PX marks the spot

November 27, 2009

Other brands are available, but make sure the label says PX

 

 H, it must be admitted, has not posted on this blog for some time. A casual observer might assume that the freezing temperatures of November, following the downpours of late October, meant that she stopped eating ice cream and thus it vanished from her mind.  More astute readers, however, will realise from the level of ice-cream obsession displayed in her earlier posts that this was unlikely.  Indeed, she and V remember fondly their weekend in London last February when they toured several ice cream parlours, but that is for another post.

 The absence of posts has more to do with the absence of V from H’s home; she misses her terribly, and that’s been horrible.  It’s also the case that V is a very good photographer, and H is not, and posts without any photos can be dull, so that’s been another reason for the silence.  But V is due home soon, and will bring her camera with her, so it’s about time H shared some of the ice-cream thoughts she has, of course, been having during the past few months.

 It is true that the change of season does lead to a subtle alteration in ice-cream consumption (though nothing remotely resembling a falling-away).  The flavours of summer – raspberry sorbet, strawberry and balsamic vinegar – still taste delicious, and are a welcome reminder that sunshine will come again.  Other flavours worth mentioning are Speculoos (Haagen-Dazs’ best-ever limited edition) which goes very well with autumnal apple-based hot desserts, and tickety-moo banoffee which sits as well alongside a steamed pudding as it does in a summer cone.

 But what surprised H recently was the vital necessity for the ice cream whose flavour is hard to describe, but which is variously styled “natural dairy”, “plain”, or simply “white”.  This is not – it is really not- vanilla ice cream.  The phrase “plain vanilla” should not be allowed in the lexicon of any true ice-cream lover; real vanilla comes from pods, and has seeds and bits in it, and tastes of vanilla.  It does not taste of “plain”.  Nor am I thinking of the ersatz varieties which might lurk in freezers hidden within ice-lollies, or at the nasty end of the supermarket frozen foods aisle, and which I remember from my childhood as tasting mainly of the cardboard they were wrapped in.  No, I’m thinking more of something like this:

From a traditional producer in Scotland

Mackie's Luxury Dairy Ice Cream

 

…which does exactly what it says on the, erm, carton.  It is made with fresh milk and double cream – those two ingredients account for 80% of the ice cream, before you even get to “sugar” in the list.  And it tastes of milk, cream and sugar, with a clean flavour that has no artificial aftertaste, as well as having no hint of vanilla, or caramel, or anything else.  This means that it is the perfect ice cream to act as a foil to anything which has a strong flavour of its own, and would even be acceptable to those strange people who reply to waitresses asking “would you like cream or ice-cream with that?” with the former rather than the latter.  I venture to suggest that it might work extremely well with Christmas pudding.

It certainly worked extremely well with the recipe I found in a recent Sunday Telegraph magazine article, giving “an alphabet of recipes” and needing something for X.  To their credit they didn’t go for something like “X-rated chocolate cake” but put the research in and came up with a recipe using PX (Pedro Ximenez) sherry as the star ingredient.  I’ve halved the quantities, because I only had two old drunks alcohol connoisseurs to cater for at the time I made the recipe, and it still lasted us them two days.

Heat 100ml PX sherry in a small saucepan, until hot but not boiling.  Pour this over 50g raisins in a bowl, cover and leave to cool.  Put in fridge for about an hour to let the flavours develop and the raisins become chewy.  Then serve, poured generously over a helping of plain/ natural/ white/ BUT NOT VANILLA ice cream.

As the ice cream melts a little, you may wish to stir the sauce into it some more, to remind yourself of past experiences of rum ‘n’ raisin ice cream while feeling smug at how very much better the taste of this version is.

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Hand it over slowly.....that's it.....

Hand it over slowly.....that's it.....

H is feeling rather lonely at the moment; V departed at the weekend to research ice-cream provision on the eastern side of the UK, and although H realises that any organisation must constantly refresh its knowledge base, she’s missing her a lot.  Luckily, H has techniques to call upon, developed and refined through the various ups and downs of her life to date, which are designed to target this sort of malaise.

