6 September 2010

Caramel Ice-cream

A few weeks ago I made Nigella Lawson's caramel croissant pudding for the first time. Wow, that is a serious pudding! One of those where you cannot help but run your finger round the bowl to scoop up every last morsel of sauce. Oh yes, it is very good indeed. But ever since I made it a thought has been circling in my brain: wouldn’t the caramel custard used in this pudding make a fantastic ice-cream?

I have never made ice-cream before and I do not have an ice-cream maker, so I set off on my ice-cream adventure with high hopes but little confidence. And I am so glad I did, because the resulting ice-cream was a huge triumph. It was sensational! I knew the taste would be good from all of the ‘quality control’ mouthfuls I had while getting the custard just right. But I was worried that the texture would be disappointing. Never fear - perhaps because this ice-cream uses a custard base the texture was silky smooth, luscious, and creamy. And what’s more, I was surprised at how easy it was to make. OK, you do need a bit of time, but it’s perfect for a lazy day spent pottering round the kitchen with a brief spell of whisking every hour or so. I will definitely make this again, and am going to experiment with lots more ice-cream recipes too. There's no stopping me now!

Unfortunately, I'm not quite sure of the quantity of caramel I used. When you make the caramel custard it goes through a stage where the caramel harden and clings stubbornly to your whisk. That’s fine, you just keep whisking and it eventually melts back in. The beauty of this was that it allowed me to control the sweetness of the custard. As soon as I thought it was sweet enough I just lifted the remaining lump of hardened caramel out. I think I used between half to two thirds of the caramel, so I have based this recipe on roughly 2/3 of the amount of sugar stated in Nigella’s caramel-croissant pudding recipe. I certainly don't think it needs any more, and you might want to use less depending on your personal taste.

If you like, you can also add a slug of your favourite tipple. I added about 1tbsp of amaretto to get a slight almond vibe. But your only limitation is your imagination - I've made the croissant pudding with baileys before and think that would make an awesome ice-cream, especially with some chocolate chunks thrown in! Happy experimenting!

Caramel Ice-cream

125g caster sugar
2 tbsp cold water
250ml double cream
250ml milk (I used semi-skimmed)
1 egg
2 egg yolks

  1. Place the sugar and cold water in a heavy-based saucepan, swirling to help the sugar dissolve.
  2. Let the caramel bubble away over a high heat until it turns a dark amber colour. This will take at least 5 minutes. 
  3. Add the cream and milk. The whole thing will spit and sputter, but it will calm down! 
  4. Whisk the mixture constantly- to start with a lot of the caramel will harden and cling to the whisk but don't worry - just keep whisking and the heat will gradually dissolve the caramel mixture. 
  5. If you are adding any alcohol, add it now to taste. 
  6. Remove the mixture from the heat and let it cool for 5 minutes. 
  7. In a separate bowl, beat the egg and egg yolks together, then slowly pour them into the caramel custard whisking all the time.
  8. If you like you can heat the custard gently for a minute or two to thicken it slightly, but be gentle so it doesn't curdle!
  9. Pour the mixture into a plastic/tupperware box with a lid. A shallow layer will freeze more easily. 
  10. Freeze for 2 hours until the edges start to harden. Remove the ice-cream from the freezer and beat/whisk it vigorously to break down any ice-crystals. 
  11. Repeat this step every hour for three hours. Then leave the mixture to freeze for several hours or overnight. 
  12. Move from the freezer to the fridge for 10 minutes before serving.

5 September 2010

The world's a better place when it's upside down..

Upside down apple tart
“The world’s a better place when it’s upside down.” So sings Australian pop starlet Gabriella Cilmi. Now, Gabriella may not have the gravitas of Aristotle but I think she is on to something here.

I’ll readily admit that my first reaction to change is not always positive.  I like my routines and habits - I’m one of those people who is happy always walking the same way home.  And not all change is as innocuous as a different route home: sometimes it really does turn your world upside down.  This kind of upheaval can be daunting.  So why does it make the world a better place? I think it is because the way we respond to and adapt to change significantly influences our happiness.  Learning to accept that life doesn’t always stay the same or deal you the hand you want might be hard to do, but surely living in the moment is better than grieving for a memory of the past or wishing for an unobtainable future?  Learning to get out of our comfort zone means being willing to open our eyes to something new, to take just one step further than normal, and to push the boundaries of the familiar just a little bit at a time. Embracing change like this makes us more able to deal with the obstacles life throws at us, which ultimately makes us happier.

That’s a big thing to do, so I’m starting with small steps!  I have been lucky enough to be part of a wonderful online community who have encouraged me to look beyond my cooking comfort-zone.  OK, so I haven’t yet gathered the courage to tackle my biggest fears of yeast or gelatine, but I have been inspired to try dishes I never had the confidence to cook before.  And, let me tell you, one thing that is definitely better when it’s upside down is this upside-down apple tart with caramel ice-cream.

Making ice-cream?  Without an ice-cream machine?  Or a recipe?  Yep, that’s pretty daunting.  And inverting a pan of scalding-hot caramel straight from the oven onto a serving plate?  Scary!  But most certainly worthwhile.  The ice cream in particular was a triumph: creamy, luscious and not too sweet.  However, unlike Ms Cilmi, there is a lot that is sweet about this tart so I would choose a sharper fruit next time.  Plums, perhaps. Or even the apricots recommended in the original recipe that were prohibitively expensive to use this time.

For the upside down apple tart recipe, click here. [coming soon]

For the caramel ice-cream, click here.

2 September 2010

Passion and Pain

Banana and Passionfruit Loaf
 Have you ever wondered how passionfruit got their name?

It is actually because Catholic missionaries in South America thought that the shape of the fruit and its flower are symbolic of the passion of Christ.  I'm intrigued by the origins of the word passion.  It is derived from the Greek pathos which can mean "to suffer", but also "to experience".  In Latin, pathos became passio, meaning "to submit" and it is the strength of feeling associated with the biblical idea of the ultimate suffering that Christ submitted himself to that infused the word passion with its modern meaning of strength of feeling, or strong emotions and desires.

We still associate passion with pain.  We burn with passion, we pursue our passions with zeal.  Our passions are something that can consume us.  Certainly they drive us and, ultimately, give our lives meaning.  They are among the things that help us to grow as people.  Perhaps the link between passion and experience is clearer than I first thought.  The link has certainly been recognised for centuries: the Roman poet Horace said:

"Suffering is but another name for the teaching of experience, which is the parent of instruction and the schoolmaster of life."

So, I will harness all my enthusiasm and zeal and dive into this Banana and Passionfruit Loaf, happy in the knowledge that following my passion is not merely an indulgence, but a way to learn, grow and live fully.  Any reasoning that ends up with cake being good is fine with me!