Monday, 20 August 2012
However much I enjoy blogging and the regular routine it involves, there are days when life demands to be put first.
Last Monday I was finishing this post, struggling to get it out before my friends arrived the next day. I've been working hard on the proposal (it's out with publishers now!) and the teas (only one spot still available!) and many other things for months and I felt totally drained - especially of creativity. There are several things I've been worried about and when I burst into tears in front of my screen, I realised that I had to just let it go.
I switched off my laptop, put my camera in its bag, gathered my notes and packed it all away. Then I went down to the lake in the valley and swam in the blue-green water that's so clear you can see your toes as you tread water. I watched the silver fish darting around my body and the hot wind move the trees on the nearby mountainside. The water absorbed my stress and I left with a clear mind, ready to be filled with carefree holiday thoughts.
My three friends from university arrived in Verbier the next day. I had stuffed mum's freezer with four flavours of ice cream, a big batch of cookies and a set of chocolate fondants in the days before. There was freshly made blackberry-lemon syrup to go with sparkling water cooling in the fridge, alongside heaps of savoury food.
Over the six days we feasted on waffles dowsed with maple syrup and crispy thin Swiss bacon, french toast with berries, warm blackberry and apple pie (with pastry roses on top) and lots of cold cream, fresh croissants from the local bakery and much more. We ate picnics in shaded forest glades and at 3300m on rocks at the top of Mt Fort. One night I took them for the mandatory cheese marathon, complete with a big pot of fondue and many servings of raclette.
They were truly glorious days, filled with sunshine, laughter, beautiful scenery seen through new eyes and the sort of conversations with old friends that you miss desperately when they are thin on the ground.
I thought it would be difficult to swear off my laptop and phone, to only check my email once or twice a day. It was easy. Every moment of that little holiday was so enchanting that nothing online could tempt me away.
A few days before the holiday, I decided to practise making ice cream cones. It was a good reminder that baking and wrapping homemade cones is too time-consuming and fiddly to do while my friends were in the next room, having fun without me. So I started playing with the rest of the mix.
There are lots of options. You can spread it evenly into a circle, bake, then press it into a cup or bowl to make a simple basket. You can spread it over the whole tray, then quickly slice it with a sharp knife into diamonds or another shape when it comes out of the oven (I tried cookie cutters, they didn't work). You could add other flavours, like a bit of cocoa powder for chocolate (though I love this mix, it's addictive - I now go heavy on the vanilla paste). Or you can go a bit mental, put it into a piping bag and draw elaborate little cups.
The recipe is here: Ice Cream Cone Mix.
For my four ice cream flavours, I wanted a mix of old and new. I looked back to the archives for three favourites:
Strawberry Frozen Yogurt
Buttered Pecan Butterscotch Ice Cream
Vanilla Ice Cream
Then I made a new recipe that I've been eyeing up ever since it was posted by BraveTart: Caffe Latte Ice Cream. I'm not a huge coffee drinker but if I do have some, I prefer it frozen, or at least chilled. This ice cream is super-smooth and creamy with the perfect coffee flavour - mellow and rich, not acidic or burnt. I want to try it with some more dark chocolate fondants (my inner temptress wants salted caramel sauce too, but my rational side says it's too much).
P.S. Apologies for the slightly off photo quality, I've been having issues - hopefully now I'm home in Oxford I'll have time to sort them out.
Caffe Latte Ice Cream
(adapted from BraveTart, here)
420ml double cream
240ml whole milk
100g whole coffee beans (I used espresso ones)
1 vanilla bean
6 egg yolks
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
Pour the double cream, milk and coffee beans into a medium saucepan. Split and scrape the vanilla bean and add the seeds and pod to the pan. Heat until the mixture reaches a simmer, then take off the heat. Leave to cool, then steep overnight in the fridge (or for a slightly shorter time, but I'd highly recommend overnight).
The next day, sieve the coffee mixture, stirring the beans to make sure all the cream comes out. Discard/wash the beans and vanilla pod as desired. Prepare the yolks, then whisk in the sugar and salt until well combined. Return the cream mixture to a pan, then heat it until it starts to steam. Pour about 1/3 of the hot cream into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Return all of the yolk mixture to the pan, whisking it in. Turn the heat on again and stir with a wooden spoon until it thickens to a custard consistency and you can drag a finger across the back of the spoon and leave a clear mark. (For help with making egg yolk custard and the spoon test, see this Foundations post). Sieve the custard into a bowl and chill in an ice bath. Chill in the fridge for at least 2-3 hours (or overnight again) then freeze as per your ice cream maker's instructions.
(Makes around a litre)