Pizzo's Famous Ice Cream Truffle

This image courtesy of Sarah Remington

The picturesque fishing town of Pizzo on Calabria’s Tyrrhenian coast is a mecca for ice cream fans, who come expressly to taste a dessert developed there. The town’s main square is lined with gelaterie (ice cream shops), all of them making the famous tartufo and claiming that theirs is the best or the only authentic one. As I discovered when I began trying to decipher the recipe, the shopkeepers are extremely competitive, even jealous, and disinclined to share any details with an outsider. Pizzo’s truffle mystified me for a long time. It is a molded ice cream dessert resembling a giant black truffle, with a cocoa coating concealing two layers of ice cream: a chocolate layer on the outside and hazelnut within. But the surprise is in the center, a molten fudge sauce that oozes like lava when you cut into the truffle. How, I asked myself, can a frozen dessert have a flowing interior? In the interest of research, I sampled the tartufo at several of Pizzo’s gelaterie. They varied only slightly, depending on the skills of the gelataio (the ice cream maker). “Play with the amount of sugar,” one gelataio told me when I asked how to keep the fudgy center soft. No one would be more specific. One July afternoon when a storm was brewing and few tourists strolled Pizzo’s main square, I struck up a conversation with the proprietor of Chez Toi, who was standing outside his modest gelateria watching the ominous clouds gather. He insisted that I come inside to taste his tartufo. As soon as I sat down at one of his little cafe tables, the sky opened up and rain began pelting the street in a downpour so furious that it was impossible to think of venturing out again until it stopped. Owner Vittorio Rigo, who had no other customers, eventually sat down with me and began revealing some of the tartufo’s secrets. He showed me his workroom, described how he shaped the truffles by hand, and confirmed that the fudge filling contained only cocoa, sugar, and water, although he would not reveal the proportions. At home in California, preparing to experiment with the filling again, I had a stroke of luck. While researching the history of Pizzo’s tartufo online, I stumbled on a document that Pizzo’s artisanal tartufo producers had written jointly. To protect their livelihood from the many imitators making Pizzo-style tartufi in Diamante and other Calabrian beach towns, they had banded together to define the official dessert and propose certification for Pizzo’s artisanal producers. (Only in Italy is ice cream taken so seriously.) The document did not give the recipe, but it did give ranges for the various ingredients, information that helped me devise a liquid-centered tartufo as good as any in Pizzo. Although Rigo showed me how he shapes the tartufo in his hand, I found this method awkward. Instead, I use a slope-sided glass custard cup lined with plastic wrap as a mold. Shortly before serving the tartufi, I unmold them, coat them with cocoa, and let them soften a little in the refrigerator so the ice cream will be silky and the filling properly fluid. Even the Pizzo producers don’t agree on the origins of their trademark dessert. Their document puts forth several theories. The most often repeated one attributes the tartufo to a Sicilian gelataio who opened a shop in the town and introduced the dessert in the 1950s.


Total Timehalf-day

OccasionFormal Dinner Party

Recipe Coursedessert

Dietary Considerationgluten-free, halal, kosher, peanut free, soy free, vegetarian

Type of Dishchocolate dessert, dessert, frozen dessert, ice cream


  • Dark Chocolate Ice Cream with Hot Red Pepper, hot red pepper omitted
  • ½ pound (225 grams) hazelnuts
  • 1½ cups (375 milliliters) milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • ¾ cup (150 grams) sugar
  • 1½ cups (375 milliliters) heavy cream
  • 2/3 cup (75 grams) Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • ½ cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
  • ½ cup (60 grams) cocoa powder (not Dutch process), sifted
  • ½ cup (100 grams) superfine sugar
  • Ten 6-ounce (180-milliliter) slope-sided glass custard cups


  1. For the Hazelnut Ice Cream: Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Place the nuts on a rimmed baking sheet and bake, stirring occasionally, until they are fragrant and golden and their skins begin to crack, 12 to 15 minutes. While they are hot, transfer the nuts to an old, dry kitchen towel, gather the edges of the towel together into a bag, and rub the nuts vigorously inside the towel to loosen the skins. When you open the towel, you will find that many of the nuts have shed their papery skin. With your fingers, rub away as much of the remaining skin as you can. It’s okay if you can’t remove every last trace. Let the nuts cool before continuing.

