Food: Chocs away

Simon Hopkinson takes flight with chocolate
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Two things sparked off this week's chocolate piece: the discovery of the wonderful chocolate ice-cream recipe from Cipriani in Venice (found for me by Alison Yetman), and the mention of my chocolate tart recipe by my colleague on this paper, Annie Bell, who so kindly said it was one of her new babe's favourite things. Thank you, Annie, and a joy to know your offspring already have such impeccable taste. First, though, a simple, but very fine, chocolate sauce.

I took the Eurostar to Brussels for lunch a few weeks ago (it was a cheap deal, OK?). I was looking forward to eating at the legendary Comme Chez Soi, where Pierre Wynants is, I think, the third generation of the family to man the stoves. It was desperately disappointing. I finally lost it when my rabbit dish was set before me looking like something from a dolly's tea set. The chocolate sauce on the vanilla ice-cream - possibly the best dish of the meal - was, however, delicious. The recipe is from Les Recettes Originales de Pierre Wynants Comme Chez Soi (Editions Robert Laffont).

Pierre Wynants' sauce au chocolat, makes about 900ml

600ml water

30g freshly ground coffee

200g best bitter chocolate

20g softened, unsalted butter

20g cocoa

30g caster sugar

Bring the water to the boil and throw in the coffee. Give it a brief whisk and then cover and put aside to infuse for 10 minutes. Melt the chocolate in a bowl suspended over a pan of water that has just come off the boil. Put the butter and cocoa in another bowl and whisk together until very smooth. Add the sugar and beat again. Strain the coffee through an extremely fine sieve over the melted chocolate, remove the bowl from over the hot water and pour on to the butter/cocoa/ sugar mixture. Tip the whole lot into a small, heavy-based pan and, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, bring just up to boiling point on a meagre flame. As soon as the odd bubble starts to appear, whisk vigorously and pour into a bowl or screw-top jar and leave to cool. Cover the bowl or put the lid on the jar, and put into the fridge for future use. (Although this recipe produces a lot of sauce, it makes it easier to measure out those ingredients of which you only need a little. And, anyway, the sauce will keep for weeks in the fridge, as long as it is well sealed; a sauce such as this, uncovered, will take on fugitive fridge flavours very quickly.)

The Cipriani chocolate ice-cream recipe started bells ringing in my head. Could this possibly be the very recipe, or at least similar to the one they serve at the remarkable Harry's Bar in London? I have been lucky enough, on several occasions, to be taken to Harry's Bar. This private dining club in Mayfair serves some of the best Italian food I have ever eaten. The chef there, Alberico Penati, takes his wooden spoon to an ambrosial number of risotti, the finest of which was one fashioned of broad beans. The deep-fried zucchini are quite simply amazing, the prosciutto is the best, and a whole calf's liver roasted with a verdant lawn of persillade and carved in thick slices from a silver trolley, was truly the cooking of an angel.

And then there is this chocolate ice-cream. I could eat a bucket of it. I have always asked myself how they made it. Well, Alberico, I think (I hope) that this recipe comes the closest to it that I have yet to fabricate. At any rate, I think it comes pretty close. And, as the recipe is a closely guarded secret, what else is there left for me to do?

Il gelato di cioccolato del Cipriani, serves 5 or 6, or maybe 4 ... 2?

500ml full cream milk

100g best bitter chocolate

4 large egg yolks

130g caster sugar

40g cocoa

2 tbsp granulated sugar

Bring the milk to the boil and switch off the heat. Put the chocolate into a bowl suspended over a pan of boiled water. Leave to melt. Beat together the egg yolks and caster sugar in a large bowl until light and pale yellow, forming ribbons. Slowly pour in the hot milk, continuing to beat until well amalgamated, then mix in the chocolate and cocoa, blending everything together until luxuriously smooth.

Pour everything back into the milk pan. Now take a small, heavy-based pan and put into it the 2 tablespoons of caster sugar and 1 dessertspoon of water. Put on to a high heat and allow the sugar to melt. When it comes to the boil, turn the heat down a little and watch carefully as the sugar starts to caramelise. It will turn pale golden, then dark golden and eventually become the colour of a shiny conker. Holding the metal handle of the pan with a cloth - it will have become very hot - quickly pour it into the chocolate pan, whisking all the time. It may well turn lumpy, but as you are about to give the chocolate mixture a final cooking over heat, these sugar lumps will dissolve.

