Eskimo Pie or Pinguino gelato? An ice cream that went a long way

Pinguino gelato is the typical summer ice cream ideal for both adults and children: it is the classic ice cream on a stick covered with chocolate, something that our American readers would call Eskimo Pie, I suppose.

As I child I would always have it for merenda – afternoon snack – during summer holidays, while playing on the beach, between a sand castle and another. It was so much better than ice popsicles!

There is a number of stories about who invented the penguin ice cream: most people believe that the penguin was born under the Mole of Turin, in the historic pastry shop and ice cream parlour Pepino, which still produces it today; the authorship is disputed, however, by an ice cream shop in Nervi, near Genova, and even by an ice cream shop in Iowa, America, where in 1920 the owner of a candy store named Christian Nelson created the aforementioned Eskimo Pie, the American twin of our Italian penguin.

I like to think that the first story is the real one.

The story begins in 1884, when an artisanal gelato maker of Neapolitan origins, Domenico Pepino, decides to move North, to Turin, so he brought all the tools, molds and materials for producing and packaging his cold pastry specialties.

Within a few years, he opened an ice cream parlor that soon became the symbol of Turin's greatest cold pastry.

On June 17, 1916, Domenico Pepino sold the brand and manufacturing secrets, for the important sum of 10,000 lire, to Com. Giuseppe Feletti, already a well known and established industrial chocolate manufacturer, and his son in law Com. Giuseppe Cavagnino. The two entrepreneurs renewed the company and inaugurated a grand laboratory giving greater commercial strength.

Year 1939 markes the turning point of our story. After a long period of experimentation and study, the first chocolate covered gelato on a stick is finally patented and marketed: it's called Pinguino, and it costs just as much as a ticket to the movies.

Pinguino gelato enjoyed great prestige and encountered the favor of the reigning dynasty of Savoia, that granted its coat of arms for the product packaging; in those years our Pinguino became widely imitated and its name itself became commonly used to indicate all similar ice creams.

The ice cream became so popular that even today you'll find it in supermarkets and bars: it never goes out of fashion, because its simplicity makes it a classic, as it often happens to excellent Italian products.

I thought I'd share with you a recipe, though rough and certainly not up to the original, to make this historic Italian ice cream directly in your home: with a little patience you will prepare a perfect pinguino gelato - aka Eskimo pie - from scratch.

Serves 8

300 ml milk

125 g cream

½ vanilla bean

125 g sugar

400 g dark chocolate

25 g coconut oil or other vegetable oil (optional)

First of all you must prepare the ice cream base, which is very simple. Pour into a saucepan cream, milk, sugar and the vanilla bean split in half lengthwise, then stir and bring the mixture just over 85° (before boiling point); quickly move the saucepan inside a bowl with water and ice, to lower the temperature of the cream, then pour the liquid in the ice cream machine and let it do the work for 30 minutes.

When the ice cream is cold and creamy transfer it, with the help of a spoon, in popsicle molds, leveling the cream well to get a smooth and even surface, then enter the ice cream stiks, close the molds, and leave the ice cream in the freezer overnight. Do not overfill the molds, however, because the volume of ice cream may increases slightly while turning solid.

When the ice cream is ready, melt the chocolate in a double boiler with oil, then let it cool to bring it back to room temperature a few minutes, while you pull the ice cream out of the molds (it could help, especially if you have rigid molds, to dip the molds under lukewarm water for a minute).

A caveats on the melted chocolate: the oil is not essential, but will help you to obtain a thin smooth cover, as well as a more uniform color; its like the basi recipe for so called "magic shell".

Dip each ice cream into the melted chocolate, making sure you don't leave holes from which the ice cream could leak: a brush may come handy.

As the ice creams are ready, transfer them one by one to a baking sheet covered with parchment paper in the freezer, where they will remain for a couple of hours.

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