The New York Chronicles Part 2: Thomas Jefferson’s favourite

Thomas Jef­fer­son — aes­thete, poly­math and third Pres­id­ent of the United States — was also an ice cream fan­atic. I love the fact that this intel­lec­tu­ally dazzling politi­cian was also the first Amer­ican in his­tory to write a recipe for home-made ice cream.

I know all about ice cream obsess­ives; my Grand­father ate a wedge of vanilla every day of his adult life and grew so inured to the chilly tem­per­at­ure that he could bite through ice cream as thick as a house-brick without win­cing. He told me that he must have wooden teeth, which would have given him some­thing in com­mon with the first Pres­id­ent of the United States, George Wash­ing­ton. It got me think­ing — per­haps Thomas Jef­fer­son churned ice cream for George Wash­ing­ton while they eased the Declar­a­tion of Inde­pend­ence into life. Maybe the United States of Amer­ica really was built on ice cream.

On my recent trip to New York I ate ice cream that’s come a long way since Jef­fer­son laboured over his churn. At a res­taur­ant in the West Vil­lage I was served the culin­ary equi­val­ent of a ten den­ier stock­ing and a walk­ing boot — a que­nelle of del­ic­ate Earl Grey Tea ice cream, sand­wiched between two bis­cuits of por­ridge oats and dried cranberries.

You should know that I take tea very ser­i­ously — I drink so much of it that my chil­dren say I need to go into tea rehab. Ser­i­ously, what would pos­sess any­one to com­bine the per­fume of Earl Grey with a bis­cuit you could sole a shoe with?

You can prob­ably guess where this is going. The dig­nity of tea must be restored.

Lemon Bis­cuit and Earl Grey Tea Ice Cream Sandwich

Earl Grey ice cream

1 cup full cream milk

2 cups of single cream

3/4 cup of vanilla sugar

6 Earl Grey tea bags

6 eggs yolks

Keep a jar of vanilla sugar in the cup­board, made by pla­cing two vanilla beans in a jar and top­ping it up with caster sugar.

Warm the milk, sugar and one cup of the cream in a pan until hot but not boil­ing. Plonk the tea bags in, remove the pan from the heat and let it sit hap­pily for an hour. Take the tea bags out, hav­ing given them a very gentle squeeze.

Beat the eggs yolks until smooth. Place the second cup of cream in a bowl with a sieve on top and put to one side. Reheat the milk, cream and tea mix­ture in the pan until it is warm but not hot. Very slowly whisk the cream mix­ture into the bowl of egg yolks, a ladle­ful at a time, stir­ring like mad so the yolks don’t trans­mog­rify into scrambled eggs. Once the eggs have been com­pletely incor­por­ated into the cream mix­ture, tip the whole lot back into the pan and reheat, stir­ring con­stantly. Do not let it boil. Once the mix­ture has thickened enough for it to coat the back of your spoon rather than slosh straight off again, the cus­tard mix­ture is ready. Pour it thor­ough the sieve that has been wait­ing patiently over the bowl con­tain­ing the second cup of cream. Stir thor­oughly and chill imme­di­ately for sev­eral hours.

Pour your cus­tard into your ice cream maker, fol­low­ing the instructions.

Lemon Bis­cuits

Finely grated zest of one lemon

60 g of softened butter

Half cup vanilla sugar

2 eggs whites, lightly beaten

Half cup plain flour

Pre­heat the oven to 200 c.

Mix the but­ter and lemon zest together well. Beat in the sugar, stir in the egg whites and finally add the flour. The idea is to make bis­cuits that are neat circles. The easi­est way to do this is to grease fairy cake tins and to spoon a thin layer into the bot­tom of each fairy cake depres­sion. Bake in the oven for around six or seven minutes. Keep check­ing on them — they’re done when they’re pale in the middle but car­a­mel brown at the edges. Prise out of the tin care­fully and cool them on a plate.

Sand­wich a table­spoon of ice cream between two bis­cuits — I think they look more chic if the bot­tom of the bis­cuit is on the out­side. Like Willy Wonka’s tomato soup/roast beef/blueberry pie chew­ing gum, these ice cream sand­wiches com­bine a com­plete meal in one mouth­ful — Eng­lish After­noon Tea. Earl Grey tea with a slice of lemon, posh sand­wiches and del­ic­ate bis­cuits. Eat them out­side and if it’s rain­ing, so much the bet­ter. You want it to be authen­tic don’t you?

The New York Chronicles Part 1: there are welcomes and welcomes

There’s been some kind of mis­take.… I’m sup­posed to live in New York. I’m quite sure about that. But in the absence of solid evid­ence that it’s going to hap­pen any time soon, I paid my fantasy home city a brief visit to check that the two of us are still suited. Of course it was as won­der­ful as ever — once I’d got over the stone-cold greet­ing at JFK, surely the most churl­ishly unwel­com­ing air­port in the world.

