The summer is showing no sign of cooling down and Mr Whippy is no longer cutting it. Want to know how to make ice cream at home? Then look no further. We ask Kitty Travers from London’s La Grotta Ices for her inventive twists and refreshing ice cream recipes. And no, you don’t need an ice cream maker.
Ice cream was not so hot when I was growing up. It was usually limited to the summertime treat of a 9p orange Sparkle in the park after school, or the occasional slice of a Sainsbury’s economy sticky yellow vanilla brick for pudding. This would melt and refreeze over the course of being served from its damp cardboard box, and turn into a curious foamy gum. But I still loved it.
Now I am the happy owner of La Grotta Ices in London, finally established in 2008. The name comes from the Italian for ‘cave’ or ‘grotto’. And it was named as such in homage to the first cool, dark ice cream shop, that I discovered working in Cannes, and which set me off on my journey.
My intent is to create inventive, not-too-sweet ice creams that capture the bright flavour of exquisite, ripe fruit but with a supernaturally light, smooth and sublime texture. The focus is on using minimally processed, fresh, whole ingredients and using the confines of the seasons and simple methods to do so. Ices are sold from the back of a small white Piaggio Ape – the same vehicle used to sell fruits and vegetables in Neapolitan markets.
You don’t have to use mysterious powders to make great ice cream.
The foundations of a perfect scoop are based on having the right quantity of water, sugar, fat, solids (proteins) and emulsifier in a recipe, all of which are found in milk, cream and fresh eggs. Whole fruits add body.
These ingredients need to be frozen quickly while being stirred or churned. This incorporates some air (to keep the ice cream light) and ensures the ice crystals are as small and even as possible (to keep the ice cream smooth).
Ice cream recipes have to be perfectly balanced to work.
If you remove one element, like the fat, for example, your ice cream will suffer and lose ‘body’, becoming thin and watery. Likewise, if you take away the sugar, your recipe will freeze into a hard icy block and be impossible to scoop. A well balanced recipe (see below) will stand you in good stead.
Do I need an ice cream maker?
No. You can make ice cream without an ice cream maker. Simply make ice cream by mixing your ingredients together and pouring it into a freezer-proof container. Freeze it for 30 minutes, then remove and mix once more. Repeat that process until firm.
There’s also a really fun method for children. Pour the mixture into a freezer bag and seal it. Put the freezer bag inside a second bag filled with ice and shake the bags. The ice will chill the mixture until it becomes ice cream!
How to make delicious ice cream: 2 simple recipes
Cucumber and sour cream
I promise that this recipe is no fad. It’s the most refreshing and pacifying of all ice cream flavours – what could be cooler? It has become a summer tradition, looked forward to – and not just by me.
Salting the cucumber first draws out excess water, concentrates the flavour and improves the texture of the ice cream. The salt should be barely discernible in the end result though. Incredible on a really sweaty day.
1. To prepare the ice cream: first peel your cucumber – use a vegetable peeler to remove all of the tough green skin. Cut the cucumber in half lengthways and use a teaspoon to scrape out and discard the watery seeds. Dice the cucumber halves then toss them in a bowl with the sea salt. Tip into a colander in the sink to drip. After 20 minutes, rinse the cucumbers briefly in a bowl of cold water and set on a clean tea towel to drain. Chill in the fridge in a lidded container overnight.
2. Heat the milk in a non-reactive pan. Stir often using a whisk or silicone spatula to prevent it catching. Once the milk is steaming, whisk the whole eggs and sugar together in a separate bowl until combined.
3. Pour the hot milk over the eggs in a thin stream, whisking continuously. Return all the mix to the pan and cook over a low heat until it reaches 82°C, stirring all the time to avoid curdling the eggs, and keeping a close eye on it so as not to let it boil. As soon as your digital thermometer says 82°C, place the pan into a sink of iced water to cool. Add the sour cream to the custard and whisk it in – you can speed up the cooling process by stirring the mix every so often. Once the custard is at room temperature, scrape it into a clean container, cover with cling film and chill in the fridge.
4. To make the ice cream: the following day the cucumber will have expelled more water; pour this away then blitz the cucumber and custard together in a blender. Blitz for 2 – 3 minutes until very, very smooth – you don’t want any frozen lumps of cucumber in this ice cream. Use a small ladle to push the cucumber custard through a finemesh sieve or chinois into a clean container.
