Summer is here at last and so our minds have swiftly turned to chocolate ice cream. Big gleaming dollops of the stuff, made from natural ingredients, dished up in sexy sundae glasses.
Italy is synonymous with ice cream. The history of Italian ice cream, or ‘gelato’, dates back to the 16th century, although there is much debate as to its actual inventor. That accolade is oft credited to Florentine court artist and architect Bernardo Buontalenti who built an ice cave in the Boboli Palace and served his ‘marvels of gelati’ to the delight of Catherina de Medici.
Others cite a Florentine chicken farmer by the name of Giuseppe Ruggeri who won the Renaissance version of Masterchef: a cookery contest held by the Medici to find “a singular plate that had never been seen”. In this version of events, Caterina de Medici was so impressed with Ruggeri’s so-called ‘sorbetto’ that he was invited to accompany her to France on her betrothal to Henry II. The final contender is the Sicilian Procopio dei Coltelli. According to food historians, he was the first to sell ice cream to the public at his café in Paris (opened in 1686), the ‘Café Procope’. It became one of the most celebrated haunts of the French literary establishment.
But what of British ice cream?
Thanks to the passion and skill of artisan ice cream makers, British ice cream has come a long way. But even our premium chocolate ice creams sometimes disappoint with their pale colour and insipid taste.
Classically speaking, proper chocolate ice cream calls for cream, whole milk or butter. The trouble with adding chocolate couverture is that it causes the ice cream to become overly stiff when frozen.
To avoid this culinary quandary, ice cream makers often substitute cocoa powder which, if not properly integrated, can make the texture grainy.
Here’s our pick of Britain’s best chocolate ice cream
Fans of Heston Blumenthal and the molecular gastronomy movement, will love Chin Chin Labs in Camden Market. It is Europe’s first liquid nitrogen ice-cream parlour. The staff wear white lab coats and protective goggles to fast freeze their mixes before your eyes.
Thanks to co-founder Ahrash Akbari-Kalhur’s training as a pastry chef, the flavour combinations are as spectacular as the production process. Specials change weekly but have included a salty and sweet Truffle Popcorn Ice Cream as well as Blueberry Buttermilk Pancake Ice-cream, served with bacon sugar shards and Valrhona chocolate sauce.
Chin Chin’s chocolate ice cream is made from Valrhona’s 80% Coeur de Guanaja couverture, a unique blend of 46% cocoa extract and 34% cocoa butter. The higher cocoa/lower fat content gives Chin Chin’s ice cream an intense chocolate flavour and colour with a silky smooth texture. Their toppings are equally appealing with gems like grilled white chocolate or chocolate popping candy.
When it comes to technical finesse and purity of flavour, William Curley’s homemade ice creams and sorbets can’t be faulted. He was awarded Britain’s Best Chocolatier by the Academy of Chocolate for five consecutive years (2007-2011).
Curley’s Toscano 70% Chocolate Ice Cream is velvety and luscious, while his Chocolate Sorbet strikes the perfect balance between being rich but also refreshing. Throughout the summer, he is additionally creating a weekly changing Chocolate Ice Cream Special.
The influence of his Japanese patissier partner, Suzue, can clearly be discerned in their White Chocolate & Miso Ice Cream. Other innovative ice cream flavours to look out for are: Kyoto Green Tea, Golden Chestnut, Toasted Sesame, Rhubarb and Custard, Orange and Yoghurt, Sea Salted Caramel and Peanut Butter. You can eat your ice cream on the spot, or there’s a take home option. Cones and tubs start from £2.50.
Purbeck Ice Cream is a family-run business run by Hazel and Peter Hartle. The company makes real dairy ice cream from fresh milk and thick double cream produced at their dairy farm in Dorset. Since setting up 24 years ago, they have won numerous awards including 2010 Taste of Dorset Awards and two Golds at the 2010 Great Taste Awards.
The range contains no artificial anything: no GMO’s, no added colours, no gluten and no nuts of any description. Among their 30 premium ice creams and spring water sorbets are the devilishly good ‘Serious Chocolate’ and ‘Mint Choc Baby Chip’, made from dark Belgian chocolate chunks and locally sourced mint.
New for summer is ‘Chocolate Brownie’ ice cream made from home baked brownies by Lizzie & Beckki aka ‘Baking Birds’, a small cottage industry based in Weymouth.
Sven Herzog is an artisan pâtissier/chocolatier like his father and grandfather before him. His ice cream combines Franco-German artisanal tradition with
modern techniques honed at the Valrhona école du grand chocolat. Like all our favourite artisan ice cream makers, he insists on using only natural ingredients in his ice creams and sorbets.
Most of Herzog’s chocolate ice creams have a sorbet base which helps retain the purity and intensity of chocolate’s many flavour notes. Examples are white chocolate sorbet with fresh mint, a 70% single origin dark chocolate or an intense 80% dark chocolate sorbet. The hint of red fruit and slight acidity of his 64% Madagascan single origin chocolate ice cream is a chocoholic’s dream.
For special occasions, they also do a Wine Ice Cream served with a single origin Dark Pepper Chocolate or Rose Ice Cream, made from an infusion of untreated white rose petals, which is served with White Rose Truffles.
Ice cream can be a forbidden pleasure for those with dairy intolerance. Thankfully, this small independent company from Norfolk are rewriting the rules. Colin Mace founded Booja Booja in 1999. The company spent two years of creative development perfecting their dairy-free, organic, gluten-free and soya-free ice cream recipes.
‘Hunky Punky Chocolate’ is a vibrant, voluptuous affair that captures the intense richness of bitter chocolate. It is made from just a handful of natural, mostly raw, ingredients: cashews, agave syrup, cocoa powder and water that are processed below 45°C to retain their nutritional value.
Booja Booja have deservedly won a clutch of awards for this delicious chocolate ‘ice cream’ including Gold at the Great Taste Awards and Winner at the 2011 Foods Matter Free From Award.
While Hotel Chocolat’s ‘Ice Cream Scoops’ are not strictly speaking ice cream, they are fun and deserve mention. The truffles, all 24, are presented inside a small ice cream tub. They are inspired by classic British ice cream flavours (strawberry and chocolate) and are intended to be stored in the fridge and eaten chilled.
The strawberry truffles are encased in milk chocolate. These perfectly capture the retro taste of Neapolitan ice cream – so beloved by indecisive children – with a combination of creamy chocolate and real fruitiness. They are, it must be said, strictly for the sweet toothed. More compelling are the chocolate truffles encased in dark chocolate. Imagine popping a miniature choc-ice in your mouth. As you crack through the crisp dark chocolate shell, the cold ganache delivers an intense hit of chocolate. For an instant ice cream fix, these chilled chocs are spot on.
All that remains is to wish you a sunny summer. May you find your perfect scoop.
The Great Ice Cream Debate:
Cornet or sundae? What’s your favourite way to eat chocolate ice cream? Please add your comments below.
In your Summer Magazine: