Black Dog Gelato's Sea Salt and Caramel Gelato
Jessie Oloroso let me behind the scenes of her new Roscoe Village outlet to see how the sea salt and caramel gelato is made.
The Freezer, the Freezing Machine, and the Pasteurizer
On the left is a freezer kept at 40 degrees below zero. All freshly made gelato going to restaurants like Uncommon Ground gets stored here first. To the right of the freezer is the freezing machine. Standing to the right of that is the special pasteurizer Black Dog had to buy after numerous small ice cream businesses suddenly found out about the dairy license required in Illinois last year. You may remember Nice Cream's battle with the state. Jessie and her team searched far and wide for a state-approved machine that wouldn't cost them $40,000 and finally found this one, which comes from a dairy farm in Southern Illinois and dates back to the 1960s.
Custard Base in the Pasteurizer
Every flavor of gelato starts out the same way: with a custard base that is cooked in the pasteurizer for two hours. The machine can pasteurize up to 50 gallons at a time, and BDG usually makes anywhere from 60 to 100 gallons of base in a day.
Sea Salt Caramel Starts with Vanilla Beans
Jessie walked me through the making of Sea Salt Caramel gelato. She starts with a portion of the freshly pasteurized custard base and adds scrapings of a few vanilla beans.
Vanilla Extract Added to Sea Salt Caramel Base
Next she adds some vanilla extract. Notice the lack of any measuring cups or spoons; Jessie hates measuring things and also admits that she's terrible at writing recipes down. In the past, an employee asked her how much basil to add to the pineapple basil sorbet, and she replied, "until it tastes like basil." But as the business grows, she's starting to recognize the need for her staff to be able to recreate her signature flavors when she's not available.
Giant Immersion Blender Time!
A large immersion blender is used to mix the vanilla bean seeds and extract into the base. It mixes without adding much extra air, which is an important factor in gelato-making since its dense and creamy texture is due to the fact that it has less incorporated air than ice cream.
Black Dog's Gelato Machine
To get the signature Black Dog Gelato texture, Jessie has the freezing machine set at a preferred temperature and the blades set at a specific churning speed so as not to incorporate too much air.
Pouring the Base into the Freezing Machine
The vanilla-flavored base is slowly poured into the already-churning machine to be frozen.
The End of the Freezing Process
Silky, frozen gelato emerges just a handful of minutes later. Jessie doesn't completely empty the machine at this point to make sure there's room left in the container to mix the gelato with the last few flavor additions.
Vanilla Gelato Glamour Shot
Vanilla gelato ready for a close-up... and some sea salt and caramel.
Sea Salt and Caramel
Sea salt and homemade caramel are ready to be mixed in.
Vat o' Caramel
Ok, so this is a slightly gratuitous shot of caramel. But raise your hand if you wouldn't want to take a bath in that right now.
Sea Salt Added to Frozen Vanilla Base
Here Jessie is boldly adding sea salt using her personal measuring technique. She performs one quick mix to incorporate the sea salt before adding the caramel.
Only a few more steps after a hearty drizzle of caramel.
Mixing the Gelato
After the caramel is added, the gelato gets another quick mix. Hand-mixing and small batches are high on Jessie's list of priorities. When asked if she planned on expanding any more, she admitted she was still reeling from the opening of the second store and couldn't even think about expansion at this point. But if she were to, down the line, it would only happen if she could keep the small business model that produces such a high-quality product.
Emptying the Freezing Machine
The rest of the vanilla base is emptied on top of the freshly mixed Sea Salt Caramel gelato.
One Last Sea Salt and Caramel Addition
After a pinch more sea salt and caramel, the gelato is mixed one more time before going into the freezer behind her. It will be picked up later by a wholesale buyer. If this were a flavor for the case in front of the store, it would be put out immediately.
Black Dog Gelato
This new outlet opened a few months ago in Roscoe Village. It's located in the same space once filled with Bleeding Heart Bakery.
A few of the spices in the Black Dog spice rack, including the unusual but unsurprising: curry powder and peppercorns. Jessie said inspiration for new (and often unusual) flavors strikes while eating dinner or while browsing at the grocery store. She says she works better when she isn't directly thinking about creating something new than when she's under pressure to come up with a new flavor. The idea for her Coconut Thyme gelato came to her when she just happened to be preparing coconut gelato for one customer and thyme gelato for another. She started to make both at the same time and realized the smells were complimentary.
A peek at a few of the different kinds of chocolate used at Black Dog. Instead of a cocoa base like many other gelaterias, Jessie was adamant about using only real bittersweet chocolate in her Chocolate gelato (if you've ever tried this flavor, it's probably no surprise that she uses Callebaut). After adding chunks of bittersweet chocolate to the still-warm base, Jessie says the mixture is so thick it's almost stiff.