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Nigella Lawson’s Magical, No-Churn Gelato Cake

A gelato cake on a plate, drizzled with chocolate.
James Ransom

Remember those amazingly deep-red, candy-like, slow-roasted strawberries I shared back in April? Michelle Polzine, the pastry chef behind 20th Century Cafe in San Francisco, wrote up and emailed me the recipe from her phone while she was locked out of her apartment—that’s how simple it is.

OK, that’s enough nostalgia till next week—now, onto the recipe, ripped straight from the pages of Genius Desserts: Here is a frozen concoction from the great Nigella Lawson that sounds (and looks) (and tastes) a whole lot fancier than the low-tech whipping, folding, and freezing it asks of you. I recommend making it any time you see the weather forecast going to a dark, hot place, to swiftly correct the situation.

Much of the wonder of this dessert may lie in its semihomemade ease—you’re doing little more than bashing up store-bought meringues and folding them into whipped cream. But this gelato cake comes from quite literary roots, reminding us that we should be open to finding cooking inspiration in all sorts of places: dusty books at estate sales, our elders’ recipe boxes, or the yellowed clippings that flutter out of an old birthday card. In this case, it did help that Nigella Lawson could read Italian.

Lawson is a self-proclaimed lover of languages. (You can sense this as you read her lyrical recipe writing and occasional invented words.) She found the basic notion of this recipe in an Italian book from 1986 by chef and culinary philosopher Gioacchino Scognamiglio. It called for an obscure liqueur, which she tracked down and studied; her version is modified for boozes we can more easily find. The frozen cake is downy, like a more weightless icebox cake, with gentle crackles of meringue and chocolate that melt away quickly on your tongue.

Nigella Lawson’s Meringue Gelato Cake with Chocolate Sauce

Serves 6 to 8

Gelato cake
• 1 ¼ cups (295g) heavy cream
• 1 ounce (30g) bittersweet chocolate (62% cacao or higher)
• 1 tablespoon coffee liqueur or rum, or better yet, a mix of the two
• 4 ounces (110g) crumbled store-bought or homemade meringue cookies (about 2 cups)

Chocolate sauce
• 1 cup (235g) heavy cream
• 5 ounces (125g) dark chocolate (62% cacao or higher), finely chopped (about 2/3 cup)
• 2 tablespoons coffee liqueur or rum, or better yet, a mix of the two

See the full recipe on Food52.

P.S. Here’s a video of my friend (and Food52’s Director of Brand Activation) Eunice Choi and me making the recipe, so you can see just how casual that can be. Grab a friend and get to it!

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