Food: Cold comfort
From melting ice cream to tingling granita and smoothly seductive sorbet, Simon Hopkinson stirs up some culinary memories of summers past
Saturday 31 July 1999
A litre of full-cream milk (the supermarket stuff called "breakfast" is good here)
1 vanilla pod, split lengthways
9 large egg yolks
300g caster sugar
400ml double cream
Gently heat together the milk and vanilla pod. As it comes to the boil, give it a whisk so as to disperse the vanilla seeds into the milk. Cover and leave to infuse for 20 minutes. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until light and fluffy. Lift the vanilla pod out and pour the milk on to the egg yolks whilst continuing to whisk. Pour the mixture into a heavy- bottomed saucepan and cook over very gentle heat, constantly stirring with a wooden spoon. When the mixture has thickened - do not let it boil - pour it into a metal bowl, or another pan (hot liquids cool quickest in metal), and stir in the cream. Leave to cool completely. Pour into an ice-cream machine, churn and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Elderflower and mint granita
500ml elderflower cordial
juice of 1 lemon
juice of 1 lime
a large handful of mint leaves, finely chopped
Chill a shallow metal tray in the freezer in advance. Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. Place in the tray and put into the freezer for about an hour before having a look. What you are looking for is ice crystals forming around the edge of the tray (completely opposite to ice cream or sorbets, as in this recipe the ice crystals are the essential charm of the thing). Once the crystals have extended about 2-3in towards the middle, gently lift them with a fork into the not-so-frozen mixture. Return to the freezer. Have another look in about half an hour and repeat the forking. Continue this procedure until all the mixture has formed crystals. Now tip into a lidded plastic container and store in the freezer until ready to use; it will keep its granular texture for a few days, but after that the granita starts to firm up into a block.
he village of Edgeworth, a few cycling miles away from Greenmount, Lancashire, where I grew up, had a grocer's shop (including, I think, the local post office too) that sold the most delicious ice cream in the world. Now, even though that might have been the childish exaggeration of a small boy bragging to his classmates in the playground - "You've never even been to Edgeworth, so how can you tell me I'm wrong!" - I remain convinced that a cornet from Edgeworth still contains the very best ice cream in the world. Somehow, it goes without saying that this was vanilla ice cream, as all home-made ice creams were vanilla in those days - they just were.
I have not been to Edgeworth in years, so cannot vouch for how the ice cream tastes today, or, indeed, whether the shop still exists; but I do very much hope so. Perhaps the recipe has since been handed down from father to son or daughter; I think the family were called Warburton, but cannot be sure about that. I would also like to think that the giant ice- cream cone sign above the shop door is still there too, a most welcome beacon to this sweaty little boy on his red bicycle, free-wheeling down the final hill into the village with a "wheeee" and the thought of a big "99" - the most important thing in his whole wide world at that moment.
I was briefly transported back to Edgeworth recently by a very good ice cream, served to me at a new-ish restaurant called Roussillon, in Pimlico, London. I think what jogged my taste buds was its very milky flavour and texture - not at all rich and creamy, as most restaurant vanilla ices seem to be these days. This sort of ice cream melts very quickly across the tongue, without leaving a cloying trail in its wake and, perhaps owing to the lack of high butter-fat cream, utilises a lot of egg yolks to stabilise the mixture. This, naturally, gives the ice cream a gorgeous custard-yellow hue.
The other noticeable quality of that Pimlico ice, and the Edgeworth one, was how parsimonious had been the quantity of vanilla used as flavouring. Now, whether the vanilla in my childhood Edgeworth ice cream was the scraped seeds from the inside of a fresh "Bourbon" pod from the island of Madagascar, or simply some brown essence poured in, I do not know. But, manufactured or pure, it was still a quite wonderful confection. By contrast, the scoops at the restaurant Roussillon, naturally, were speckled with up-to-date, tell-tale black seeds, but just so that the ice was scented rather than saturated by that heady spice.
I have seen some recipes for vanilla ice that, to make enough for about 10 servings, ask for the scrapings from four vanilla pods! Firstly, I find this amount a quite disgusting assault on the palate (almost chemical tasting), and secondly, at anything up to pounds 2 a pod, it is the most absurdly extravagant outlay. I have also seen the same bullying amount used in the making of a creme brulee, where the excess of little black seeds literally covers the base of the dish like a thick layer of cigarette ash. And, incidentally, this is a sure sign that this particular creme brulee has been made in the "new" way; in other words, the raw custard gently baked in a bain-marie in the oven, rather than quietly stirred to the correct consistency on top of the stove, prior to being poured into pots to set in the fridge. This, the original method, forces the seeds to be held in suspension, whereas the easier (just lazier, actually) way leaves that tell-tale ashtray smear of sunken seeds. Just one of my little betes noires, you understand ...
Now then, I think I may have mentioned this observation before, but however much one tries to make ice cream without the use of a machine, the results will never fully please. Yes, OK, an electric machine can cost anything up to pounds 250, but there are many cheaper little fellows on the market just now that can produce a fine result. Shop around. Apart from allowing you to make the easiest desserts possible, the pleasure of serving your very own ice cream or sorbet will soon become so second nature to you that the initial investment will melt away as swiftly as the spoonful of your very first fresh-fruit sorbet.
A discussion of ices would not, however, be complete without the inclusion of a refreshing granita. My recipe for one of these is even easier to make than my melon sorbet (above right), and you don't need to use a machine. All you need is some elderflower syrup (the finest and most fragrant available), water, lemon juice and a handful of fresh mint leaves. The combination of elderflower with mint just reeks of summer. But you know what? A granita made from coffee is still the best one. (In case you missed the coffee granita recipe last time around, the ingredients for this are: 600ml very strong hot coffee, preferably espresso, whisked together with 125g caster sugar and cooled. Proceed with the method shown on the previous page. Serve with whipped cream.)
One of my earliest attempts at a fruit sorbet was one made from melon. It came from the cookery book of a Swiss chef, Fredy Girardet. The last time I ate chez Girardet, I consumed three servings of his remarkable almond ice cream, so very, very good it was. I would happily kill for that particular recipe.
What is so appealing about his melon sorbet is its very simplicity in the making, the three ingredients pureed to the most outrageous, Cartland- pink froth, before being churned to a frozen mousse of immediate seduction.
600g very ripe flesh from 1 or 2 Charentais melons
200g icing sugar
juice of one large lemon
Note: If you wish to serve the sorbet as shown in the picture below, cut the melons into quarters before removing the flesh.
Making sure that there are no seeds still attached to the melon, puree the flesh in a liquidiser with the sugar and lemon juice. Pass through a fine sieve and churn in an ice-cream machine according to the manufacturer's instructions. To present in the melon skins, first make sure that the sorbet has become good and firm before moulding with a spatula. Return to the freezer for at least one hour before serving.
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