Cookie Bellair

Cold Comfort

Ice-cream is one of the joys of a British summer – and, says Cookie Bellair, it’s not as hard to make the true, delicate, flavoursome stuff as you might imagine

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Ice-cream is one of the joys of a British summer – and, says Cookie Bellair, it’s not as hard to make the true, delicate, flavoursome stuff as you might imagine

The West London home of ice-cream gurus Robin and Caroline Weir is an Aladdin’s cave filled with all things related to ices. The walls exhibit beautiful early prints depicting the first Neapolitan sellers; curiously-shaped moulds and serving implements catch the eye and spark the imagination; and the piece de resistance is a mid-20th century ice-cream counter around which their kitchen is built.

Robin’s passion stems from an early experience buying ice cream for his children. He was so appalled at the ingredient list that he tipped it down the drain. He then set out, with kids in tow, to buy a machine and ingredients to make some themselves. He found the result much simpler and better than anything that could be bought. He was hooked.

Robin can go into the chemistry of things in great detail, but he is also at pains to stress how easy it is to make ices. As there are so few ingredients, they overwhelmingly affect the end result. Robin is emphatic that using unrefined sugar gives a much better taste. As to cream, the Weirs use whipping cream. It has the right fat levels to make a smooth, but not overly rich, end product. And if you can’t find whipping cream you can make it up yourself, by using three parts double cream to one part whole milk. A useful tip for when your corner shop lets you down.

It is important to taste your mixture before freezing. Robin says it needs to be ‘on the limit’, almost too rich and sweet, as once frozen the flavour will be flattened. Nowadays we have many more options for freezing the mixture than the early machines that used ice and salt. The best of these is the stand-alone machine with integral refrigeration unit, but these can be very expensive. Luckily, there are many great recipes that use little or no fancy equipment.

At the end of our meal Robin ordered an affogato, thereby introducing me to one of his favourite ways of eating ice-cream. An Italian classic, it consists of a ball of the creamy stuff ‘drowned’ in a shot of hot espresso. Delicious. He also advocates a drizzle of the best quality thick balsamic vinegar to transform even shop-bought vanilla ice cream into something fantastic.

Inspired, I set out to try some of the recipes from the Weirs’ newest book Ice Cream, Sorbets & Gelati (Grub Street, 2010), which has since triumphed at the Guild of Food Writers Awards, winning Cookery Book of the Year. The Prince of Wales Ice Cream seemed the right place to start. It consists of just sugar and cream. A recipe dating from 1817, it shows how ice-cream began and what it might have tasted like — superb, and infinitely cleaner and more subtle than much of what we are used to. It is more an accompaniment than something you could eat scoops of, and would be superb alongside an apple tart or fruit pie.

I was flushed with success. What to make next? Happily there are many that involve no cooking at all. And for the foodie there are plenty with unexpected flavours and ingredients.

I settled on Poppy Seed Gelato, a ‘gelato’ defined as being made only of milk, no cream. Almost as easy to make as the plain sugar ice-cream, this tasted glorious. It is studded with the lightly nutty seeds, milky smooth and very fresh tasting. I can see that there is no turning back now: my adventures in ice-cream have only just begun.

Cookie goes for the sweeter things in life, writing for Cakes & Sugarcraft Magazine.

Prince of Wales Ice Cream

85g unrefined sugar

500ml whipping cream

In a bowl, start whisking the cream and slowly adding the sugar, but make sure the sugar is soft before you start.

Whip until it will hold stiff peaks, then quickly scrape into a freezer box. Gently knock the box on the kitchen worktop to remove air pockets, then cover with freezer film or greaseproof and freeze overnight and preferably for at least three days to let the flavour develop.

Poppy Seed Gelato

4tbsp black poppy seeds

2tbsp cornflour

1litre whole milk

200g unrefined granulated sugar

Blend the cornflour and sugar with a little of the milk. Bring the rest of the milk and poppy seeds to the boil. Pour onto the cornflour blend and return to the pan. Bring back to the boil and simmer for 2-3 minutes.

Allow to chill for at least 12 hours or overnight to let the flavours develop. When ready either still or stir freeze. Serve within 1 hour, or if frozen solid allow 30 minutes in the fridge to soften before serving.