Morgan Morano, 30, of Lexington, knew she wanted her own dessert business from the time she started a pizza delivery service at age 8 and began working in her family’s Fire Island, N. Y., restaurant a few years later. When Morano was studying in Italy after college and culinary school, she discovered a Sicilian gelato shop in Florence and that sealed her fate.
She went on to apprentice for six years, on and off, in a gelato lab in Florence (“one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen,” she says) and brought the art and tradition of Italian ice cream back with her to New England. In 2010, she opened Morano Gelato, an Italian-style gelato shop in Hanover, N.H. She licenses that location to new owners and launched a new shop at The Mall at Chestnut Hill this spring. She is also the author of the book “The Art of Making Gelato: 50 Flavors to Make at Home.”
Q. Talk about the moment you discovered gelato.
A. When I went to Florence, my passion completely exploded. I was on my way to finding an apartment and there was this Sicilian gelato shop where they were advertising granita. I tried the granita and it was the best dessert I have had in my life. I went back the next day and told the chef I was a pastry cook from New York and that his granita was the best thing I’d ever eaten. He said he always wanted to learn to make an American cheesecake and maybe we could collaborate on a flavor together.
Q. What makes gelato different from our ice cream?
A. One is that gelato has less butterfat. American ice cream is usually over 10 percent and gelato is under. Ours range between 6 and 8 percent. Second is the density. American ice cream has a lot more air in it. Italian gelato is a lot denser. The third is temperature. Gelato is served at a warmer temperature. These create a product that’s smooth, creamy, soft in the mouth, and very, very flavorful.
Q. Could you describe how you display gelato in your shop.
A. We all eat with our eyes first. You want to extract gelato from the machine at the right time and you just beautifully line it into the pan instead of pushing it down into a container. And then you garnish it and display it in the case. We make 12 flavors fresh every day. Italians also scoop with a spade. People who have been to Italy are so thrilled when they see us doing that. You’re serving it with a little spoon. All these little details help create a traditional atmosphere that I really love.
Q. Do you invent new flavors or follow tradition?
A. Everybody is looking to be so different and cutting edge with gelato — smoked chocolate, sea salt with bacon flecks. The jasmine gelato in Italy is pretty amazing and no one is making that here. So I decided let’s do that. Or cassata, Sicilian cake with candied fruit, almonds, marzipan, and sponge cake. We make a lot of those flavors that I found so unique and so good in Italy. We definitely try to stay with traditional flavors or those that remind you of Italy. Like we do Italian olive oil. We make a rose gelato.
Q. Is gelato more difficult to make at home than ice cream?
A. It takes an investment of time like anything homemade. You need to get an ice cream maker, but you can use the same one you use for making ice cream. It’s really at the commercial level where it begins to differ.
Q. Do you have favorite flavors?
A. Another thing that I think is amazing about gelato is the combinations. You get this small cup and you can have up to five different flavors. I love dark chocolate. It’s my ultimate. I love combining dark chocolate with our passion fruit sorbet that’s so tart and tangy and it complements the bitter, dark chocolate. I also love cassata
with dark chocolate or raspberry sorbet. I’m a huge fan of cinnamon. Usually I pair that with chocolate or with sweet milk. Once in a while, I’m inclined to get one of our cookie flavors. It’s a typical Italian flavor with chocolate cookie in a vanilla base. If I feel like having a cone, I put a little whipped cream on the bottom, which is the Italian style, then fill it with our hazelnut gelato.
Q. Tell me about the gelato brioche sandwich you make.
A. It’s a very traditional item that not a lot of people have had. People think they are seeing Sicilians eating hamburgers on the beach. But this is what they’re eating. They’re brioche buns stuffed with gelato and they’re delicious. It’s a great breakfast that I had all the time when I was in Italy.