When it comes to being wel­com­ing, the res­taur­ant BLT (Bis­tro Laurent Tour­ondel) on East 57th Street has it taped. The wait­ress didn’t just bring deli­cious rolls the size of house­hold buck­ets to the table the moment we sat down, she brought the recipe for them too. I’m ser­i­ous. One of the dough moun­tains had a mini­ature recipe book dangling from its sum­mit. The mini book has now crossed the Atlantic with me and is enjoy­ing a cul­tural exchange with my cook­ery book col­lec­tion in Oxford.

Shouldn’t more res­taur­ants be doing this? Less of the ‘it’s a highly com­plex secret recipe that you couldn’t pos­sibly recre­ate at home’ and more of the ‘yes, you can make it too and pos­sibly just as well as we can.’

To be strictly accur­ate, BLT pop­overs are a cross between cheesy York­shire pud­dings and a hat you could wear to Ladies Day at Royal Ascot. And since BLT were so gen­er­ous with the recipe, I’m sure they’d be happy for you to try it too.

BLT Pop­overs — makes 12

4 cups milk

8 eggs

4 cups flour

1.5 heaped tbsp salt

2.25 cups grated gruy­ere cheese

Pop­over pan

Place the pop­over pan in the oven. Heat the oven and pan to 350 degrees F. Gently warm the milk over low heat and set aside. Whisk the eggs until frothy and slowly whisk in the milk (so as not to cook the eggs). Set the mix­ture aside. Sift the flour with the salt. Slowly add this dry mix­ture and gently com­bine until mostly smooth. Once com­bined, remove the pop­over pan from the oven and spray with non-stick veget­able spray. While the bat­ter is still slightly warm or room tem­per­at­ure (def­in­itely not cool) fill each pop­over cup three quar­ters full. Top each pop­over with approx­im­ately 2.5 tbsp of the grated gruyere.

Bake at 350 degrees (175 degrees c) for 50 minutes, rotat­ing pan half a turn after 15 minutes of bak­ing. Remove from the oven, remove from the pan and serve immediately.

I made my ver­sion in a pan half as deep as BLT’s, but I don’t like chomp­ing through a pop­over the depth of a good sized flower pot. I greased the pan with but­ter instead of veget­able spray and since I used half as much bat­ter, I cut the cook­ing time from 50 minutes to 40.

Ten out of ten to BLT. One and a half to JFK … and in the airport’s case I’m being generous.

Rice pudding in stilettos

I’ve known how to make my Granny’s rice pud­ding forever. It was the first recipe I could recite by heart, not count­ing the Fried Bread Coated in Tomato Ketchup I cre­ated as a six year old to earn my Host­ess Badge in the Brownies.

Granny hated being old enough to be called any­thing other than Peggy. So that’s how I always think of her. Peggy made a rice pud­ding most days, using a Pyrex bowl that was scoured and scratched with age, like a skat­ing rink on a fren­etic Fri­day night.

Into the mis­ted bowl went 6 tea­spoons of pud­ding rice, 6 tea­spoons of sugar, 1 pint of full cream milk and a grat­ing of nut­meg. The oven door was opened and the bowl filled with swirl­ing white liquid dis­ap­peared inside. Two and a quarter hours later it emerged in tri­umph, a sweet, rich, creamy con­fec­tion with the thin­nest of brown, toasted tops. Rice pud­ding makes me think of home, steamed-up kit­chen win­dows, laugh­ing like a drain, dan­cing on the table and shock­ing pink lip­stick … with a slightly mourn­ful top note of past times.

Peggy’s recipe is still deli­cious and I often make it, but I’m going to give you a posher ver­sion in her hon­our. Peggy was glam­or­ous, showy and full of fun. And she loved any­thing posh. She was a devotee of the eyebrow-pencil-down-the-back-of-the-legs altern­at­ive to unaf­ford­able seamed nylon stock­ings. She had a col­lec­tion of trompe-l’oeil polo neck jump­ers that were noth­ing but a ribbed rollover neck, with a mini oblong flap attached front and back that she tucked into a pat­terned shirt — think pro­to­type Ver­sace. With so little to them, the fake jump­ers were cheaper than their genu­ine rivals so she could afford to buy sev­eral colours.

To Peggy, the epi­tome of lux­ury was being able to do some­thing ‘just for show’. So in her memory, here’s a rice pud­ding with glam­our. A rice pud­ding in stilettos.

Posh Rice Pudding

Serves 4

6 tea­spoons of pud­ding rice

6 tea­spoons vanilla sugar

Half pint full cream milk

Half pint single cream

1 pinch saffron

Quarter cup sul­tanas soaked in quarter cup warm pud­ding wine or sweet sherry for an hour

Half cup unsalted pista­chio nuts

Freshly grated nutmeg

Drain the sul­tanas and drink the sherry if you feel in the mood. Com­bine everything apart from the nut­meg and the nuts in an oven proof pud­ding bowl large enough to leave a one inch gap at the top.

