Too cold for ice cream? Never! I’d rather crank up the heating and jumper myself up to Michelin Man level than stop eating the cold stuff during winter months. After a moderately successful attempt at curbing my previous (and frankly quite disturbing) level of consumption, I’ve relapsed and bought an ice cream maker. All that freezing, mixing, freezing rubbish is now a distant memory; the thing has powers of mystical magical wonderment. Milk, cream and custard are transformed into the smoothest of operators.
As a child, the practice of eating ice cream for me was a ritualistic one. I would scurry off to a quiet corner and perform a weird routine of mashing and stirring to just the right consistency, then using the back of my spoon to form it into peaks before finally devouring each at record speed; I’ve had my fair share of brain freezes and then some. Back then, my weapon of choice was strawberry or Neapolitan but now I’ve come to favour more adult flavours (makes sense) and I’m pleased to report that I can eat it in the normal manner. A boozy rum ‘n’ raisin floats my boat, as does a skilfully balanced lemon sorbet or even a far-out candied bacon affair.
Sally Butcher’s earl grey ice cream with Iranian chickpea sweets is top of the list*, and here I’ve given it a citrus twist with some lemon verbena kindly given to me by the rarest of tea ladies, Henrietta Lovell, who advised me to add just a pinch to my cuppa. I wasn’t sure how the dried version would work in an ice cream so cautiously added a teaspoon infused with each teabag. The resulting flavour was creamed bergamot with a subtle lift of lemon freshness. I ate it for breakfast today.
A bit of practical advice on method before I head to the freezer for another fix: when heating the mixture for the second time, make sure to stay with it and stir. Don’t wander off or be tempted to turn up the heat too much as I have done on several occasions – the eggs will scramble and your mix will be ruined. I did it again just yesterday.
Earl Grey and Lemon Verbena Ice Cream (adapted from Persia in Peckham by Sally Butcher).
150ml strong earl grey tea (I used 2 teabags, sorry Henrietta), brewed with 2 tablespoons of dried lemon verbena and then strained. If you don’t have lemon verbena, use a strip of lemon peel, adding it to the pan with the milk, cream and tea.
150ml each full fat milk, single cream and whipping cream
1 strip lemon peel or 2 teaspoons dried lemon verbena
3 egg yolks
110g caster sugar
Put the tea, single cream and milk into a pan and bring to a simmer, then whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until they thicken and pale. Remove the milk mixture from the heat (discard the lemon peel if using), then whisk it into the egg mix.
Put the whole lot back onto a gentle heat until it thickens, stirring very regularly. On no account should you let this boil, otherwise the eggs will scramble. Set it aside to cool with a dampened circle of greaseproof paper on the top, to stop a skin forming.
When cool, either churn in an ice cream maker, adding the whipping cream towards the end of churning, or pour into a freezer-proof container, then cover it and freeze until half frozen. At this point, scoop it into a bowl, then whisk up the whipping cream and fold it into the ice cream. Put it back into the freezer until it is of ice cream consistency. You can repeat this as often as you can be bothered, to reduce the amount of crystals in the finished ice cream. Or, buy an ice cream maker and live happily ever after.
* sounds weird I know but the chickpea sweets are incredible – you can buy them in Iranian shops like Sally’s or make them by her recipe below. I’ve never actually used this recipe myself, preferring to buy them.
50g caster sugar
110g Iranian chickpea flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
50g unsalted butter
Crushed nibbed pistachios
Sift the dry ingredients together on a flat, clean surface, then work in the butter with the tips of your fingers. When the mixture starts holding together, roll it into little chickpea shapes (or make into whatever shape you fancy) and put them on a sheet of grease-proof paper on a baking tray. Bake for about 10 minutes at gas 2/150C and allow to cool. Sprinkle with the crushed pistachio.
The shop bought ones usually contain saffron apparently but Sally’s version obviously does not. Do what you will.