Dolce is an Italian word meaning “sweet and soft,” a perfect description of gelato made in Red Hook. Dolce Brooklyn is an artisanal gelato and sorbetto café located at 305 Van Brunt St. I am a gelato fanatic and love it more than ice cream…both for less fat and more taste. Pierre Alexandre does the actual preparation and runs the café while his wife Kristina Frantz Alexandre is the obviously brilliant chef who creates the recipes. Kristina purposely took a trip to Bologna in order to make sure that these cool desserts are made the old-fashion Italian way, totally from scratch without powders or any other artificial ingredients.
“Gelato is lot of chemistry and I learned mostly about how to balance the ingredients, how to use different sugars, how to use alcohol, etc”, Kristina said. “The education was more about tools and less about recipes. Like infusion, adjusting the sugars for consistency based upon their freezing power, and so on. That being said - we did of course make recipes while I was there but after white base, chocolate and salted caramel (making my own caramel) - the rest were learning exercises. But even these have since been adjusted to my personal versions.”
How about the recipes? “All of my recipes are mine. I started with a few recipes like Fior di Latte and Chocolate and adjusted them for the milk I used (different fat content) and my choice of chocolates. I use Battenkill from Salem, NY and the fat content is higher so everything had to be adjusted to maintain the 7% that I like to keep our gelati at.”
There are two ways to make gelato, one is done by a hot process and the other a cold one. Kristina said that the hot process has a far better consistency and allows the full flavor to come through. “It also allows for more flexibility in flavors. Cold process requires a powder base with more ingredients allowing for less flexibility and poorer flavor and consistency.”
Ferrying from Rockaway to Sunset Park to Red Hook, my friend Nancy and I were up for a tasting and I believe we tasted all 5 sorbettos, 8 gelatos on hand and an Affogato as well.
Miguel was at the counter as I waited for Pierre to arrive. He had stepped out to get a bottle of bourbon from a local distillery called Van Brunt Stillhouse. I’ll get to that later. Sorbettos do not contain milk and when made properly taste quite “creamy.” Miguel invited us to try the sorbettos beginning with Mango. It was like having a soft but frozen mango puree. Only fresh fruit is used for any of the products. Berry sorbetto, a mix of raspberry, strawberry and blueberry, is a great way to have a portion of your daily fruit. Coconut sorbetto was pretty good and would have been even better for me if combined with their chocolate gelato.
There were two sorbettos that were less common and expertly devised. One was Pink Grapefruit Lavender. I expected the lavender to be overpowering the way I find it in desserts or as an herb in cooking. Kristina figured out just the right amount to use in order to taste the lavender while enjoying the full flavor of the sweet but acidic pink grapefruit.
I wish I could have taken home a gallon of mint cucumber lemon sorbetto. Think about these cool and most refreshing of combinations for a summer treat….although I could handle it in the winter. In fact any restaurant that serves a “palate cleanser” should take heed to this one.
Pierre is back and suggested the gelato tasting be conducted just the way you would if you were at a winery starting with the “whites.” The first one, Fior di latte is a gelato made of milk, a bit of cream and sugar used as a base for the other gelatos. It tasted just fine, alone. They have a drink called Affogato, a scoop of Fior di latte with a shot of espresso poured over it. Espresso is from Italy. Best sipped after gelato melts somewhat.
Onto the next group of gelatos. Blueberry was full flavor without being overly sweet. Cookies and cream…although I enjoyed it, isn’t one of my things. With Amarena sour black cherry Kristina has taken the basic Fior di latte and added these delectable jarred cherries from Italy.
Hazelnut does not have the “Nutella” taste. Rather than the hazelnuts being made into a paste it is very finely chopped. Soul Fuel Formula E Racing Flavor is dedicated to an actual car race that took place in Brooklyn. Fior di Latte is infused with real Italian espresso beans completed with a Michel Cluizel cafe noir chocolate stracciatella (aka - chip).
These last two were as if you went to tasting the “red wines.” Van Brunt Stillhouse Bourbon Chocolate – There is a local distillery in Red Hook. Pierre was buying the bourbon there. What I enjoyed about it was that there was just enough bourbon without giving that overpowering alcohol sting. Pierre believes in going “local” on resources whenever possible.
Serious chocolate. This one is for chocoholics like me and had to be nursed. They are quite picky on the chocolate that they use. It is also used for the bourbon chocolate.
Please keep in mind that since the gelatos and sorbettos are made in small batches, the flavor may change daily, or even while you are there.
Here are other flavors that you may find: Gianduja, Pistachio, Mint Stracciatella, Strawberry, Banana, Fresh Ginger, Earl Grey, Spiced Pumpkin Pie, Olive Oil, Salted Caramel, Tahitian Vanilla (she literally have a friend from Tahiti who barters beans for gelato), Maple Pecan (Fior di Latte with real maple syrup swirled in with candied pecans - Pierre made), Peppermint Stick.
Sorbettos: Lemon, Ginger Pineapple, Raspberry Mint (Pierre made), Strawberry Basil, Gingered Peach, White Peach, Forrest Berry, Orange Cardamon.
“Last year for Thanksgiving I made Spiced Pumpkin Gelato Pies :) They were a hit! Handcrafted chocolate (or graham) crust, spiced pumpkin gelato topped with fior di latte gelato and sprinkled with cinnamon. No ‘pumpkin pie spice’ in this one!! Only my spice mix and real pumpkin.”
I’m certainly not going to wait until Thanksgiving to go back there.