Saturday, 3 July 2010

'makes me happy, makes me cold…’

A long time ago I realised that the only way to be sure of getting anything decent for my birthday was to buy it myself. However, I think that I may have spent too long in the sun this week and gone a bit 'Tropo', because I seem to have bought myself an ice cream maker (a Cuisinart ICE30BCU, to be specific).

Like all good presents this came as a bit of surprise because I am not really much of an ice cream person. I don’t like that ultra sickly, soft scoop, swirly-whirly stuff that passes for ice cream in most supermarkets.

When I was a kid growing up in the North East of England in the 70’s there seemed to be only a handful of ice cream flavours available. 'Bog standard' vanilla came in either the form of nicotine yellow scoops, or the peroxide-blonde Mr Whippy-style squirts (made possible thanks to the tinkering of apprentice arch villain Margaret Thatcher in her pre-politics role of evil Frankenstein-food scientist.)

To me the best thing about ice cream vans was not the (rather unlikely) prospect of getting a 99. No. For me it was the smell of the vans themselves. The exhaust fumes from whatever the freezer/compressor units were powered by were intoxicating to me (presumably destroying millions of brain cells with every sniff – which would certainly explain a lot). To this day I still associate that smell with a treat, but on the other hand I can’t remember the year 1992 – let’s hope nothing important happened then.

There was an odd regional variation on the traditional cornet in my part of the world. The ice cream shops in Redcar (Redcar, Redcar by the sea… it’s the place for you, it’s the place for me…) used to sell the famous ‘Lemon Top’. This was essentially a Mr Whippy style cornet with a blob of frozen lemon curd on top. These were minutely more expensive than a regular cone and therefore off limits to my brother and I, and so became the rarest and most sought after treat imaginable to us. The criteria required for you to qualify for an upgrade to a Lemon Top in my family was extreme. Nothing short of treading on a jellyfish or 3rd degree sunburn would suffice otherwise you’d be stuck with an Orange Mivvi or a Zoom.

Very occasionally, on family holidays further afield - usually in the south of England, we would come across an ice cream van or shop that sold square cornets with bricks of what was cryptically called ‘Cornish’ ice Cream. This was far superior to the bog standard sold elsewhere and may even have been introduced to some actual vanilla at some point in its manufacture, unfortunately these encounters were rare.

My Gran always had some blocks of chocolate and strawberry ice cream in her freezer but these always tasted exactly like the brown or pink bits recovered from a block of Neapolitan. In fact the more I think about it, the more I am beginning to suspect that is exactly what she must've done – bought a load of Neapolitan and painstakingly divided it up into containers of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry to give us the illusion of choice. Even as a small child I knew this was inferior and synthetic stuff and only good enough for making ‘floats’ (dropping a couple of depth charge scoops of ice cream into a jug of lemonade).

At some point in the late 70’s, or early 80’s, mint choc chip arrived and we almost exploded from a combination of excitement and massive tooth decay.
From the mid to late 70’s our family holidays ventured further afield and we spent our summers camping in France. I suspect this is where I developed a taste for French Tarts – ooooer! Certainly the French Glaces were a revelation, sophisticated and subtle with the added bonus that you could expect to finish a cone with the same number of teeth as when you started. Glace au citron, Melon and Pistache were my particular favourites and I suspect that it was the repressed memories of these long forgotten delights that may have been working on my subconscious and prompted my, possibly rash, decision to splurge on an Ice cream maker.
In a pathetic attempt to recapture a much misspent youth, I have begun experimenting to try and recreate those long forgotten ice cream flavours (of course I realise now that I could have just hopped onto a ferry and bought a van-load of the real thing in any Hypermarket in Calais, which would probably have been cheaper, but where’s the fun in that?)

Until my lemon tree starts producing actual lemons I shall consider this a work in progress. Here is my first attempt at lemon ice cream or Glace au citron using shop bought lemons.
5 lemons
450ml milk
5 egg yolks
150g caster sugar
450ml double cream
Vanilla pod
Pinch of salt
Makes enough to just about fill a 1litre tub.

Zest and juice 5 lemons, being careful not to get any of the bitter white pith mixed up with your zest. Retain the zest and put the juice into the fridge to chill.

In a saucepan heat the milk. If you want to make a more ‘grown up’ version and are planning to add zest to your ice cream maker in the last five minutes of churning or to use some as a garnish then you’ll want to save about a tablespoon of the zest for use later on.

Add all the remaining lemon zest to the milk. If you have half a vanilla pod that was saved from another project, then add that as well (or a couple of drops of vanilla extract).