5. Pour the custard into an ice cream machine and churn according to the machine’s instructions, usually 20 to 25 minutes, or until frozen and the texture of stiff whipped cream. If you don’t have an ice cream machine, pour the mixture into a freezer-proof container. Freeze it for 30 minutes, then remove and mix once more. Repeat that process until firm.
6. Scrape the ice cream into a suitable lidded container. Top with a piece of waxed paper to limit exposure to air. Cover and freeze until ready to serve. Best eaten within a week.
A few years ago, late at night in bed and high on Italian eBay, I bought several thousand pounds worth of 1960s Italian ice cream machinery from a used catering equipment salesman in northern Italy. I hired a van and undertook an insane 24-hour drive to Turin and back to bring the 2-ton machines back to the UK. Once home, they sat, unfixable, in storage for approximately six years, quietly leaking thick black oil and defunct coolant over my garage floor until I sold them for scrap metal last summer.
The upside to this story was that en route home we stopped at a market in Lyon where I took advantage of every bit of negative space in the van and bought a stall’s entire stock of very ripe apricots to bring back with me. It made enough ice cream for that whole summer, it was extraordinarily good – the delicious but slightly poisonous marzipan flavour of the ‘noyau’ or kernels acting as a bitter reminder against late night eBay purchases.
– about 375 g fresh apricots
– 150 g sugar
– 170 ml whole milk
– 170 ml double cream
– 3 egg yolks
– 1 teaspoon honey (optional)
1. To prepare the ice cream: slice the apricots in half and remove the stones; keep these to one side. Cook the apricot halves very lightly just until the fruit collapses. If using a microwave, place the fruit in a heatproof bowl with a tablespoon of water. Cover the bowl with cling film and cook on high for 2 – 3 minutes until tender. Otherwise simmer the apricot halves gently in a non-reactive pan, just until they are cooked through and piping hot (do not boil ). Cool in a sink of iced water then cover and chill in the fridge.
2. Place a clean tea towel on a hard surface, then line the apricot stones up along the middle of the towel. Fold the tea towel in half over the apricot stones to cover them and then firmly crack each stone with a rolling pin (the tea towel prevents bits of the shell from flying all over the kitchen). Try to hit hard enough to crack the shell, but not so energetically that you completely obliterate it – you want to be able to rescue the kernels from inside the shell afterwards.
3. Pick the tiny kernel from each shell then grind them in a pestle and mortar with 20 g of the sugar.
4. Heat the milk, cream and the ground kernel mix in a pan, stirring often with a whisk or silicone spatula to prevent it catching. As soon as the milk is hot and steaming, whisk the yolks with the remaining sugar and honey (if using) until combined.
5. Pour the hot liquid over the yolk mix in a thin stream, whisking constantly as you do so, then return all the mix to the pan. Cook gently over a low heat, stirring all the time, until the mix reaches 82°C. As soon as your digital thermometer says 82°C, remove the pan from the heat and set it in a sink full of iced water to cool – you can speed up the process by stirring it every so often. Once entirely cold, pour the custard into a clean container, cover and chill in the fridge.
6. To make the ice cream: the following day, use a spatula to scrape the chilled apricots into the custard then blend together with a stick blender until very smooth – blitz for at least 2 minutes, or until there are only small flecks of apricot skin visible in the mix. Using a small ladle, push the apricot custard through a fine-mesh sieve or chinois into a clean container, squeezing hard to extract as much smooth custard mix as possible. Discard the bits of skin and kernel.
7 . Pour the custard into an ice cream machine and churn according to the machine’s instructions, usually about 20 to 25 minutes, or until frozen and the texture of whipped cream. If you don’t have an ice cream machine, pour the mixture into a freezer-proof container. Freeze it for 30 minutes, then remove and mix once more. Repeat that process until firm.
8. Transfer the ice cream to a suitable lidded container. Top with a piece of waxed paper to limit exposure to air, cover and freeze until ready to serve.
Extract from La Grotta Ices, by Kitty Travers.
Photography by Grant Cornett. Design by Studio Frith.
Published by Square Peg, an imprint of Vintage.