hazelnut, limoncello, pistachio gelato!

Somehow in the minds of the dr bob cooking team, a real self-freezing ice cream machine had always remained in the category of  delayed acquisitions for some remote future date, one of those upscale toys that was an indulgence whose time had not yet come. Which is the beauty of gift giving (receiving!). Out of the blue someone decides for you that the time has come. We had done so as a wedding present for close friends in Italy, after another close friend had taken the plunge herself, researching the best product and verifying the claims with personal experience, and we got a purchase deal (still a considerable pile of lira at the time) from another close friend whose parents had a small appliance store, but soon after marrying, reproduction began and the gelato experience was cut short by the arrival of two delightful little girls, more fun than making ice cream but of course a lot more work.

And without an ice cream machine, you can't really experiment with ice cream recipes. So when bob was browsing in Borders some years ago and spotted the newly issued paperback Under the Tuscan Sun which marked the beginning of a wave of American fascination with farmhouses and country living in Tuscany, and leafed through it and spotted a hazelnut gelato recipe introduced with superlative hype by the author Frances  Mayes, he snatched it up without any immediate plans for execution, although clearly with the intention of one day trying it himself. The whole cooking team read the book, but still this did not push the ice cream machine buy-me button. We did, however, eventually get our weekend in a farmhouse on a hill in Umbria, as a guest of our first ice cream machine advisor, when we finally were initiated into the mysteries of pizza making.

Then Christmas 2003 arrived, and our dessert-garnishing on-line-shopper sister-in-law surprised bob with a web-researched best-buy ice cream maker. It was only a matter of time before the hazelnut gelato dream was realized. The first two holiday batches were vanilla and chocolate, since the finicky nieces and nephews, like most American kids below a certain age, wouldn't accept any other flavors. Then we were free to try hazelnut, with a little experience already under our belts. The adult focus group we tried it out on loved it. And repeated compliments more than necessary, going so far as to hint they would gladly accept any overproduction that might occur in the future. A winning strategy for them since we like to please.

And the move from hazelnut (Frangelico) to limoncello, a simple switch of our two favorite Italian liqueurs that proved successful with cheesecake, was the obvious next step. And we couldn't resist the urge to meddle a bit with the details in the modification. While guessing wildly on the amount of limoncello to go with. Looks like we guessed right. More adulation. If only we can figure out how to reduce the fat someday soon...

So the next flavor choice was ani's favorite ice cream flavor: pistachio, which is a favorite Middle East nut. It took a long time for bob to distinguish pistachio from mint ice cream because they both were light green, and mint, though prized in salads and savory dishes by everybody on the dr bob cooking team now, has been on the dr bob dessert blacklist for life. Eventually bob caught on. After tasting a delicious version of pistachio at a new area gourmet gelato storefront Capogiro which even bob had to admit tasted better than his choices, we had to try it ourselves. A Google search leading to RecipeSource.com, and a separate check of Epicurious.com guided us in our modification to include a teaspoon each of almond and vanilla extract, with a touch of cardamom from on-line reader feedback to the Bon Appetit recipe. Another success story.


hazelnut gelato   limoncello gelato   pistachio gelato
3 egg yolks 3 egg yolks 3 egg yolks
3/4 c sugar   3/4 c sugar   3/4 c sugar
1 T Frangelico   1/4 c limoncello   1 t almond extract
        1 t vanilla extract
1/4 t cardamom
2 c [= 1 pt] half and half (nonfat?)   2 c [= 1 pt] half and half (nonfat?)   2 c [= 1 pt] half and half (nonfat?)
1 c heavy (or light) cream   1 c heavy (or light) cream   1 c heavy (or light) cream
juice and zest of 1/2 lemon        
3/4 c hazelnuts, toasted and
      3/4 c pistachios, finely crumbed
1/4 c pistachios, roughly chopped


