When she returned home to Studio City, Silverton and husband Joel Gutman, longing to recreate that special sense of community, founded Gelato Bar in trendy Tujunga Village, where all ages and groups could meet. And because it feels so good to be there, folks tend to linger.
It's not easy to find a place where everything seems right with the world.
But it's possible to encourage the same camaraderie at our bar or bat mitzvah parties by creating a warm, welcoming environment. And at the center, your own gelateria, where guests are invited to sample the flavors, personalize their handmade cones or bowls with a variety of toppings, and kibbitz, laugh and linger with guests from every generation.
What Is Gelato?
Gelato is dairy-based dessert made with fruits, nuts, chocolate, toffee or any number of enticing ingredients. Sorbetto is dairy-free, made only of fruit, sugar and water, so it contains no fat or cholesterol.
As delicious as gelato is, it's lower in calories, sugar, carbs and fat than American ice cream. Gelato uses more milk than cream so it contains 4 percent to 8 percent butterfat; American ice cream features 10 percent to 18 percent butterfat.
How to Pick the Best Gelato
When deciding on flavors for your party, a good mixture is four gelatos, such as stracciatella, vanilla, pistachio and hazelnut and two sorbettos, such as raspberry and mango.
If you're feeling adventurous, experiment making your own gelato, but for a large party it's easier to buy it from the gelateria in your neighborhood, like Gelato Bar or Piccomolo.
High-quality gelato is made in metal pans with fresh, natural ingredients and has no preservatives or artificial flavoring. Beware if the color is too intense, warns Silverton and Tyler George, vice president of operations at Piccomolo. It is probably filled with food coloring. Lemons are not sun-blinding yellow and pistachio nuts are not florescent green; in fact, they are a dull, grayish green color. The flavors should be just as they appear in nature.
To retain the high quality and flavor, gelato is made in small batches and stored in display cases at 6 degrees to 8 degrees so it retains its soft, creamy texture. Because gelato is not rock-hard, it has a sculptural, wavy presentation which can be accented with fresh fruits or nuts. It works best to use a flat, rather than a ball- shaped scoop.
For your party, arrange to pick up the gelato at the last possible minute; experts say it should be consumed within hours after it's made. According to George, Piccomolo will pull a pan of gelato if it's been in the case for more than 36 hours.
Because gelato has such a rich, intense flavor, it doesn't cry out for toppings; it is itself a topping, Gelato Bar's Silverton says.
She loves to plop a scoop of gelato atop a brownie or a brioche, wedge it between a pair of Oreos or peanut butter cookies (Silverton prefers the cookies baked by her sister, La Brea Bakery owner Nancy Silverton) to make a gelato sandwich or even a double-decker gelato sandwich. Silverton also loves to top a scoop of gelato with a flat chocolate cookie so it resembles a graduation hat or even a fan made of a pizzelle wafer.
Since American teens love toppings, set out bowls of chopped toasted almonds, Valrhona chocolate pearls, English toffee, shredded coconut, miniature chocolate chips or even colorful gummy bears.
Adults will probably take their gelato plain or with a dollop of freshly whipped cream. In Italy, it is made with a smidge of sugar, vanilla or hazelnut flavoring.
Silverton says sorbetto needs little more than freshly whipped cream.
A good gelateria such as Piccomolo will have a commercial pizzelle iron, which resembles a waffle iron and produces thin pliable waffle cookies. You can shape the warm pizzelles into a cone or for the "spoon set," a bowl, which actually holds more gelato.
Make them in advance or set out two irons on the gelato table at your b'nai mitzvah celebration and, under supervision of a knowledgeable pizzelle maker, let guests make their own.
The beauty is there will be no two alike. This appeals to the artist in me, but if you'd rather have a sea of cones of the same dimensions, you can order them from your local gelateria.
Although cones with a flat bottom are easier to serve, many people prefer the classic sugar cone, which comes to a point at the end.
The lingering part of our gelato dessert table is enhanced by adding some do-it-yourself drink ideas, such as Affogato, Italian Soda, and Raspberry Verjus (see recipes).