So, placing the pan on to a low heat, stir with a wooden spoon constantly and cook until slightly thickened, but do not let it come anywhere near a boil. Pour back into the bowl, whisk thoroughly and allow to cool completely before, ideally, churning the mixture in an ice-cream machine until really thick.

I have since made this ice-cream by allowing the chocolate mixture to become very cold in the fridge overnight, whisking it electrically the next day until light, and then simply spooning it into a lidded container and freezing as is. This information is only for those of you who do not have access to ice-cream-making machinery, as, although this version is good, it does not have the sheer voluptuousness of the churned one.

I have realised, of late, that I have been using other people's recipes rather a lot. I hope you don't mind. It is just that when a really good one comes along or two especially fine ones such as those above, it seems daft not to pass them on. I suspect that hardly any of you will have the Wynants book, and you, like me, should feel thrilled to discover the truly wonderful Cipriani chocolate ice. I just wanted to assure you that I can still cook up a little storm from time to time. Having said that, the next recipe comes from a curious book all the way from Australia, called Yum, written by Terry Durack.

Now I know of this particular recipe (or rather "his" recipe, but that might be a moot point), called, here, sticky chocolate pudding, more familiarly as chocolate puddle pudding. And, if I may say, the latter is a better description, as that is exactly what happens when the pudding cooks: a sponge forms on the surface of the thing, revealing, underneath, an oozing puddle of chocolate sauce.

But Yum is a good book to have (there are three recipes for tripe, which warms me towards Durack immediately). It is amusing to read for most of the time, albeit in a slightly grating sort of way. The recipes all read well. Durack knows his onions when it comes to eating well and I am glad indeed that the book was sent to me, I presume, for review. So there it is: Yum - A voyage around my stomach, by Terry Durack (New Holland, pounds 19.99).

Sticky chocolate pudding (or Chocolate puddle pudding), serves 4

for the sponge:

120g self-raising flour

2 tbsp cocoa

pinch of salt

100g softened butter

100g caster sugar

2 large eggs

a few drops of pure vanilla extract

1-2 tbsp milk

for the sticky bit - or puddle: l00g soft brown sugar

2 tbsp cocoa

250ml boiling water

Pre-heat the oven to 350F/180C/gas mark 4. Sift together the flour, cocoa and salt. Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, then beat in the eggs, one by one, and finally the vanilla. Fold in the flour mixture and the milk until the mixture is soft and with a dropping consistency. Spoon into a buttered baking dish.

To make the puddle, pour boiling water over the cocoa and brown sugar and whisk until dissolved. Pour the sauce over the pudding, and bake for 30-40 minutes until the top has formed a crust, its centre is cooked through, but its bottom remains runny.

Chocolate tart, serves 4

This one is all mine

for the pastry:

175g butter

65g icing sugar

2 egg yolks

225g plain flour

for the filling:

3 egg yolks

2 whole eggs

40g caster sugar

150g butter

200g best bitter chocolate, broken into pieces

To make the pastry, put the butter, sugar and egg yolks in a bowl (or food processor) and work together quickly. Blend in the flour and work to a homogeneous paste. Chill for 1 hour.

Pre-heat the oven to 350F/180C/gas mark 4. Roll out the pastry as thin as you dare and line a lightly buttered, 20cm tart tin. Bake blind for about 25 minutes, or until pale biscuit in colour but thoroughly cooked through. Remove and cool. Increase the oven temperature to 375F/190C/gas mark 5.

To make the filling, put the egg yolks, whole eggs and sugar in a bowl and whisk vigorously together until really thick, pale and fluffy. Melt the butter and chocolate together in a bowl over a pan of barely simmering water, stirring until smooth. Pour on to the egg mixture while still warm. Briefly beat together until well amalgamated, then pour into the pastry case. Return to the hot oven for five minutes, remove and cool. I like it best cool from the fridge, served with very thick cold cream