just be my dad making barbequed chicken on the grill for an average family dinner, to be eaten on the porch.  Sometimes it was flank steak.  Sometimes it was ribs.  The accompaniments were:  Mom's potato salad or Mom's macaroni salad (NEVER store-bought), corn (on the cob only, obvi), and black-eyed peas.  I'm sure we had a green salad, but I don't remember anything else.  For dessert, my mother had 2 go-tos made special for visiting guests:  Mint Chocolate Brownies, and Lemon Bars. Now before you even THINK they were anything similar to what you have eaten, guess again.  The Mint Chocolate Brownie was a layered brownie, topped with a homemade mint layer made with actual Crème de Menthe, and then topped with a uber-rich chocolate buttercream made from scratch.  Then all this was refrigerated.  The Lemon Bars had graham cracker crust with a filling of vanilla ice cream laced in with lemon curd.  Also refrigerated.  Two perfectly cool, rich, indulgent combinations that still haunt my dreams to this day.

And sometimes my waking moments.  Sometimes when I pass those guys grilling meat skewers from the food carts I am instantly transported back to summers by my grandmother's pool, anxiously awaiting dinner.  I even tried re-creating the Lemon Bars with this Kraft recipe I'd found (turns out lemon curd is super expensive and also hard to come by), and a few years ago I became OBSESSED with Haagen-Dazs Five Ice Cream in Lemon (which they discontinued cause it all just turned out to be a cleverly spun marketing campaign).  There is something very special and very unique to this blogger about lemon and creamy together.  Not a sorbet.  Not Italian ice.  You may wrinkle your nose, but to me, it is the perfect blend of summer cravings.  A quick glace through the freezer isle shows that lemon is a very neglected flavor when it comes to creamy applications, so it's no surprise that I went a bit gaga when I stumbled upon this:

LIMONCELLO GELATO by none other than Haagen-Dazs!  Surely, another marketing ploy, right?? WHO CARES!  It's so good, guys.  It's astoundingly like heaven.  And look!

Oh my god VODKA is listed as an actual ingredient!!!  What!  I guess if you really focus you'll be able to discern a little kick to it.  To me that just reminds me even more of the bitter zest that the lemon curd created.  This isn't like a syrupy-sweet lemonade.  It's something different.  Something more adult.  [Fellow ice cream blogger Nick Rovo from www.onsecondscoop.com writes:  To be honest, I think they only added [the vodka] to continue with their "Italian" theme. Lemon gelato would be too similar to the Lemon flavor they had in their 5 line so the inclusion of vodka makes it technically different. I could be wrong but I still feel like these gelato flavors are all just a re-branding of the 5 line they replaced.]  [See: "Marketing," above.] [See:  I'm OBSESSED with Haagen Dazs Five Lemon, also above.]

Now.  Why is it gelato instead of ice cream?  Cause it sure tastes like ice cream, if only that it doesn't come out of the freezer hard as a rock.  And because one of the three reasons gelato is different than ice cream is the temperature it's served in, well, that just gets negated when I keep it in my freezer, right?  Serious Eats says:

"Compared to today's American-style ice cream (that's one made with egg yolks, as is basically the new standard in home recipes and commercial products), gelato has less fat in the base and less air churned into it during the freezing process. American ice creams are heavy on the cream, and have a fat content, by American labeling law, of at least 10% (considerably higher in most homemade and many premium versions). Gelato, by comparison, uses more milk than cream, so it doesn't have nearly as much fat. Additionally, it usually—but not always—uses fewer (to the point of none) egg yolks, another source of fat in custard-based ice creams."

Ok, we get that.  Notice in my vodka pic the saturated fat is at 25% as opposed to 50%, as it is in the Haagen-Dazs vanilla.  But that still doesn't answer WHY an ice cream company like Haagen- Dazs made a gelato at all.  This article in The Village Voice asks - and kinda answers - my very same question.

"That said, there's no real rule in the United States for labeling something gelato instead of ice cream, so it's not impossible to find gelato with a fair amount of air and butterfat, or ice cream that's quite thick and dense. In fact, that's what makes Häagen-Dazs "premium": the company makes its ice cream in a thicker style than many other brands, which makes it perceptibly richer -- much like, ironically, gelato.  So how is the brand's actual gelato different? Per the company, it's "creamier and softer in texture than regular ice cream." Häagen-Dazs also specifically notes that it uses less butterfat in its gelato, à la traditionally made gelato in the Italian style. It also seemed sweeter, with the gelato coming up consistently a few grams higher on the sugar count, which also falls in line with traditional gelato.  Overall, though? Not that different."