Top with the finely grated nut­meg and then place in the oven for two and a quarter hours at 150 degrees C. The rice should be soft, but the mix­ture creamy rather than sticky.

As you serve it, finely grate another shower of nut­meg over each bowl and scat­ter a hand­ful of crushed pista­chio nuts on top.

Eat with your eyes closed while listen­ing to Nat King Cole singing Unfor­get­table. This last part of the recipe is most important.

A Chocolate Palimpsest

I’ve found the oddest books in a second­hand book shop — First-Line Index of Eng­lish Poetry 1500–1800 in Manu­scripts of the Bodleian Lib­rary, Oxford, edited by Mar­garet Crum. The two huge volumes con­tain just the first lines of over 23,000 poems, spread across more than 1,000 pages. I hated the idea of all that effort sit­ting aban­doned on the shelves, when other more flir­ta­tious books were slink­ing out of the shop without even hav­ing to try. So I bought both volumes.

I’ve been teach­ing under­gradu­ates the his­tory of the Eng­lish novel and at the end of term I felt they deserved a treat. The choice was either chocol­ates or a glor­i­ous new word to add to their lex­icons. In the spirit of Mar­garet Crum, I chose the word over the confectionery.

My word gift was a really good one: pal­impsest — a manu­script that’s been erased and on which new words have been writ­ten. Not a word to be used very often but, like car­a­mel souffle, per­fect for the big occa­sion. I asked my stu­dents if they agreed with my choice: pal­impsest over Cadbury’s. Well, it turns out I got it wrong.

But I’m not giv­ing up on the pal­impsest. I’ve cre­ated a chocol­ate ver­sion, so the stu­dents get their way and I get mine. It’s called dip­lomacy. Or hav­ing your pal­impsest and eat­ing it too.

Chocol­ate Palimpsests

You should end up with a dozen.

Manu­script 1 — pea­nut but­ter biscuits

100g but­ter — if it’s unsalted, add a pinch of salt to the mix­ture. If it’s not, don’t.

100g crunchy pea­nut butter

125g golden caster sugar

1 tea­spoon vanilla extract

1 egg

Either 165g plain flour with a tea­spoon of bak­ing powder OR 165g self rais­ing flour.

Mix the but­ter, pea­nut but­ter and sugar until smooth, then trickle in the vanilla extract and add the egg. Com­bine the lot into a tan col­oured mix­ture. Sep­ar­ately, blend the salt and the bak­ing powder and mix well into the flour (or just weigh out 165g self rais­ing flour — it really doesn’t mat­ter.) Fold the flour into the but­ter and pea­nut butter.

On a lightly floured sur­face, roll the dough out and then flat­ten the top and sides to form a solid brick about five inches long and 2 inches square. Wrap the brick in cling film and chill in the fridge for a couple of hours. Don’t miss this bit out — if you do, the bis­cuits will ooze all over the bak­ing tray before they get a chance to cook.

Heat the oven to 180 degrees C and but­ter a bak­ing tray and line it with bak­ing parch­ment. Cut the dough into 5 mm slices and place them on the tray with plenty of room to expand. Bake for about 10 minutes until golden. Allow to cool, while you make Manu­script 2.

Manu­script 2 — chocol­ate cream

150 g chocol­ate (70% cocoa solids)

150 ml double cream

25 g but­ter

20g icing sugar

Chop the chocol­ate roughly and put it into a bowl with the cream and but­ter. Melt it over a pan of sim­mer­ing water, stir­ring well. Sift in the icing sugar. When it’s thor­oughly mixed and a uni­form glossy brown, put it to one side to set, but not too hard.

Turn the bis­cuits upside down to reveal their flat­ter sides, scoop up a wodge of chocol­ate paste on a knife and spread it on in a good, thick layer. Write some­thing important/funny/daft/endearing/educational in the chocol­ate using a skewer or a cock­tail stick.

Manu­script 3 — toasted almonds and chocol­ate shards

40g chocol­ate (70% cocoa solids)

A hand­ful of flaked almonds

Melt the chocol­ate in a bowl placed over a pan of sim­mer­ing water. But­ter a bak­ing sheet and cover it with bak­ing parch­ment. Pour the melted chocol­ate onto the paper and spread it to a 5 inch by 7 inch rect­angle. While it cools, toast the almonds in a dry fry­ing pan, or in the oven for about ten minutes at 180 degrees C.

When the chocol­ate is firm but not rock hard, pull it off the paper and tear it into strips about half an inch inch wide. Tear each strip into half inch lengths. Push over­lap­ping pieces of chocol­ate into half the pea­nut bis­cuits spread with chocol­ate paste and coat the remain­ing bis­cuits with almonds you’ve toasted lightly in the oven for ten minutes. You no longer have posh chocol­ate bis­cuits, you have pal­impsests. If the mes­sage carved into the paste is one you’d like the recip­i­ents to see, ask them to peel back the top layer of chocol­ate or nuts. If you’d rather keep it secret, stay silent while they devour the evidence.