Way back in the summer, when we were all strolling around in flip flops and complaining about the heat, salvation arrived in the form of Swoon Gelato – a beautiful little ice cream parlour on Kingsmead Square making the best Italian gelato and sorbetto this side of Florence. I wrote this post about Swoon’s incredible creations and have been a regular visitor ever since, so when they invited me along to make some gelato and learn the scrumptious secrets of their art, the only thing I could possibly say was yes.
|What they said|
When owner Bruno first approached Luisa, the chef behind the gorgeous gelato, about setting up Swoon (which started in Bristol before expanding to Bath), she agreed on one condition – that everything would be made from scratch, using only the best and purest ingredients, with absolutely no additives. So tucked away in the back of the café is a tiny little kitchen, where gelato and sorbetto (which is the same as sorbet, by the way, it’s just the Italian word for it) is freshly made every day. I’d never really thought about it much but it turns out making frozen treats involves a lot of chemistry, to balance the ingredients for optimum texture and flavour. Gelato is lighter than ice cream because the manufacturing process incorporates more air into it, but also because it’s made with less fat (which freezes hard) and more sugar (which impairs the freezing process to make the resulting gelato softer). It must be stored at a warmer temperature, which means small batches and a shorter shelf life. Doing all of this right means time and effort and expense, but for Luisa, it’s the only way – and if you’ve tasted Swoon’s gelato, I know you’ll agree the end result makes it all worthwhile.
|The chiller cabinet of dreams|
We started out by making a fabulous Christmas treat, panettone stuffed with gelato. Swoon buy their panettone from Tre Marie, a Milan-based bakery that’s been creating this traditional Italian sweet loaf for over a century. We sliced off the bottom of the loaf and pulled out the middle (saving it to make panettone gelato later), drizzling the inside of the bread with sugar syrup to stop it freezing too hard. Then I filled mine with a classic combination of coffee gelato and one of Swoon’s special Christmas flavours, gelato made with biscotti di nonna (those little golden biscuits you get with your coffee in proper Italian cafes).
The filled panettone went into the freezer and we moved on to making gelato, with the saved panettone from earlier – Luisa is fiercely against waste, and told us how she always refers to the last few scrapings of mixture as her ‘holidays’ (the logic being that if you scrape the mixing jug or the churning blades really well, you save enough product over the whole year to pay for your holiday – every little helps!) I’m under strict instructions not to give too much away about the recipes, but having prepared the mixture, and blended it with a huge industrial blender that looks like a jackhammer and has pressure-sensitive controls like you’re operating a crane (to stop you blending your fingers) we poured it into the batch freezer, which churns and freezes the mixture at the same time. As the gelato comes out of the machine, you have to be pretty quick to scoop it and shape it into those beautiful waves you see in tubs of gelato in a proper gelateria, but I was pretty chuffed when Luisa said I hadn’t done too badly for a beginner! Next it goes into the blast freezer (dropping the temperature really fast initially stops ice crystals from forming) and then into the main freezer.
|My finished panettone – don’t they look yummy?|
With the gelato in the freezer, we returned to decorating the panettone, drizzling it with melted chocolate and chopped hazelnuts, and finishing the whole thing off with a red ribbon and a little chocolate seal with the Swoon logo. With our panettone looking good enough for a Christmas Day centrepiece, we finished the morning with a tasting of Swoon’s savoury gelato, made with Westcombe cheddar and Bath Blue cheese. I’ll be honest, I think my tastebuds were so utterly confused by the concept that I found it hard to decide whether I liked it or not, but once I got used to the idea the Bath Blue gelato (served on a stick of celery) actually worked rather well.
Swoon are pretty creative with their flavours and add new ones to the menu every month, so it’s always worth a visit – currently on their Christmas flavours menu they’ve got mulled wine sorbetto and mince pie gelato, both of which are utterly fabulous. And if you just can’t face the idea of ice cream at this time of year, I’d also strongly recommend their incredible cioccolata calda, proper Italian hot chocolate that’s rich, dark, and thick enough to eat with a spoon. Trust me, if you need a cure for Christmas shopping fatigue, Swoon Gelato is it…