It has been so sticky today that the air has felt like breathing soup. I exaggerate, like all those columnists who gleefully declare that they would rather eat their own eyeballs rather than watch another episode of whatever programme they have taken a dislike to. They wouldn't really, they would settle down meekly to Snog, Marry, Avoid or whatever it was. But is has been and still is awfully sticky. At the point when I emerged from my six weekly appointment at the hairdresser the atmosphere had given up the attempt to hold that much moisture and it was actually raining in a fine, unforecast drizzle. I had not brought a coat.
It was still raining when I got home so I thought I'd use the time to make ice cream. I bought the cream and full fat milk earlier in the week, rummaging into the back of the chiller cabinets to find the longest dated containers I could. Then I was busy doing other things and not in an ice cream making frame of mind. Dulche de Leche and Everyday Chocolate this time, and definitely no Russian Toffee in sight. The Dulche de Leche went smoothly, the chocolate less so because I rushed to finish the cooking stage before lunch, and only realised after lunch that I'd forgotten to add the sugar, by which time the heated milk had cooled down.
Bother. Or possibly some ruder word. Horrible shades of the Russian Toffee fiasco. The best thing seemed to be to substitute caster sugar for granulated as the smaller crystals should be easier to dissolve, and dissolve it in a small amount of liquid taken from the cooked cocoa mixture by heating it gently and stirring. It turns out that caster sugar is very reluctant to dissolve in lukewarm milk, even when you stir it a lot. I kept stirring, kept tasting, and the mixture went on feeling gritty on the tongue. Part of the point of sugar in recipes is to give a lovely mouth feel. Gritty is not what you want.
I tried leaving the bowl of sugar and coca in the simmer oven of the Aga for half an hour, to warm it gently before another session of stirring, but when I returned to it the sugar had risen to form a strange crust. I got rid of the crust by putting the mixture through a sieve. The pile of washing up was mounting, and at this rate most of the sugar was going to end up stuck to various bits of kitchen equipment instead of in the ice cream. I began to worry about super-saturated solutions, added some more cold cocoa, and kept stirring. The kitchen door had to stay shut throughout so that I didn't end up with kittens bounding all over the table, and the temperature was soaring.
Eventually the sugar dissolved, and I fired up the ice cream machine for the second time. I hadn't been through the full scrubbing and sterilisation routine after the first batch, on the grounds that I was about to use it again, and once frozen it revealed streaks of Dulche de Leche down the inside. By then I'd spent so long messing around trying to dissolve the sugar that I didn't fancy using it in that state, and had to switch it off and wait for it to warm up again so that I could wipe it more thoroughly. I tried to do so too soon, and fragments of wet kitchen towel immediately added themselves to the Dulche de Leche as it froze on contact.
The next time you recoil at the price of a tub of Haagen-Dazs, just think of the effort that can go into the home made sort.
Addendum My kitchen string, which I ordered from Amazon at five past seven on Monday evening, arrived at twenty past ten the next morning. That is incredible and faintly scary.