  1. This is a two stage recipe: cooking the custard and cooling, then mixing in add-ins before inserting into the ice cream machine.
  2. For the hazelnut gelato, coarsely chop (Frances) or finely crumb (us) the hazelnuts (or divide and do both) and spread out on a cookie sheet and bake at 350° F watching closely until they just turn brown. They turn color quickly once they start and too easily burn shortly thereafter. Set aside.
  3. For the pistachio gelato, finely crumb 3/4 c of the unsalted, shelled and peeled (buy them that way) nuts, and coarsely (but not too coarsely) chop the remaining 1/4 c. We put them in a zip-lock bag and used our chicken breast pounder to get the right size.
  4. Prepare the lemon zest and for the hazelnut gelato, the lemon juice. Skip this for the others. We want the limoncello to be silky smooth in any case.
  5. Wisk or beat together the egg yolks and sugar in the top of a double boiler as though making zabaglione. We found it easier to add the liqueur or extracts/cardamom at this stage to compensate for the extra sugar that stiffens up the mixture. (Frances recommends adding it later with the heavy cream.) The yolks should turn light yellow as in the zabaglione process. It might be a good idea to reserve half the sugar until the next step so the mixture does not lose its liquid state and become too thick. For the pistachio gelato, mix in the finely crumbed pistachios so that their essence cooks into the mixture.
  6. Heat up the half and half until it is warm but not scalding (2 minutes on high in the microwave!) and gradually add it to the egg mixture while continuously beating with electric beaters so the eggs are not shocked by the heat.
  7. Then place the top pan with the mixture into the double boiler (pre-boil the water) and cook beating or stirring constantly until the mixture thickens slightly without boiling. We check that the temperature elevates over 160° F but this seems to be easier to reach than thickening, which takes about 10 minutes. Ani has shown that towards the end one needs to use a wooden spoon to feel the thickening reach the desired point.
  8. Cool in the freezer about 30 minutes, covering first with plastic wrap.
  9. Remove from the freezer and mix in the heavy (light?) cream and remaining ingredients in the nut cases.
  10. Pour into the ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer's instructions. We set our Lello Gelato machine timer on 40 minutes on the recommendation relayed by our sister-in-law from customer feedback she found while surfing. Maybe 35 is enough. Check near the end of the time period.

This multitasking recipe is a bit busy. Here is the hazelnut by itself as it has evolved since its inception.

instructions for hazelnut gelato only

  1. No lemons anymore.
  2. We get blanched hazelnuts from Whole Foods (i.e., no skins) and roast them about 10 minutes or so at 350° F until they are golden brown to enhance their flavor, then cool them and food process them into fine crumbs, and then a paste by adding 1/4 milk or light cream and 1/4 c sugar to intensify the flavor when it is later steeped with the cooling custard. If you want a smooth gelato, you can squeeze the hazelnut paste through a sieve or cheesecloth or something that we never seem to have on hand. Some day we will try this.
  3. Meanwhile with the electric beaters beat the egg yolks in the top part of your double boiler with half a cup of sugar until yellow, then beat in the Frangelico.
  4. Start the double boiler water boiling.
  5. Heat the half and half in the microwave about a minute until hot but not boiling.
  6. Put the egg mixture pot over the double boiler on the stove and pour the half and half into the egg mixture while beating with the electric beaters and continue beating over the double boiler. At some point you can switch to a wooden spoon to keep stirring the custard mixture.
  7. After about 10 minutes (now less on our new improved kitchen stove), check that the temperature is at least 165° or so with an instant read thermometer, then remove top from the double boiler and beat in the hazelnut paste. It will "steep" with the custard mixture, hopefully infusing it better with its flavor.
  8. Pour (scrape sides) the resulting mixture into an adequate size bowl and cover with plastic wrap pushed down to the surface so that no scum forms on the top.
  9. Put in the freezer to cool down, say 30 minutes.
  10. Remove from freezer and pour in the cream, then into the ice cream maker bucket. Process. Ours takes about 40-45 minutes. Then put into the freezer.


  1. Under the Tuscan Sun, by Frances Mayes, paperback edition 1997, p.136.
  2. Gelato by Lello, no company website yet. It has served us well.
  3. Capogiro Gelato, originally at 13th & Sansom then also at 117 South 20th Street, Philly Center City.
  4. 2015 discovery: it should have read "juice and zest of 1/2 lemon"! (we halved the original recipe to fit in typical gelato machines but forgot to halve the lemon, now corrected above). Borders Books and Music is long gone, a causualty of the internet age.
  5. Illustrations available.


This basic recipe can easily be converted into many other variations with a little imagination.

hzllmcgl.htm: 15-apr-2015 [what, ME cook? © 1984 dr bob enterprises]