In the case of many of life’s ills, as is well known, chocolate is the answer: this is one of those clichés that happens to be true.   Insomnia, stress, anxiety, muscle pain, isolation, headache and lovesickness are just some of the conditions for which chocolate is the recommended treatment, although the word “chocolate” is perhaps so generalised in that sentence to be almost meaningless.  The pharmacopeia is extensive, and nuanced; one would not, for example, use chocolate buttons to treat a condition for which the solution was Divine Dark, nor imagine that Terry’s Chocolate Orange would be an adequate substitute for Maltesers.

In the case of missing your ice-cream partner, what’s required is chocolate ice cream, and the prescription here is equally specific.  Chocolate ice cream, in my childhood, was the brown side of a slab of Neapolitan: sweet and brown, yes, but no more chocolatey than another product of that era, chocolate cake covering.  Sadly, many restaurant outlets have evolved very little since then; if you have the choice, you’re often better to go for something like mint choc chip, which will actually taste of something, albeit occasionally toothpaste.  No, what is needed in a situation of extreme bereftness, when one’s ice-cream collaborator has headed off with a large suitcase and the expectation that she will not be back for 8 weeks, is real chocolate ice cream, tasting of real chocolate despite being in ice-cream form.

This is not the first time I have felt the need of chocolate ice cream; my quest began almost a decade ago and (having first had a go with a very simple recipe) saw me turning, as so often, to Robin Weir and Caroline Liddell.  Their book Ices has a reassuringly long chocolate-related list in the index, demonstrating that they do not subscribe to the heresy that “chocolate” is an undifferentiated term.  So they have Everyday Chocolate Ice Cream (I must admit to finding the idea of Everyday equally reassuring), Chocolate and Spice Biscuit, Chocolate Malted, Chocolate Parfait, Mars Bar, Rich Chocolate, Rocky Road: 14 recipes in all, 17 if you count white chocolate, which I don’t (but V would). And finally, The Ultimate Chocolate Ice Cream.  The Ultimate.  As in: no need to try any of the others; this will put all the rest in the shade; you have arrived at your journey’s end.

Except that I hadn’t; quite the opposite, in fact.  The method was too complicated for the novice ice-cream-maker I then was.  The text, though, was interesting, revealing that the recipe was an attempt to replicate the superlative chocolate ice cream produced by superlative Parisian glaciers, Maison Berthillon.  This was very useful information, because H and V were just about to decide on the destination for their annual holiday, and Paris seemed as good a choice as any.

So that summer, as soon as seemed decent after accomplishing things like passport control, we headed for the Ile St-Louis, just along from Notre-Dame which is, itself, apparently seen by some as a necessary stop on the tourist itinerary.  As we walked, we talked about what else we might do, in between daily (or possibly twice-daily) trips to Maison Berthillon; the Arc de Triomphe, perhaps, the Eiffel Tower less likely, given its distance from the Ile St-Louis.  Lesser-known attractions such as the Musée Cluny and the Eglise St-Severin took on a new appeal, given that they are only one stop away on the RER.  Such were our thoughts as we strolled along in the early-August sunshine, past the boulangerie, the delicatessen, the chocolaterie, the cafés, until we reached the doors of Maison Berthillon.

Great doors they were, too; unfortunately, they were closed, with a notice proclaiming the dread words “Fermeture Annuelle”.  Yes, the greatest manufacturer of chocolate ice cream, a delicacy which one might think would be in greatest demand during the warmer months, closes for five or six weeks every summer.  Just to be clear about this:  Every.  Summer.  V and I used to think it was only in August, so the next year we booked our holiday in late July, to no avail.

Luckily, though, this was Paris, so quality food does not remain tantalisingly out of reach for long.  Walking back along the Ile St-Louis we began to notice the words Maison Berthillon on various cafés and shops we passed, too many for it to be simply the result of wishful hallucination on our part; and discovered that Berthillon, before departing on their annual holiday, supply their wonderful products to many other outlets.  So we were able to sample the Chocolat and, thanks to the franchise which operates as far across Paris as the Champs-Elysées, had opportunity to try the similarly-flavoured cacao extra-amer (extra-dark chocolate) sorbet as well.  (Over the years we’ve tasted lots of other Berthillon offerings, which will be dealt with at salivating length elsewhere.).  It should also be added that the Ile St-Louis has a branch of Cacao et Chocolat, who make their own ice cream as well as their own chocolate, and this would have been a very acceptable alternative (though it turned out, in our case, to be more of an “as well as” than an “instead of”).

