There’s nothing like a change in seasons to send you longing for treats banished due to lack of seasonality. When I put out a call in the kitchen the other week for what sort of sweet thing I should write about, my lovely dishwasher replied with, “Oh, I’m an ice-cream man.” This in turn reminded me of an ice-cream dish I made as an apprentice at Stephanie’s, one that has always been a favourite. Stephanie Alexander remembers publishing this many years ago in Good Weekend magazine, her memory jogged by the image that accompanied it, and was more than happy for me to share it again.
Making frozen dairy desserts at home can be a little fraught because the result is often different in texture from what one is hoping for. To solve this, you need a basic understanding of the various needs of different ice-cream techniques. The most common ice-cream base is a crème anglaise or custard-based mix. This has a higher ratio of sugar and cream than a classic custard, which helps keep it at a scoopable texture. The more sugar, the less frozen it can become. A custard-based ice-cream mix needs to be churned frozen. What the churning process does is incorporate air into the mix while freezing it rapidly, thus reducing the size of the ice crystals so that you end up with a lovely smooth finish in your mouth. This process is often referred to as the overrun. If you start with one litre of mixture and end up with one-and-a-half litres of ice-cream you have added 50 per cent air, or have a 50 per cent overrun. The best way to understand this is in the freezer aisle of your supermarket. Find the most expensive ice-cream and the cheapest ice-cream of the same volume and hold them in your hands. You will find the cheapest one weighs virtually nothing. The manufacturer is literally selling you flavoured, solid air.
The next family of frozen desserts are the semifreddo (Italian) or parfait (French). These desserts use a different technique that means you don’t need a churn. The sugar is dissolved in liquid over heat, added to the beaten egg yolks and whisked until it is cool. What this does is form a solid structure where the incorporated air is held within the structure of the egg and sugar syrup mix as it is whisked and cooled. Then whipped cream and flavourings are folded into the egg mixture. The incorporation of air in the whisking of the egg mix and the whisking of the cream means the dessert will freeze without unpleasantly large ice crystals and be delicious in the mouth. The only drawback with this technique is that the finished product is not suitable for scooping. It is best made in a log for slicing or in a mould or even as a lovely frozen soufflé, where you make a collar on a soufflé dish and then freeze, uncollar and serve. It’s a funny one, though. It freezes very hard, but as the Italian name implies, it melts quite quickly. So if making it in a log, it’s best to let it sit out of the freezer for a few moments before slicing.
If you are a non-dairy eater and delight in fruit-based frozen desserts, sorbet is the obvious solution. Like custard-based ice-cream, it needs to be churned to give it a delightful texture. If you don’t have a churn, the other option is to use sorbet recipes and make a granita. Freeze your sorbet mix in a shallow baking dish and return to the freezer every half hour to run a fork through the mix until it resembles frozen flakes of deliciousness.
This amaretti semifreddo has stuck in my memory for more than 30 years for good reason. It is delicious. A little like the very best iced coffee you have ever had. Augment it with beautiful Fabbri cherries, just like it was on the Stephanie’s menu somewhere in the mid 1980s.
Serves 8 with leftovers
– 12 amaretti macaroons
– 100ml coffee, short black strength
– 4 egg yolks
– 2 drops vanilla essence
– 175g castor sugar
– 60ml milk
– 500ml thickened cream
– 80ml Disaronno Amaretto liqueur
– 1 jar Fabbri cherries
Place the macaroons in a bowl, pour over the hot coffee and set aside.
Whisk the egg yolks and vanilla essence until thick and lemon coloured. While the egg yolks are whisking, place the sugar and milk in a small saucepan and heat gently to dissolve the sugar. Once the sugar has dissolved, bring to the boil and boil gently for two minutes. Pour onto the egg mixture, whisking all the while. Whisk the egg mixture until it is cool. Set aside.
Whip the cream with the liqueur until stiff peaks form. Fold into the egg mix, being very gentle and mindful of not knocking all the air out.
Line a 30-centimetre terrine mould with either foil, plastic or baking paper, to assist in removal.
Place half the mixture in the mould, spoon the soft, coffee-soaked macaroons on the mixture and then fill with the rest of the cream mixture. Freeze overnight. Unmould and serve sliced, with Fabbri cherries.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Oct 13, 2018 as "Frozen assets". Subscribe here.