Add the caster sugar (or vanilla sugar, see note below) and stir to dissolve. Bring the milk to almost boiling point stirring constantly, then take the pan off the heat and set aside for 15 minutes to infuse.

Strain the milk through a sieve to remove the zest and vanilla pod (wash the used vanilla pod under the tap then dry on kitchen towel – it’s still got plenty of flavour in it. Keep your used vanilla pods in a jar with a lid, cover with caster sugar – this way you can re-use the pods several times and you get to make vanilla sugar as a by product which you can then use in baking etc.)

In a mixing bowl beat the 5 egg yolks together with a pinch of salt. Whisk in a small amount of the warm infused milk to ‘temper’ the eggs. Pour the egg mixture back into the milk and cook over a medium heat. Ideally it would be easiest to use a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water, but I haven’t got one so used a small saucepan inside a larger saucepan of simmering water. Heat the custard for about 10 minutes, until it just coats the back of a wooden spoon (when you draw your fingernail across the spoon and it leaves a clean trail you know it’s ready). Take the pan off the heat as it is in imminent danger of curdling (because of all the lemon zesty acid). I left mine a nanosecond too long and it did curdle but the subsequent straining seemed to help reincorporate it and the finished ice cream wasn’t adversely affected by this little drama.

Strain the custard through a sieve into another bowl and immediately cover with cling film – don’t stretch it across the top like a drum - but push it down into the bowl making sure the plastic is in direct contact with the surface of the custard preventing any air from reaching it and thus forming a skin. Set the bowl aside to cool, then put in the fridge to chill for as long as possible at least 4 hours but preferably overnight.

Once chilled strain the custard into either a large jug or bowl with a lip (it helps to have something that makes it easier to pour the mixture into the ice cream maker). Mix in the double cream (you could whisk it up a bit first to give it some frothy extra volume) and add the lemon juice to taste, I found about 6-7 tablespoons was about right for me, but you may want it sweeter. At this point you can either start pouring the mix straight into your ice cream maker or chill it in the fridge again for another hour. Mix according to your ice cream makers instructions – add the lemon zest about 5 minutes before the end if you want it zesty (or leave it out if you want it more child friendly and not all bitty). Decant the soft ice cream into a suitable container and then into the freezer for a couple of hours, remember to transfer to the fridge an hour before you want to serve to give it a chance to soften up (not having all the scientific evil additives this stuff goes like concrete in the freezer so it needs some pre-planning and foresight to make sure it's a suitable consistency to scoop into fancy balls).
The end result was fantastic, very luxurious, creamy and refreshingly lemony. However it wasn’t quite what I was looking for, it didn’t quite match up to my battered 30 year old memories of French campsite Glace au citron.

I think this recipe was a little richer and sweeter than the French stuff, which was more subtle and closer to the sorbet end of the icy spectrum. I suspect I will come back to this recipe with a few tweaks.


  1. Alex that looks pretty wonderful to me! I'd love to have an ice cream machine but being tight on space means I have to stick with recipes that can be made the old fashioned way - just think of all the wonderful flavours you'll be able to create! You'll be in ice cream convert soon enough ;0)

  2. Cheers Chele, my nieces are coming to harass me on my birthday so I've made some double choc to keep them quiet. I'll post the recipe if it's any good.

  3. dear Alex, Sounds so good I nearly ran out and bought one but
    A) it was late at night
    B)A Doctor has suggested I'm a little on the chubby side
    So I shall vicariously enjoy yours. Roll on the chocolate! (That's not an order, by the way)

  4. Cheers Is. It was very nice and it may have been problematic if I’d been allowed tp scoff the lot - but once word got out I only got a single scoop myself before it was hoovered up by a horde of rampaging nieces and assorted desperados.

    I don't bother with doctors any more - none of them seem to be able to tell left from right, 10mg from 1000mg or remember to count the number of surgical instruments before and after a procedure to ensure they haven't left any behind. I don't need some young conservative with a bow tie to tell me to eat less and exercise more. When I was his age I was stitching up my own leg with fishing line and toothpaste covered banana leaves whilst half submerged in a flooded paddy field filled with leeches, snakes and crocodiles while being shot at by both sides in somebody else’s revolution...mumble...mumble....

  5. I loved that photo. It screams hot summer and cold delicious sweet relief at the same time!

  6. Cheers Cake - this photo session was my third attempt, having a bit of a mini heatwave up here right now and so everything gets very runny very quickly.