So, at last, we ordered our cones, took a taste, had another lick, savoured it, and almost purred with contentment.  “This is very good,” said V, “very very good; but hang on a minute, it reminds me of something I’ve had before.  What is it, do you think?”  (Continued below….).

Which brings me to the dilemma of how to describe Berthillon chocolate ice cream. The excellent blog Syrup and Tang  http://www.syrupandtang.com/200905/spring-harvest-in-paris/ puts it well: like cold liquid chocolate.  Of course, this gets me back into the issue of precision – does it mean cold liquid Galaxy, or cold liquid Divine, or cold liquid Lindor (now there’s a thought).  It has a good balance of sweet and darkly bitter.  The texture is excellent, like that of good chocolate, flooding the palate with beautiful flavour without any hint of greasiness.  But I realise that mere words can not convey taste.  It’s been said that “writing about music” is like “dancing about architecture” – one art cannot adequately communicate another – and writing about ice cream, particularly chocolate ice cream, particularly Berthillon chocolate ice cream, is clearly hopeless.

So the (blindingly obvious) answer is to taste it.  For this you will need to follow one of the following four methods.

1)      Visit the Ile St-Louis out of season, when Maison Berthillon will be open, and order some of their chocolate ice cream and sorbet.

2)      Visit the Ile St-Louis in the summer, when Maison Berthillon will be closed, but where many local establishments are well-supplied with the necessary chocolate ice cream and sorbet.

3)      Buy the wonderful book Ices, and either spend some time developing your ice-cream-making skills, or enrol yourself in some Boost your Self-Esteem classes, until you feel ready to tackle the recipe for The Ultimate Chocolate Ice Cream.

4)      Have a go at making the recipe below, adapted from the book that came free with my ice-cream machine before last, and which is the most simple recipe you will find for chocolate ice cream.  Unbelievably (and most unfairly for those who have followed any of the previous three steps), it also tastes identical to Berthillon’s version; the continuation of H and V’s conversation was like this: H took another taste.  “Well, it is a little bit like – no, now you come to mention it, very like – the version I made from my old book.”  V nodded. “You’re right, it’s exactly like that.  Exactly.”

So here it is, H’s version of the ultimate chocolate ice cream.  The adaptation I made from my old book was to cook the cocoa first; crucial, I think, to eliminate any raw bitterness and to allow the full chocolate aroma to emerge.

Ingredients

½ pint (250ml) cold milk, skimmed or semiskimmed
5 tablespoons cocoa – Fairtrade is always best.
400g tin condensed milk

Method

  • In a saucepan, or a bowl over hot water, mix the cocoa into a smooth paste using some of the milk.
  • Gradually add the rest of the milk, and heat until the mixture just boils.  I use a ceramic saucepan – if you only have metal, you might be better using the bowl-over-saucepan method, so that the cocoa doesn’t catch and acquire a burnt taste.
  • Remove from the heat, and stir in the condensed milk.
  • Chill in the fridge.
  • When really cold, pour into the ice-cream machine (or use the still-freeze method, beating every hour or so).

This one can be served straight from the freezer, which is another good thing about it.  Because when you are in physical, emotional or psychological distress, so that your whole being is crying out for chocolate, a twenty-minute defrosting delay is just not on.   When you need chocolate, including that in ice-cream form, you need it, how can I put this, Now.

Ras-matazz

October 1, 2009

Sometimes natural colours are the brightest of all.

