September 16, 2011


"Along with a fine vanilla ice cream I rate a great chocolate one as being truly gorgeous..."

Simon Hopkinson - Second helpings of Roast Chicken

It is important, I think, to have foundations, those fail-safe recipes that can be whipped up without notice, and which can be infinitely adapted in the pursuit of new culinary treasures. For me, ice cream is one such paragon, and while I've happily settled on an impeccable example of vanilla finery, more recently, the quest for the ultimate chocolate preparation has been on. 

When it comes to constructing the empyrean ice cream base there are various schools of thought as to which ingredients and techniques will give you the perfect consistency, and so I thought it would be a nice bit of fun to play around with comparing the idiosyncrasies of each. But as I delved into a wealth of literary sources in pursuit of a better comprehension of the behavioural patterns of water crystals in fat, it became vexedly apparent that in my unequivocal tardiness, I'd been scooped!

*boom tish*

Now, when the world's leading authority on ices, and author of THE most popular ice cream book in existence, discusses your topic of endeavour it's quite reasonable to take the position of "yeah, what he said". But since the ices had already been made, and it would be such a shame to let them go to waste, I thought the comparison interesting nonetheless.

 So what it came down to was a case of old versus new.

 In the red corner was the traditional custard base, rich in cocoa and chocolate and eschewing cream so as not to lose the delightful, pure bitterness of the cacao.

In the blue corner was the egg-less, modern take, employing butterfat to better carry the flavours of the selected additions, and a 'natural' thickener in cornstarch, to help prevent all that pesky water crystallisation.

And the winner?...

Well firstly, let's be honest, this is chocolate ice cream we're talking, so there are no losers here.

Jeni's darkest chocolate ice cream in the world was indeed a delight, and while I've always been hesitant to put cornstarch in ice cream, admittedly the texture was particularly smooth and rich (no doubt helped along by all that double cream...), and it lived up to all of its ice-creaminess expectations.

Simon's bittersweet chocolate ice cream was equally divine, being both rich and luxurious, and the use of a dark caramel certainly added another degree of complexity on the palate.

In truth it was the traditional that won out for me, although with the egg-less version perhaps obscured by the inclusion of coffee, this may have primarily been on account of it simply tasting more "chocolatey". I'm also a bit of a stickler when it comes to ingredients, and so with the traditional employing but five, seemingly more natural components, it was certainly more in line with my preferred basic principles. Texturally, however, both were sublime, and when you use good quality ingredients, either way, it's very hard to go wrong.

In food, there is a lot of fun to be had in questioning why we use what we use, and do what we do, and I suspect this is but one subject that will need a great deal more investigation before we have our answers. Oh the rigors one endures in the pursuit of perfection...

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