Nancy Silverton Explains What Makes the Perfect Gelato
The founder of La Brea bakery is still the queen of simple, sensible food.
One of the most important things you should know about Nancy Silverton is that she when she decides to learn a new recipe, she becomes obsessed with making it perfect. Her line of gelato is no different.
Silverton runs four restaurants around California right now – Pizzeria Mozza, Osteria Mozza, Chi Spacca, and Mozza2Go – but before that she founded La Brea bakery, where she solidified her reputation as a master baker and an authority on bread. You’ll probably recognize that story from her episode of Chef’s Table.
Silverton also has a reputation for perfecting Italian comfort food staples, pizza in particular. Keeping with that trend through the dessert course, in 2015 she launched Nancy’s Fancy, a line of gelato and sorbetto.
After spending time eating and living in Italy, Silverton was determined to create real gelato, true to its Italian heritage.
“We’ve been making gelato since the pizzeria opened in Los Angeles,” she tells Food & Wine over the phone. “I was drawn to [gelato] because I was opening Italian restaurants, but I also wanted to take on the challenge of trying to duplicate that mouthfeel and flavor.”
“I’m actually a graduate of the Gelato University, which was a one and half day enrollment, and I have a certificate to prove it. The manufacturer that makes our gelato machines offered a course on how to make gelato,” she explains.
She knows her ice cream, too: While attending the École Lenotre Culinary Institute on France, where she got her training as a pastry chef, she also learned to make frozen treat.
Here are the basics, according to Silverton: In the case of gelato, “eggs are not a factor, but it always contains milk or a dairy product.” Sorbet cannot contain any dairy, while ice cream of course, is made with milk and sometimes a little added cream.
She says that developing the recipes for her gelato and sorbetto is closer to making bread, in that the process gets easier and easier the more you practice, but gelato has some strange tendencies when the recipe goes wrong.
“One major thing that was surprising is that the color will completely change. An improperly [created] strawberry gelato can turn purple, or the mouthfeel will be so wrong, or it comes out of the machine with flavor but as soon as it sits, the flavor disappears,” she says.
So, according to Silverton, what is good gelato supposed to taste like?
“It should be smooth and creamy and dense. Gelato does not have a high overrun of air. With sorbetto, in order to get the right texture, I find that it should be sweeter than it needs to be. In Italian desserts, the flavors are so bright and strong, because our mouth doesn’t have to melt through the layers of butterfat to appreciate the flavor,” Silverton reveals.
Bringing out those strong flavors is essential to creating not just the perfect gelato, but any dish that is made in one of her kitchens.
“I’ve always been a strong believer in everything I eat that I can close my eyes and I know what I’m eating. I like my flavors in my gelato to be really pronounced,” she says.
Nancy's Fancy gelato factory recently moved to Los Angeles’ downtown arts district, and with that move, Silverton hopes to expand her dessert empire.
“I would love to have a store front and that’s why the location there is so exciting, The building is beautiful, the location lends itself to having a storefront,” she says.
For now, her gelato is only available in grocery stores like Whole Foods, but if a storefront does open in the new factory, Silverton promises that Nancy’s Fancy “has a whole list of great novelties that we are going to add to our line,” including gelato pies, similar to those served at the pizzeria.
In a summer of increasingly creative and sometimes strange flavors and food mash-ups, Silverton still holds court has a purveyor of simple, elegant, delicious food. You won’t find anything unicorn-flavored in any of her restaurants.
“We are not cutting edge. We are somewhere between chocolate, strawberry, and bone marrow and blue cheese,” Silverton says. “It’s sensible flavors that you would actually want to eat and enjoy.”