So, what have we learned about marketing, Boys and Girls?  Zero.  A lemon ice cream by any other name is still stupendously, breathtakingly transporting to me.  And that's what ice cream is about:  finding your bliss.  I'll find you at the bottom of this pint about 2 days from now. :)

Got a flavor that rings bells in your ears?  Tell me in the comments below!  I'd love to know!

I went to get a massage and ended up getting ice cream. Twice.

Ricotta & Panna Cotta gelato at Albero del Gelato
Ricotta & Panna Cotta gelato at Albero del Gelato

I have a rough history with Park Slope.  Last year I went there to rent a bike and ended up getting ice cream instead.  This year I went to go get a massage I bought on Lifebooker - I will spare you the annoying story, but suffice it to say: no massage.  The only thing I could think that would come close to raising my spirits would be ice cream, so I started walking, aiming vaguely for Sky Ice.  And by doing so, I stumbled upon a new - YES, NEW! - ice cream shop that wasn't even on my list guys, called Albero del Gelato.

How did Albero del Gelato escape my radar?  I don't know either.  Cause you know what?  This is the REAL DEAL.  As in, L'Albero is a mini-chain in Lombardi begun in 1985, and this is their American branch, in Park-freaking-Slope, of all places.  In June 2013, husband and wife team Monica and Alessandro Solighetto came to Brooklyn (along with Monica's brother Fabio) to expand their line, bringing with them pastry chef Mauro (they serve an amazing selection of pastries, wines, cheeses, and salumi in addition to the gelati).

I'm in love with everything about them.  First of all - the gelato is made in-house, using local milk from the Seven Stars Farm in Pennsylvania (certo).  Everything is natural and organic, there are no flavorings, dyes, preservatives or artificial additives (naturalmente).  Their website is scrawled with their value on "slow food" - good, clean and fair food. In other words, food that is good for you, good for the environment and fair to the producers.  Sounds amazing so far, right?  Here's the best part:

"Each season has its fruit. Each season has its vegetable. Each season, these fruits and vegetables are turned into gelato!  Each week at L'Albero our master gelato maker, in accordance with what nature is giving us that week, creates new flavors for the week. Some will be sweet, some savory. L'Albero is not your traditional "gelateria"; if eggplant is in season, expect a savory eggplant gelato! If lavender is in season, the master is likely to make a special lavender gelato. Each gelato is a journey and we can never know what the master will make tomorrow."

HOW COOL IS THAT?!  So not only will you find the most unique flavors of gelato (hello, Ice Cream Trend of 2015) but you're guaranteed to have a unique experience every time you go.  When I went, here's what was offered:

HOW DO YOU CHOOSE!?  For the record, since I always choose sweet over savory,  I went with one scoop Ricotta & Amaretto and one scoop Panna Cotta & Raspberry.  It was fabulous.  This place is going on the MUST LIST!

...........................aaaaand......... (because I just can't help myself), I decided to pick up a pint from the BK Larder on the way to the train.

HOW DO I CHOOSE!??!  Banana Caramel Chip??  Goat Milk with Dulce de Leche??  Kill me now.

I don't recall how BK Larder's ice cream crossed my path (Time Out?) but let's start at the top.  Opened in June 2009, BK Larder is a retail cheese and provisions shop specializing in sustainably produced ingredients, hand-crafted cheeses, homemade prepared foods, and hard-to-find grocery items.  It's like, the best deli - EVER.  Additionally, the gelato is actually made in-house.  PS, The staff there is so awesome too.  Since I couldn't decide on which flavor, I asked my usual two questions:  which was the most popular (salted caramel, yawn) and which was this staff member's personal favorite.  She sold me on that immediately:  Budino al Pane.

And when I started asking questions about how the gelato was made, she actually took my email and then Patrick the pastry chef followed up and emailed me the following info:

"We start with our regular base, made with Battenkill Creamery milk & cream (from upstate NY), sugar, dextrose, and salt.  Then we darkly toast Pain de mie bread (side explanation, courtesy of Wikipedia:"la mie" refers specifically to the soft part of bread, called the crumb. In English, pain de mie is most similar to pullman loaf.  This bread has sugar in it, which makes it sweeter than most French breads)and then steep that bread in the milk base. We then strain the bread and toast it again until it dries out and fold that into the spun gelato, for some texture and flavor."

Um, hello.  The result is as if someone made you the most amazing French toast and then bruleed it and then put it in really amazing vanilla gelato.

I devoured it in 2 sittings.  You know I did.

The point is everyone - that I now have THREE destination-worthy ice cream stops in Park Slope and moreover, I want to visit them again and again so they will continue to surprise me.  And you should too!!