Monday, 25 October 2010

THE BEST CHOCOLATE ICE CREAM

I am normally wary of labelling anything "the best", but in the case of this ice cream, it is entirely appropriate, for it truly is the best chocolate ice cream I have ever tasted.

I am not a huge fan of ice cream, generally, at least, not the stuff you can buy here. In Italy, it's a different matter: on holiday on the shores of Lake Garda a few years ago, I made it my project to try every flavour at the local gelateria (it boasted about 30 different varieties). Italian icecream is softer than its English cousin and served at a more "comfortable" temperature (I can't bear temple-achingly cold food). My favourite flavours are pistachio, coconut, hazelnut, banana and zabaglione. A little gelateria has opened on the high street, just around the corner from where I live. It is pretty good, with an enticing selection of flavours, but the ice cream is kept at slightly too cold a temperature for my liking.....

I had some egg yolks left over from making rather brutish-looking chocolate macaroons the other day (their brutishness the result of an imbalance of ingredients - my fault entirely! - though this did not detract from their flavour), exactly the right quantity for the ice cream recipe. Ice cream takes a bit of planning, I find, as the bowl of my ice cream maker needs to be placed in the freezer 24 hours ahead to ensure it is sufficiently cold to do the job. I do not have a fancy, expensive ice cream maker. Mine is really an electric churn and spares me the tedious job of retrieving the ice cream from the freezer several times and whisking it vigorously to keep it creamy.

This recipe comes from Nigella's How to Eat; she in turn owes it to Italian cook and food writer Marcella Hazan. Apparently, it comes originally from the Cipriani Hotel in Venice. It is dark, smoky and intense. Surprisingly, it contains no cream, yet it is most definitely creamy! The smoky flavour comes from the addition of caramel: it is amazing what depth this brings to the flavour.

4 egg yolks
130g plus 2 tbsps granulated sugar (I used caster sugar)
500ml full-fat milk
100g good quality dark chocolate (min. 70% cocoa solids)
40g best cocoa

Beat the egg yolks and 130g of sugar together until pale, thick and creamy. Meanwhile, bring the milk gently to the boil. In a separate pan, melt the chocolate (I do this in the microwave - on a low setting). When the milk has boiled, pour it over the egg mixture and add the chocolate and cocoa. Return to the hob and heat on a moderate heat until everything is smooth and amalgamated and beginning to thicken. Place 2 tbsps of sugar in a saucepan with 2 tbsps of water and bring to the boil. Make a caramel - and I mean caramel (as Nigella says "heat this until it's dark brown and molten. Live dangerously here....."). Pour this into the chocolate custard mix. Leave to cool and get your ice cream machine ready, if using one. Churn the custard mixture in your ice cream maker according to instructions and then place in the freezer. This keeps well, but I doubt it will last long!

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