Should you make your own ice-creams and sorbets? And, if so, do you need to buy an expensive machine to do the job? Five years ago I would not have hesitated in saying yes to both questions but now, in the age of the heavily marketed and widely available Häagen-Dazs (marketed as post-coital) ice-cream and with the wide availability of good sorbets, I am not so sure. If you intend to make and serve ice-creams and sorbets on a regular basis, then I still say buy a machine, but with the proviso that this must be one of the heavier-duty and more expensive models. Cheap small-volume units are just not worth the trouble and do not produce acceptable results. Anyway, it is possible to make decent ice-cream by hand, using a whisk or hand-held electric beater. When freezing your homemade ice-cream, never keep it for more than 48 hours or it will have lost its magic.
There are dozens of recipes for vanilla ice-cream, a joy in its own right and the basis for most other flavoured ice-creams. This version is based on that of the great Swiss chef Frédy Girardet I like it because it uses fewer egg yolks than usual, but delivers a beautifully rich-tasting ice-cream none-the-less. The recipe makes about 1.1 litres / 2pt.
Split the vanilla pods longitudinally then, using a table knife, strip out the seeds. (Do this on a white plate so you don’t lose any) • Separate the eggs and put the yolks, sugar and vanilla seeds in a bowl, then whisk just enough to amalgamate.
Put the milk in a saucepan with the vanilla pods and heat until just below boiling.
Then whisk the hot milk into the egg and sugar mixture. Put the mixture back into the pan over a medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until it achieves a coating consistency (the mixture holds to the back of a spoon). Do not overcook.
As soon as this consistency is achieved, remove from the heat and stir in the double cream. This will have the effect of stopping the cooking and cooling the mixture.
Pour through a fine sieve into the ice-cream maker and chum. Despite what some instruction books say, there is no need to wait for the mixture to cool completely. Indeed, by some strange quirk of physics, a hot mixture will turn into ice-cream faster than a cold one. (Retrieve the vanilla pods, rinse, then dry and store in a jar of caster sugar.)
To make the ice-cream by hand, pour the finished mixture into a heavy-duty plastic bowl that will fit into your freezer (it should be about half full). Leave to cool completely (for obvious reasons, never put a hot object into your freezer), then chill for 30 minutes.
Remove and whisk until smooth. Return to chill for 15 minutes. Remove and whisk again. Repeat this process until it becomes stiff and difficult to whisk At this point the ice-cream is stable and will freeze as ice-cream without too many ice crystals.
© 1993 Alastair Little and Richard Whittington estate. All rights reserved.