Food: Return to the ice age

Extravagant Sixties ice-cream puddings that are still guaranteed to go down a bombe. Photograph by Patrice de Villiers
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Indy Lifestyle Online
My principal recollection of food in the Sixties is of Heinz tomato soup supped to the refrain of "Excerpts from a Teenage Opera". I do, however, have vivid memories of more theatrical moments in steak houses which flambeed your chosen cut before your wide eyes, and of those illustrious ice-cream puddings known as bombes, which were turned out of a mould - a veritable treasure chest of freezing cold surprises.

Even today, one of the quirkier aspects of eating on the Continent is that, having picked your way through all manner of sophisticated shellfish washed down with an above-average wine, pudding arrives in the form of a pictorial menu of outrageous ice-creams. How can anyone resist a breast- shaped chocolate mound that goes by the name of "tartufo"? I compulsively order the wilder creations in candy pink and green in the hope of discovering an inside stuck with jewels of candied peel or splinters of chocolate. It's a system that makes eating abroad with pernickety children a relative cruise, and seems to me to be a fair compromise in family eating.

But bombes here are all but forgotten. If you travel back to 1963, in the original edition of Robert Carrier's Great Dishes of the World, however, there is a section devoted to them, with lyrical tribute paid to Gunter's pre-war ices, as well as those of Mme Lamponi from "the tiny village of St Tropez". Carrier goes on to elaborate on these glamorous creations and suggests that "well-flavoured fruit ices or ice-creams can be bought in most areas for the outside casing, and all that is required is a home- made centre. Fruits, nuts, crushed macaroons, cake crumbs, raisins or coarsely-grated chocolate are wonderful additions to bombe mixtures." In the new edition, though, bombes have been replaced by the semi-freddo and souffle glace.

There is also a section devoted to the subject in Len Deighton's Ou est Le Garlic? - published shortly after Elizabeth David's French Country Cooking. "The traditional spherical shape of ice-cream bombes," says Deighton, "dates from the time when men in long beards with `ski' at the end of their name hid these gadgets, still smoking, beneath ankle-length cloaks. Nowadays, when bombs come in such a wide variety of shapes and sizes their culinary counterparts can do the same. Cake tins, bread tins, bowls, or basins are all suitable." Deighton's is a collectable volume, if only for its companion, the Action Cook Book. On its cover, a James Bond lookalike with shoulder holster tosses spaghetti while being caressed by a Sixties chick dressed in a frilly negligee and fake eyelashes.

More reliably, Mrs David learnedly informs us in Harvest of the Cold Months of the heyday of the bombe in the 19th century: "Those complex confections relied rather more on the arts of the mould-makers and the colourists - who finished off the demoulded ices with the fine painting and brushwork for the realistic representation of peaches, apricots, plums, oranges, bunches of grapes, pomegranates, figs and the like - than on that of the confectioner who made the foundation ices." The problems and difficulties that faced the bombe-maker then, however, were the same as they are today: gauging exactly when to turn the moulded ice out so that it is neither an icy mountain or a collapsed mess.

A bombe in its perfect form should be sufficiently frozen on the outside to contain its shape while remaining soft enough inside to slice through. In the 19th century, when ice houses would not have achieved a freezing period of more than a couple of hours without being restoked with salt and ice, bombes would never have frozen solid. To this end, I only freeze bombes for a couple of hours, and also add a nip of something feisty to the ice-cream mixture. Allowing Mr Deighton the last word, "Remember that alcohol makes things more difficult to freeze ... So either take it easy on the booze or step up the cold." He is, nonetheless, a fine crime writer.

Sixties chocolate chip bombe,serves 6

The chocolate chip ice-cream of my childhood was a dainty affair where a block of vanilla ice was run through with a tiny splinters of chocolate. I seem to remember it also came in mint.

450ml full-cream milk

3 tbsp roasted coffee beans

9 medium egg yolks

200g caster sugar

3 tbsp Kahlua or Tia Maria

530ml double cream

120g high quality dark chocolate, broken up

To serve

cocoa for dusting

dark chocolate shavings

Bring the milk to the boil in a small saucepan with the coffee beans and infuse for 15 minutes. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl until they are pale and creamy, then whisk in the milk and beans. Return this to the pan and heat gently until you have a thin pouring custard that coats the back of a spoon, taking care not to overheat it. Pour straightaway into a bowl leaving the beans in the custard, cover with film and leave to cool. Chill it until you are ready to churn the ice-cream. You can prepare the custard well in advance.

