It may not feel all that summery right now, but we are promised warmer weather this weekend so why not make some ice cream in preparation? This recipe series was originally published in The Sunday Times in June 2005.
Don’t tell me. You think life is too short to stuff a mushroom and to make your own ice cream, especially when the shops are full of tempting looking tubs. Well, I agree about the mushrooms (small ones anyway), but no bought ice cream ever quite matches up to something freshly-made that has travelled from freezer to table and not a spoonful further - except perhaps to the garden.
If you’ve never made ice cream, it’s simpler than you think. If you can make real custard, you can make ice cream, but if that seems a palaver, you can always freeze a simple cream/yoghurt fruit fool. It won’t have the deep, rich taste or the smoothness of a custard base, but if you get the flavouring right it will still be delicious (see the mango ice cream below). As for equipment, you don’t need an ice cream maker, although I find a £35-£40 machine, the kind you pre-freeze, is worth its weight in gold. I can live without the all-singing, all-dancing £200+ item.
One last thought: home-made ice cream is a great party trick. Buy a starter and a main course from the deli and follow with a couple of your own ice creams (not forgetting to get them out of the freezer 20 minutes before serving). People will be hugely impressed – all the more so if you have taken the opportunity to think outside the box. Herbs, spices and flowers can all be used with stunning results, for example in the following bay leaf recipe.
Bay leaf ice cream
This may sound like novelty for the sake of it, but trust me: the bay leaves give a wonderfully fresh, subtle, not-quite-herb-not-quite-spice flavour and it goes especially well with summer fruit – poached apricots and nectarines, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, cherries. For a year I prided myself on inventing it, then I found a recipe in a book published in 1993 – a bit deflating, but it’s far too good to abandon out of dented pride. Without the bay leaves, it is also my basic recipe for anything from vanilla onwards.
3 large fresh bay leaves (if you use dried, start with 5 and taste at various stages because the dried leaves vary greatly in pungency)
500 ml whipping cream, or half and half double cream and full-cream milk
5 large egg yolks
100g caster sugar
Gently heat the cream with the bay leaves to boiling point. Meanwhile, in a basin that will be large enough to accommodate the cream too, and ideally using an electric hand mixer, beat or whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until the mixture is pale. Still beating, pour in the bay leaf cream, which you have brought back to boiling point if necessary.
Now for the make or break stage: pour the mixture back into the saucepan and heat gently (it must not boil), stirring all the time until the custard has thickened just enough to coat the back of a spoon: a line drawn through it should keep its shape. I allow 10 minutes for this stage.
If you want to take a more cautious approach, instead of heating the mixture in the saucepan, suspend the basin over a pan of shallow simmering water. It will take longer, but you’re as good as guaranteed to produce a smooth custard, not scrambled egg.
Decant the custard into a jug and sit it in cold water. Leave until completely cold. Remove the bay leaves when you are ready to freeze it.
If using an ice cream maker, follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Without a machine, put the mixture in a suitable container in the coldest part of the freezer. After 90 minutes, take it out and quickly beat to a slush, preferably using an electric hand mixer or a food processor. Repeat the 90-minutes-and-beat process twice more.