Presentation is Everything
If you know a catering company or gelateria with a gelato cart for rent, think no further. It will keep everything at just the right temperature and make you feel like a pro as you deftly scoop out the gelato and allow guests to personalize their dessert. Silverton and Gutman sometimes come out with a gelato cart to cater an event themselves.
Even if you're setting up the table yourself, keep the gelato in the metal pans they were made in and place them on top of a container filled with ice; dry ice is even better since it stays colder longer and leaves no moisture as it changes state. Remember, gelato melts quickly, so have an ice chest or freezer nearby and keep replacing the pans of gelato as needed. A pan of gelato can stay out of the freezer or ice chest for up to 15 minutes.
Your table should have plates of cookies used for making gelato sandwiches, the gelato toppings set out in pretty, colorful bowls, and all the ingredients and accessories for assembling the cold drinks and the pizzelle batter. Set up separate areas for all this activity. Leave enough free space for people to make their pizzelle cones or bowls, top their gelato, and assemble the drinks.
Adapted from "Gelato!" by Pamela Sheldon Johns (Ten Speed Press, 2000).
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
In a medium saucepan, combine cream, milk and sugar.
Cook over medium heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved, and then cook until bubbles form around the edges of the pan.
Remove from heat. Add the vanilla bean, scraping seeds into the milk, and let stand for 30 minutes. Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours, or until thoroughly chilled.
Remove the vanilla pod and stir in the chocolate pieces. Transfer to an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Makes 1 quart.
Adapted from "Gelato!"
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup spring water
4 cups fresh raspberries
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 egg white
In a medium saucepan, combine sugar and water over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Set aside to cool.
In a blender or food processor, purÃï¿½(c)e 3 1/2 cups raspberries until smooth. Strain in a fine-meshed sieve to remove the seeds. Stir into the cooled sugar syrup. Stir in lemon juice. Refrigerate at least two hours until chilled.
Transfer mixture to ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer's directions until partially frozen. Add the egg white and continue to freeze until firm.
Makes 1 quart.
Pizzelle Cones or Wafers
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg or cinnamon (optional)
2 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon vanilla (optional)
In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt and spices, if desired. Stir to mix and set aside.
In another large bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the sugar until stiff, glossy peaks form. Whisk in 2 tablespoons of the melted butter and vanilla, if using. Fold the egg whites into the flour mixture. Place the remaining butter in a container with a pour spout.
Heat a pizzelle iron according to manufacturer's instructions and brush it with a light coat of the remaining melted butter. Pour a small amount of batter in center of each pizzelle stamp, close, and cook for 30 to 45 seconds, until golden brown. Shape as desired while warm.
Makes six regular or 12 mini cones.
2 to 3 tablespoons Italian syrup such as Monin or Torani
8 ounces sparkling water
Pour syrup over ice. Add sparkling water.
For a creamier drink, combine 1/4 cup milk or 1 tablespoon half & half and the syrup before pouring it over the ice.
Makes one serving.
Verjus is tart, fresh juice made from unripe wine grapes. Labeled either as verjus or verjuice, it literally means "green juice."
1/4 to 1/2 cup raspberries
1 to 2 teaspoons sugar (optional)
1/2 cup chilled verjus
1/2 cup chilled sparkling water
Sprinkle raspberries with sugar. Add verjus and sparkling water, stir, and let sit for a few minutes before drinking. Add ice as desired.
Makes one serving.
This festive drink reminds me of Chanukah celebrations when I was younger, when I was allowed to have vanilla ice cream drowned in hot coffee.
1 generous scoop vanilla, Stracciatella, chestnut or hazelnut gelato
1 to 2 teaspoons finely chopped dark chocolate
1/2 cup freshly brewed espresso, or more if desired
Freshly whipped cream
Place a scoop of gelato in a dessert bowl or coffee cup. Spoon over it the chocolate, espresso, and, if desired add a dollop of freshly whipped cream.
Makes one serving.
For more information, see http://www.gelatobar-la.com/