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Burning Question: Ice cream vs. gelato

A customer with cones from Giolitti gelateria in

A customer with cones from Giolitti gelateria in Rome. (Aug. 9, 2010) Credit: AP

What's the difference between gelato and ice cream?

Ice cream and gelato have a lot in common. They're both made with a mixture of cream, milk, sugar, flavorings and, sometimes, eggs. That mixture is poured into a machine that freezes it while churning it. The cold, creamy result can be depended upon to delight and refresh.

In commercial parlance, the terms ice cream and gelato have become virtually interchangeable. But there are differences.

Fat Ice cream has more fat. Federal standards require at least 10 percent milk fat; super-premium brands such as Häagen-Dazs contain 14 to 18 percent. There is no federal standard for gelato, but fat content usually ranges between 6 and 8 percent.

Overrun The churning process introduces air (overrun) into both ice cream and gelato. Ice cream can have up to a 100 percent overrun, which means that what you're getting is half ice cream, half air. Super- premium brands typically have overruns of about 20 percent. This is why a half cup of Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream weighs 103 grams and the same amount of Breyers weighs only 66 grams. Gelato is made with a very low overrun, usually in the neighborhood of 20 percent -- the same as super-premium ice creams.

Temperature and storage Once it's finished churning, ice cream goes into a sealed container in an extremely cold freezer, where it must "cure" for 24 hours. It will keep there for ages. Optimal serving temperature is about minus 10 degrees. Gelato, on the other hand, should be served as soon as possible. In a gelateria, it is held in open tubs at about 5 degrees and lasts, at most, a few days.

A few weeks ago I wrote about my general dissatisfaction with local restaurant bread baskets and also noted the paucity of great Long Island bread bakers. A few readers suggested I try the baguettes that are baked in full view of customers in the bakery department at North Shore Farms in Port Washington. I did, and they were excellent.

I should note that baguettes are among the simplest of classic breads. To make them, flour, water, salt and commercial yeast are mixed, kneaded, allowed to rise, then shaped and baked. When it comes to the great rustic European breads such as pain de campagne, pain au levain, pane Pugliese and ciabatta, the process is slower, more involved and relies not on commercial yeast, but on old-fashioned sourdough starters (levain and poolish in France, biga in Italy) that must be maintained and deployed with great care and skill.

It is the dearth of bakeries that practice the ancient art of sourdough that makes Long Island a tough place to get a great loaf. Blue Duck bakery in Southold (with branches in Riverhead and Southampton) is one exception.

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