To finish making the bombe, strain the custard into a large clean bowl and add the Kahlua or Tia Maria. Whip the cream until it forms soft peaks, then whisk it into the custard and freeze according to the instructions for your ice-cream maker. In the meantime, place the chocolate in the top half of a bain marie, set over 2cm of simmering water in the lower half, and heat gently to melt it. You can also do this in a bowl set over a small saucepan of simmering water.

Once the ice-cream has churned, spoon it into two separate bowls and whisk very briefly until it is homogenous. Very gradually trickle the chocolate into one bowl, whisking rapidly as you do, until it splinters into numerous tiny fragments. Spoon the chocolate chip ice-cream into the base of a plastic or steel pudding-shaped bowl, then carefully spoon the coffee ice-cream on top and smooth the surface. Try to do this without disrupting the chocolate chip too much. I don't worry overly about the neatness of the divide, once it's dusted with cocoa it won't show. Cover with food wrap and freeze for two hours. To serve, dip the bowl briefly into a sink of hot water, or squeeze it out of shape to release the air lock if it is plastic, and invert the ice-cream onto a plate. Dust it with cocoa and pile a few chocolate shavings (sliced with a sharp knife off a bar of chocolate) in the centre of the ice. As you slice into it, it should be set on the outside and still comparatively soft within.

Baked Alaska, serves 6

This is seriously sweet and sticky, the kind of flash pudding you expect to find stuck with sparklers. It's important that the ice-cream is a little on the hard side when you assemble it to allow for its spell in the oven. Any high-quality shop-bought praline will do, though obviously you can make your own should you wish. The sponge, too, can be shop-bought if you don't feel like making one, which may mean a square Baked Alaska instead of round.

Pears

juice of a lemon

3 ripeish pears, ideally Comice

1 bottle white wine

170g caster or golden caster sugar

2 tbsp Poire William liqueur (optional)

Alaska

4 medium egg whites

225g caster sugar

2 x 1 pint pots of praline ice-cream

2 x 20cm circles of sponge cake, sliced 1cm thick

Add the lemon juice to a large bowl of water. Peel the pears and reserve them in the acidulated water as you go. Bring the wine and sugar to the boil in a medium saucepan, drain and add the pears. Cover with a circle of paper parchment, bring back to the boil and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes depending on their ripeness. Remove the pears to a bowl and reduce the remaining liquor by half. Pour it over the fruit, stir in the liqueur if using and leave to cool. Quarter and core the pears and slice them into long strips. Reserve in the syrup until ready to eat.

Preheat the oven to 220C fan oven/230C or 450F electric oven/ gas mark 8. Whisk the egg whites until stiff. Gradually sprinkle over the sugar, whisking between each addition until you have a stiff meringue. Slice the ice-cream and start layering cake, fruit and ice-cream on a baking sheet. First moisten the cake with a little pear syrup, then lay over the pears and the ice-cream. Don't worry at this stage about how messy it looks. Smooth the meringue over the top and sides so that the cake and ice-cream are concealed. Bake for three to four minutes until the meringue is set and turning a pale gold. Serve immediately from the baking tray.

Arabella Boxer's bombe favourite, serves 5-6

This bombe is a rich concoction of custard and meringue frozen on the outside and creamy and soft within. Served with a jam sauce it makes a classic Sixties raspberry ripple.

Custard

2 large egg yolks

1 tbsp cornflour

1 tbsp caster sugar

300ml milk

Filling

300ml double cream, whipped

150-185g meringues, broken into large pieces

Beat the egg yolks with a balloon whisk, adding the cornflour which you have mixed to a paste with 3tbsp of water. Add the sugar gradually, while continuing to beat. Heat the milk until almost boiling, then pour it into the egg yolks, still beating. After a moment or two, set the bowl over a pan of simmering water and stir almost constantly with a wooden spoon for about five minutes until it has thickened. Set the bowl in a sink half-full of cold water and stir occasionally while it cools to prevent a skin forming. When it has cooled almost to room temperature, fold in the whipped cream, and then the pieces of meringue, trying not to break them. Use enough meringue pieces to make a thick mixture that will hold its shape. Then turn into a bowl, cover and freeze for two hours. While it is freezing make the jam sauce. Shortly before serving, turn out the bombe onto a shallow dish and pour the jam sauce around it.

Jam sauce

4 tbsp strawberry jam

4 tbsp raspberry jam

1 tbsp orange juice

1 tbsp lemon juice

12 tbsp brandy

Heat the two jams together, in a small pan, then push them through a fine food mill or a sieve. Put them back in the clean saucepan and reheat gently, adding the fruit juices and brandy. Serve at room temperature with the bombe

Annie Bell interviews Arabella Boxer on page 76

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