Streamvale's Raspberry Sorbet

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always regarded the sorbet as a bit of a second-class citizen in the ice cream world. There’s something about it that just screams ‘virtuous’ and ‘boring’. Even now, after I have tasted some truly superb sorbets, I still have that irrational knee-jerk reaction against sorbets when I see them displayed alongside ice creams in an ice cream parlour. And there’s no denying it. Sometimes, only a 99 will do. Or indeed, some honeycomb ice cream…

But I am feeling a bit bad about my persistent, pointless and ultimately self-defeating prejudice against the sorbet and feel I should attempt to make amends. And really, there isn’t a better place to start than with raspberry sorbet – Streamvale Farm’s Raspberry Sorbet in particular. Because, before I had tasted this, I had never had the experience of preferring a flavour in ‘sorbet’ form to ‘ice cream’ form.  But raspberries, I think, are one of those fruits that are so intense that turning them into ice cream forces you to sacrifice that ‘raspberry-ness’ which sorbet, done well, completely preserves and even enhances. And Streamvale Farm does Raspberry Sorbet like no other. Shunning those impostors ‘raspberry flavouring’ and ‘raspberry sauce’, it is immediately apparent on tasting the sorbet that the flavour is down to raspberries – and nothing else. Of course, the sugar and lemon juice coax it into life – as they do with any sorbet – but there is nothing in the sorbet you wouldn’t put in yourself.

And yet…when H and I, longing to replicate that Streamvale Raspberry experience at home, turned our hands to making Raspberry Sorbet ourselves, alas we could not quite do it. Don’t get me wrong – the flavour was superb (this isn’t boasting – it’s down to the old faithfuls Caroline Liddell and Robin Weir whose recipe this is from the book Ices: The Definitive Guide ) and, if you can bear to let it sit for a while in advance, there isn’t too much of a problem. But we just couldn’t get that smoothness Streamvale achieved. Our sorbet was harder once frozen than Streamvale’s (and it isn’t just our freezer – we bought a 500ml tub of Streamvale’s Raspberry Sorbet to have at home) and thus, scooping was much more tricky. It was also just slightly less sweet than Streamvale’s version. 

[H interrupted at this point to say that we might as well be honest and admit that it was a 750ml Streamvale tub that we bought. However, it doesn’t really matter now that it’s all gone anyway.]

Nevertheless, here is a delicious recipe for raspberry sorbet and an absolute must for those who live too far away to taste Streamvale’s own. When I say too far away this means separated by sea and/or vast continental landmass. Otherwise, there is no excuse. Try some and you’ll know what I mean.

 

Our own raspberry sorbet

Our own raspberry sorbet

 

First you’ll need to make sugar syrup: on realising this V rolled her eyes and made a face which communicated something along the lines of ‘who could be bothered faffing about with sugar syrup’ (a face she often makes, as you can imagine) until she realised how mindbogglingly simple it actually is:

 For the Sugar Syrup (which will keep for 2-3 days in a covered jug in the fridge):

Use: 

1 kilo of sugar to 1 litre of water 
                        or
5 cups sugar to 4 cups water
                       or
 2lb 3 oz sugar to 32 fl oz water

This makes 1600ml / 6 and two thirds cups / 54 fl oz of syrup.

Method:

  • boil water
  • mix sugar and water together
  • cover and allow to cool

 

Now for the Raspberry Sorbet recipe – it makes about 1 litre/4 cups/32 fl oz. According to the recipe you need to ‘pick over the raspberries, carefully discarding any suspect fruit’. We took ‘discarding’ to mean ‘eating’, and feel this is the sense in which the instruction was meant. Also, apparently, raspberries are so fragile they should not actually be washed. We didn’t wash them and we’re still alive, so I reckon this is probably good advice.

 

Ingredients:

  • 450g / 1lb raspberries
  • 375 ml / 1½ cups / 12 fl oz sugar syrup
  • Juice of 2 strained lemons

Method :

  1. Transfer berries to a food processor or blender.
  2. Pour in the measured syrup and blend to a uniform pulp.
  3. Have ready a plastic sieve positioned over a bowl.
  4. Strain the pulp, rubbing the residue through until all that remains are the seeds.
  5. Add the strained lemon juice, stir, cover and chill in the fridge
  6. When ready, start the ice cream machine.
  7. Pour in the chilled raspberry purée and continue to freeze until the sorbet is firm enough to serve. Or to store, quickly scrape into a plastic freezer box, cover with greaseproof paper and a lid.
  8. If frozen hard, allow 20-25 minutes in the fridge to soften.

  

Note: we left out instructions 3 and 4 because we didn’t mind about the seeds and Streamvale’s raspberry sorbet – the benchmark – had seeds in it. This sorbet is really nice with nectarines or on its own.

