Tuesday 3 January 2012

Recipe: The Best Chocolate Ice Cream...

...bar none. According to the Technical Department, at any rate - and he considers himself something of an aficionado.Neither too bitter nor too sweet, with a velvet texture, and an undertone of vanilla which kicks the whole thing up a very definite notch.

I found the recipe, several years ago,  buried deep within the pages of a volume called 'Chocolate Passion', where it formed merely a part of an elaborate and overly-constructed dessert.  The rest of the dish left me cold - as did much of the rest of the book, in fact, with a lot of illustrations of rather indigestible chocolate concoctions that sat heavy on the stomach just from their photographs! Following Nico Ladenis' philosophy that the purchase price of any recipe book is justified by the discovery in its pages of only one recipe that enters your repertoire, though, I don't begrudge a cent spent on this one. Try it and you'll see what I mean.

For five servings:

Ingredients: 5 medium egg yolks; half a cup of sugar; generous pinch of salt; one and a quarter cups of cream; 1 cup of milk; 6 ounces of dark chocolate (coarsely chopped if in one piece; I generally use small chocolate buttons); 4 teaspoons of vanilla extract.


1. Heat the milk and cream in a bain-marie or simmertopf, along with all but two tablespoons of the sugar, and the pinch of salt.

2. In a bowl, beat the egg yolks with the remaining sugar, until they are pale yellow in colour and leave a tail behind the whisk.

3. Add the liquid to the egg yolks, mix together thoroughly, and then return the combined mixture to the simmertopf. Cook over medium heat for about five minutes, until the mixture it has visibly thickened and will coat the back of a spoon.

4. Turn off the heat, add all of the chcolate and let it stand for 30 seconds before whisking the chocolate into the custard.

5. Remove the chocolate custard to a bowl, and whisk in the vanilla extract. Allow the mixture to cool completely, stirring from time to time, before churning it in your ice cream machine, and then freezing.

If the ice cream has been in the freezer for more than a couple of hours, remember to put it in the fridge to defrost slightly for about half an hour before you want to serve it.

Monday 2 January 2012

Back from the Dead!

Phil lives, once more! 

Or, at least, 'Phil' is  how he's known in this house. More accurately, his name - or perhaps, his title - is a Jura Impressa F50. But he was christened 'Phil' within about five minutes of arrival, five years or more ago, when the first command he bleated at us was 'Fill Coffee', shortly followed by 'Fill Water' - only after which would he deign to produce two excellent cups of coffee (which is, after all,  his sole reason for existence). And downhill of those commands, we soon got an 'Empty Grounds'. He's a bossy little sod, when's all said and done. It's a little like living with Hal from 2001, except without the mellifluous good manners. Where Hal was all courteous helpfulness, Phil comes across as rather prissy and prim, and entirely lacking in a sense of humour. He is Swiss, so I suppose it's not surprising. Every so often, and generally without warning, he makes a series of odd noises, which I think are some sort of self-cleaning process - somehow, though,  it seems to be rather a personal moment (as though he's strenuously adjusting his knicker elastic, or worse) and not an activity to be shared. Time to hum loudly and look elsewhere, until he's finished.

Generally, I leave Phil to the Technical Department. It may be my imagination, but every time I attempt to persuade him to produce coffee, I get a refusal ...or, at least a refusal until I've done something for him, along the lines of filling something or emptying something, or closing some flap or other to his satisfaction. I lose patience with that sort of thing very rapidly. Oh, and he's multi-lingual - on one occasion TD went off to London for a few days and inexplicably left Phil set to operate in German. Which I don't speak. After the first attempt to have him produce an espresso for me had floundered against a stream of incomprehensible Deutsch, I had to resort to the time honoured cafetière instead, until the TD returned.

You'd think, from all of this, that Phil is more of a bane than a blessing. But nothing could be further from the truth. The coffee he produces is excellent. And endless. Practically.

The water here in Pisa, though, is very chalky. And at one point - on cup number 6,284 (he counts them all and keeps a record; I told you....he's Swiss!) just after we'd started to comment that the coffee Phil was making wasn't as hot as it used to be, he suddenly stopped altogether. He'd got furred arteries, and needed an urgent transplant. We were stricken; and so were many of our friends and relations...who looked in alarm at the semi-dismantled automaton in the corner of the kitchen and immediately asked what the matter was with him. And, as time went by, they'd arrive, and look, and ask if Phil still hadn't recovered? Which gives you some idea of how good his output normally is.

Technical Dept sent off for the relevant spare parts. Which were sent to London. And then got lost. So, a second lot were sent for. Which did arrive. However, it transpires that Phil needs a special tool to be properly taken to pieces, and this needs to be supplied especially. Otherwise, we risked terminal damage. So, special tool was ordered, and arrived. And it was only then that it became clear that the spare parts supplied were for a more modern model than our Phil, and so yet more spare parts had to be ordered. Which eventually also turned up....and then TD rolled up his sleeves and got on with it. And from the combination of the expression on his face, the growing pile of spanners and diagrams and proliferation of little glass bowls full of Phil's innards, the need for re-thinks and strategy breaks...and the fact that the task stretched over days (and days), without much sign of progress, it seems that the construction of a lunar module would have been childsplay by comparison.

And then, yesterday, in time for the start of the new year, Phil was finally reassembled, the last screw tightened on his casing, the appropriate buttons pressed and a cup held in place, and we had the first post-op tasting. Perfect!

So, to all Phil's fan club out there, we can announce that the surgical intervention has been a complete success. Anybody fancy a coffee?

Tonight's dinner:

Foie Gras (the last of the Boxing Day vertical tasting, where we decided that the poached version beat the salt-cured method by  a hair's breadth), along with Harry's Bar Bread Rolls.

Shepherd's Pie (the end of the Lamb loin)

Chocolate Soufflé Crêpes