  2. Place the cooled hazelnuts in a food processor and grind them into a coarse paste, like natural peanut butter. Place the hazelnut paste in a 2-quart (2-liter) saucepan and whisk in the milk. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, whisking, then turn off the heat and let the mixture steep for 15 minutes. Stir in the vanilla.

  3. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until the yolks are pale, the sugar has dissolved, and the mixture is thick and creamy, about 2 minutes.

  4. Slowly add the warm milk to the egg mixture, whisking constantly until well blended. Then return the milk-egg mixture to the saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the spoon and reaches 180°F (82°C) on an instant-read thermometer, 3 to 5 minutes. Do not let it boil or it may curdle. Remove from the heat.

  5. Transfer the mixture to a large, clean bowl and let it cool for 10 minutes. Whisk in the cream. Strain through a fine sieve into another bowl, pressing with the back of a spoon to extract all the liquid from the ground hazelnuts. Refrigerate the custard until cold. Transfer to an ice cream freezer and freeze according to the manufacturer’s directions. Pack the freshly churned ice cream in an airtight plastic container and freeze for at least 3 hours before serving. You will have about 1½ quarts.

  6. For the Chocolate Filling:

  7. Place the cocoa powder, 2/3 cup (160 milliliters) water, and granulated sugar in a 1½-quart (1½-liter) pot. Whisk to combine and place over medium heat. Cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture reaches 190°F (88°C) on a candy thermometer, just shy of boiling. Remove from the heat and cool. When cool, transfer to a plastic container and place in the freezer until it is firm but not too stiff to scoop, about one hour. You can leave it in the freezer for weeks, if you like, but then you will need to thaw it until it is soft enough to scoop.

  8. To Assemble the Truffles:

  9. Remove the ice creams from the freezer and let soften enough so they can be easily scooped. If they become too soft while you are assembling the truffles, they will be difficult to mold; return them briefly to the freezer to firm them.

  10. Line each mold with a sheet of plastic wrap that overhangs the rim by 2 inches (5 centimeters) all around. (You need enough overhang to cover the surface once you’ve filled the mold.) Press the plastic wrap against the mold so it adheres. Working with one mold at a time, put ¼ cup (60 milliliters) of chocolate ice cream in the center of the plastic wrap. With the back of a spoon, press the ice cream against the bottom and sides of the mold to form a shell of even thickness throughout. The shell should come all the way up the sides of the mold. Return the mold to the freezer for 15 minutes to firm the ice cream while you line the remaining molds with chocolate ice cream.

  11. Again working with one mold at a time, remove a mold from the freezer and put ¼ cup (60 milliliters) of hazelnut ice cream in the center of the hardened chocolate shell. With the back of a clean spoon, press the hazelnut ice cream against the bottom and sides of the chocolate shell to create a similar shell of even thickness, with a well in the center. The objective is to create a “cup” with a layer of chocolate ice cream outside and a layer of hazelnut ice cream inside, with a hollow in the center to contain the soft filling.

  12. Remove the chocolate filling from the freezer 1 hour ahead to soften. In the hollow of the ice cream cup, place 1 tablespoon of the chocolate filling. Return the filled mold to the freezer for 15 minutes, then remove the mold from the freezer and lift the edges of the plastic wrap to close the ice cream “cup” around the chocolate filling. To seal the filling completely, top with about 1 tablespoon of chocolate ice cream, spreading it over the filling so that the filling can’t be seen. Place the overhanging plastic wrap over the surface to seal it. At this point, the tartufo can be returned to the freezer in its mold, or inverted, still in its plastic wrap, onto a plate or tray that will fit in your freezer. (Do not stack the tartufi.) Continue to form and freeze tartufi until you have run out of ice cream or chocolate filling. Freeze for at least 4 hours or overnight.

  13. To Coat and Serve:

  14. Combine the cocoa powder and superfine sugar in a wide, shallow dish and mix well. About 20 minutes before serving, remove the tartufi from the freezer. Working with one at a time, unwrap a tartufo and roll it in the cocoa-sugar mixture until generously coated all over. Put the tartufi on a tray and place in the refrigerator to soften for about 15 minutes before serving. Transfer to individual plates to serve.


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