Dark Chocolate Ice Cream with Hot Red Pepper

This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

When I saw this peculiar ice cream in a gelato shop in Scalea, I couldn’t resist ordering it out of curiosity. After I tasted it, I told the server she had made a mistake: she had given me plain chocolate ice cream. “No, I didn’t,” she said. “Just wait. The heat comes at the end.” She was right. The pepper is only in the finish, like a surprise ending. I tried repeatedly to re-create the ice cream at home but was never satisfied. Mine didn’t have the same dense, creamy texture or intensity of flavor. Finally I went to the rear of the shop and asked what kind of chocolate they used. No chocolate, they said. Just cocoa. As I’ve since learned, Dutch-process cocoa produces a richer, darker color in the ice cream than non-Dutched cocoa and a profoundly deep chocolate taste.

NotesFor Valrhona cocoa powder and chocolate:


P.O. Box 2237

Portland, OR 97062


Ground Hot Red Pepper (Peperoncino):

Calabria’s signature seasoning, peperoncino in a shaker jar, is on my dining table at lunch and dinner. Everyone has a different tolerance for heat, so I season dishes cautiously and let my family and guests add more peperoncino to taste. Whole dried cayenne peppers, available in Chinese and Latin markets, are the closest I have found to the dried peperoncini in Calabria. They must be dried further in a low oven to render them crisp enough to grind.

The ground peperoncino that you buy in Calabria has been sieved to remove the seeds. My mother and I do not do this at home, but you can sieve the ground pepper if you like.

½ pound small whole dried hot red peppers, about 2 inches long, such as cayenne, stem and cap removed

Preheat the oven to the lowest possible setting, preferably around 140°F (60°C) but no higher than 160°F (70°C). Dry the hot peppers on a baking sheet in the oven for 4 hours, then turn the oven off and let the peppers remain in the oven overnight, or for about 12 hours. They will be dry and crunchy, and you will be able to hear the seeds rattle inside.

Remove them from the oven and transfer them to a blender. Do not let the peppers rest long at room temperature before grinding them or they may absorb moisture and lose some crispness. Blend as fine as possible. Important: To avoid inhaling pepper fumes, let the ground pepper settle in the blender jar for at least 5 minutes before removing the blender lid. Keep your face averted as you remove the lid. Transfer the ground pepper to a clean glass jar, and keep in a cool, dark place, or in the freezer. It will last for up to a year.

Makes about 1½ cups ground hot pepper


Total Timeunder 4 hours

Recipe Coursedessert

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

Type of Dishchocolate dessert, dessert, ice cream


  • 1 cup (110 grams) unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa, preferably Valrhona (see Notes)
  • 1 cup (250 milliliters) whole milk
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup (200 grams) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/3 cups (325 milliliters) heavy cream
  • ½ teaspoon Ground Hot Red Pepper (see Notes), or to taste


  1. In a bowl, whisk the cocoa into the milk until well blended. The mixture will be thick.

  2. In a saucepan, using a whisk or an electric hand-held mixer, whip the egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla until thick, pale yellow, and creamy. The mixture should form a ribbon when you lift the whisk. Whisk in the cocoa mixture.

  3. Set the saucepan over medium heat and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture visibly thickens, coats the spoon, and registers about 180°F (82°C) on an instant-read thermometer, Do not allow it to boil or it may curdle. Transfer immediately to a bowl and let cool for 15 minutes, then whisk in the cream. Refrigerate until cold. Stir in the red pepper and taste. The pepper’s heat comes on slowly, so wait a moment before you decide to add more.

  4. Freeze in an ice cream freezer according to the manufacturer’s directions.


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