Earlier in the month, while my cold had abated and before the wind settled in the north bringing hail on the Arctic air, I fired up the ice cream maker. I love home made ice cream. It is a quantum nicer than the shop bought sort, and is not generally difficult with the right sort of machine, but it isn't something you want to mess around with while breathing germs on it.
I started with Caroline and Robin Weir's Dulche de Leche ice cream. This is truly straightforward, now that you can buy tins of ready-caramelised condensed milk. You dissolve the condensed milk and light brown sugar in whole milk, which takes some stirring over heat but no brain power, chill it and freeze it with whipping cream, job done. The quantities, should you want to give it a go, are one 397 gramme can of condensed milk, 50 grammes of light brown soft sugar, 375 millilitres of whole milk and 250 millilitres of whipping cream (or heavy cream if you are an American). I wouldn't answer for the result without an ice cream machine, but mechanical stirring during freezing produces a beautiful, smooth, fine grained ice cream.
Ice cream number two was the Weir's Malted Chocolate, made by adding Horlicks to their Everyday Chocolate recipe. Everyday chocolate ice cream takes 30 grammes of unsweetened cocoa powder (not drinking chocolate), 100 grammes of granulated sugar, 125 millilitres of condensed milk, 375 millilitres of whole milk, 250 millilitres of whipping cream, and a teaspoon (that's 5 millilitres) of vanilla extract. It is slightly more fiddly than the Dulche de Leche, because you have to cook the cocoa powder. I couldn't be bothered messing around supervising a double boiler for half an hour, and went for the quick and brutal method whereby you put the cocoa and sugar with both kinds of milk in a pan, bring to the boil, and cook for five minutes stirring continuously. Five minutes is not very long if you use a timer and put something decent on the iPod, and the Aga is good at that kind of gentle simmering. If you only had a rather fierce gas ring you might prefer the double boiler route. Once chilled you freeze the chocolate mixture with the heavy cream, vanilla, and 8 tablespoons of Horlicks (other malted milk powders are doubtless available). The book says to combine the malt powder with everything else using a liquidiser. I thought about washing the liquidiser and gradually added the cream to the Horlicks with the aid of a wire whisk, which worked fine, though I did sieve the Horlicks first to be on the safe side. Freeze and churn. Delicious.
Pride cometh and all that. For my third act I thought I would make Sour Cream Ice Cream with Russian Toffee, a two part combo in which a soft toffee fudge is swirled through a vanilla flavoured ice made with sour cream rather than whipping, and an egg custard. I made the egg custard carefully over a water bath, stirring constantly, but as I tipped it into the ice cream machine I saw that it had gone slightly lumpy. Bother. Panic. I wondered briefly whether to switch off the freezer, decant the custard and sour cream mixture into a jug and pass it through a sieve, but decided to let it go on churning and hope the lumps would come out. Reader, they did. The sour cream ice cream was rather nice and would probably go well on its own with apple pie or suchlike.
The Russian Toffee, on the other hand, was a complete pain in the fundament. What you do, according to the book, is take equal weights of butter, honey, dark chocolate and unrefined granulated sugar, and warm them together over a low heat. After five to six minutes the sugar should have dissolved, you then cook it for another two minutes to bring it to a medium dropping consistency suitable for swirling through ice cream. Except that after six minutes the sugar had nowhere near dissolved. I could see crystals on the base of the pan as I stirred, and when I tasted a drop on a teaspoon it was gritty. Gritty is absolutely no good for ice cream. I kept gently heating and stirring, and tasting for grittiness until I'd used every teaspoon in the drawer, while occasionally adding a tiny amount of water. Reader, it took over twenty minutes for the sugar to dissolve, and the mixture cooled to a solid mass that would swirl through ice cream about as well as a golf ball. Added water slid off it as water off a duck's back. Overcoming previous qualms about ending up with half my ingredients stuck to the inside of the liquidiser I tipped the ball and the water in, but while the motor made agonising high pitched screams the extra water obdurately refused to incorporate into the Russian Toffee.
You don't have much time to work when you're decanting home churned ice cream from a domestic machine before the mixture melts. I blobbed great lumps of toffee into the sour cream base as best as I could, stirred it around without managing to distribute it any more evenly, and put the whole lot in the freezer. I am sure the idea of the recipe is that when you eat it you should be able to spoon up some ice cream mixture and a bit of fudge with every mouthful. With my version you eat the ice cream, and when you get to the lumps of toffee you have to gnaw at them separately. Oh, and the ice cream sets extremely hard once its been in the freezer for more than a couple of hours. If you don't remember to put it in the fridge to soften half an hour before you intend to serve it then you'll be at risk of RSI trying to get it out of the container.
Sometimes when recipes don't work I can see where I went wrong, but I am stumped by the Russian Toffee. I absolutely cannot see how you could get that sugar to dissolve in the cooking time they say.