Recipe comes from Ices: The Definitive Guide (Grub Street, 1995)

Strange as it may seem in the middle of September (when the only shades that graced our August skies were those of grey and greyer), the sun is actually shining today, the sky is blue and it feels like summer again. So what could be more summery than strawberries and cream?

Well, possibly Strawberry (and Balsamic Vinegar) Ice Cream. You get the strawberries and the cream but then make it all so much better by making them into ice cream. Before today, I – unlike H – had never made this ice cream. Unacquainted as I was with the ways of Italian gourmets and as one who recoils at most of Heston Blumenthal’s inventions, when H told me we were going to ruin enhance our ice cream with balsamic vinegar, I was horrified as only an ice-cream-lover who has been promised the best ever strawberry ice cream can be. It is with my own reaction in mind that I, unlike the recipe book from which this fabulous recipe came (‘Ices’ by Caroline Liddell and Robin Weir (Grub Street, 1995)), put ‘and Balsamic Vinegar’ in brackets, lest anyone should not attempt this recipe and miss out on what truly did reveal itself to be the best strawberry ice cream ever!

For, today I made an invaluable discovery which has forced me to eat humble ice cream (in large quantities). By adding balsamic vinegar to the strawberries – along with a little sugar – one does not end up with a sweet-and-sour frozen experiment. Instead, the balsamic vinegar brings out the flavour of the strawberries so that the ice cream tastes like pure strawberries – it really is so, so strawberry-y – but with no vinegar aftertaste whatsoever. At the moment, the mixture is busy freezing (tastes were, of course, necessary when transferring the ice cream from the ice-cream maker to its box) and because we made so much that even the ice cream maker thought we’d overdone it, I will need to take it out in an hour or so and give it a further whisk with an electric beater. No doubt this will create some drips on the worktop that only a highly undedicated and irresponsible ice-cream-lover would allow to be swept by kitchen towel into oblivion…

This is all you need - all the components of the best strawberry ice cream!

This is all you need - all the components of the best strawberry ice cream!

 

Well, after all that build up, I suppose you’d like the recipe. We used the metric measurements, but – as Caroline Liddell and Robin Weir were kind enough to provide three versions, I’ll share those as well so that everyone the world over can enjoy this magnificent ice cream.

 

Ingredients

450g / 1 lb  Fresh Strawberries
150g / ¾ cup / 5 ¼ oz Caster/Ultra Fine Sugar
1 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
150ml / ½ cup plus 2 tbsp / 5 ¼ fl oz Whipping/ Heavy Cream (36% fat)

Makes about 875ml/3½ cups/28 fl oz

 

Method:

  1. Wash and hull strawberries, then dry thoroughly on kitchen towel
  2. Put strawberries in a food processor or blender, with the sugar
  3. Set the machine in motion and add the balsamic vinegar through the lid or funnel.
  4. Continue to blend until the ingredients have combined to a smooth purée, then pour this into a bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 2-3 hours. (At this stage we’re told “The sugar and vinegar will bring out the flavour of the fruit”   Hooray!)
  5. When ready, combine the strawberry purée and cream and either still freeze* or start the ice cream machine.
  6. If using the ice cream machine, pour mixture into the machine and leave to churn until the ice cream has the consistency of softly whipped cream.
  7. Quickly scrape into plastic freezer boxes and cover with waxed/greaseproof paper and a lid.
  8. Finally label, then freeze.

Serving straight away? Allow to freeze for 1 hour until just firm enough to serve. According to the book, you should allow about 20 minutes in the fridge before serving if the ice cream has been frozen solid but we found this was not necessary (or bearable).

 

*Still Freezing. If you don’t have an ice cream maker, do not fear! After pouring the liquid mixture into a box, check after 1 – 1½ hours. The mixture should have frozen to a firm ring of ice around the sides and base of the box, with a soft slush in the centre. Either:

  • Beat for a few seconds with a sturdy electric hand beater until the mixture forms a uniform slush

or

  1. Quickly process in a food processor to a uniform slush.
  2. Quickly return the ice to the box, cover and put back in the freezer

 

    You’ll need to repeat this at least twice, every 1-1½ hours.