Six Ingredients In Search Of A Recipe

In the league table of cel­eb­rated plays that should never be per­formed on stage, Shakespeare’s grue­some Titus Andronicus has to come top. But I’ve always thought Pirandello’s 1921 play Six Char­ac­ters in Search of an Author may be up there too. His open­ing night audi­ence in Rome yelled ‘man­icomio’ or ‘mad­house’ through­out the per­form­ance and the humi­li­ated Pir­an­dello had to slip out of a side door.

The play’s eccent­ric premise is this: a rehearsal is tak­ing place on stage when six half-written char­ac­ters barge into the theatre demand­ing to be allowed to act out their drama. The bewildered Dir­ector gives in and the bizarre event con­cludes with a drown­ing and a sui­cide. This week­end I’m see­ing it on stage for the very first time, so I’ll let you know if it’s per­form­able or not.

I love a good post­mod­ern exper­i­ment, in food as well as lit­er­at­ure. So when I had a whim to make lem­on­grass and lemon thyme ice-cream, it struck me that this might be my Pir­an­dello moment. Great concept, mad­house in real­ity? Or daft idea, sub­lime res­ult? Would my six ice-cream ingredi­ents make for the per­fect per­form­ance or would I be forced out of the kit­chen, pur­sued by mem­bers of my fam­ily wav­ing rolling pins and shout­ing ‘man­icomio maniac’?


For the ice-cream

  • 1 cup semi skimmed milk
  • 2 cups double cream
  • 3/4 cup caster sugar
  • 6 large egg yolks (you can use the whites for the biscuits)
  • Three hand­fuls of fresh lemon thyme, includ­ing the soft stalks
  • 2 bulbs of fresh lem­on­grass, bruised with a rolling pin and sliced finely

For the biscuits

  • 2 egg whites
  • 60g softened unsalted but­ter (I like Les­cure but­ter best)
  • 1/2 cup plain flour
  • 1/2 cup caster sugar
  • Finely grated zest of a lemon

For the mango milkshake

  • Slightly over­ripe Alphonso man­goes or 1 tin Alphonso mango pulp. The exquis­ite, per­fumed fruit are in sea­son in April, but if you can’t find any, the tinned pulp is excep­tion­ally good
  • Equal quant­it­ies of ice-cold semi skimmed milk

To make the ice-cream, com­bine the milk, sugar, 1 cup of the cream, the thyme and the lem­on­grass. Warm it through until hot, but not boil­ing. Take off the heat, cover and allow the fla­vours to infuse for around an hour and a half.

Once the cream has infused, whisk the egg yolks. Still whisk­ing, pour a little of the warm cream mix­ture into the bowl. Add a little more, whisk­ing all the while, and then pour the tempered eggs back into the pan con­tain­ing the rest of the cream mix.

Put the pan back on a gentle to medium heat and con­tinue to stir until the mix­ture becomes custard-like and coats the back of a wooden spoon. Add the remain­ing cup of cream and pour the whole lot into a cold bowl. Once cooled com­pletely, strain the mix­ture into your ice-cream maker and churn it.

To make the bis­cuits, whisk the egg whites very lightly and com­bine with the other ingredi­ents. Pour a little of the bat­ter into well-buttered fairy cake tins or lar­ger tart­let tins if you prefer. I used tart­let tins approx­im­ately 12 cm in dia­meter which pro­duced 9 bis­cuits. Bake at 200 degrees C for around 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and ease the bis­cuits gently out of the tins with a plastic knife.

To make the mango milk­shake, com­bine equal quant­it­ies of mango puree and ice-cold milk. If you feel that an authen­tic milk­shake needs a few bubbles, froth it with a milk frother.

After I laid on my first night per­form­ance of Six Ingredi­ents in Search of a Recipe, my son — who’s no pushover — announced that it’s now his num­ber one favour­ite ice-cream. And this from a teen­ager who would hap­pily eat my chocol­ate and pea­nut but­ter ice-cream seven days a week. The fla­vour of the ice-cream is per­fumed and creamy, with a subtle and del­ic­ate prom­ise of lemon. The mango is the per­fect coun­ter­bal­ance and the bis­cuit provides a much needed ele­ment of crunch.

Man­icomio or para­dise? Try it and let me know.

Mango glasses, lime ice cream and chocolate truffles

Psy­cho­lo­gists will have you believe that the quick­est way to evoke the past is to play the music you listened to between the ages of four­teen and twenty, oth­er­wise known as ‘music of your life’. The Rolling Stones, Robert Palmer, Bruce Spring­steen — pos­sibly Engel­bert Hump­erdinck if that was your thing — will all evoke memor­ies of what you were doing at a pre­cise moment in your teens. But psy­cho­lo­gists are miss­ing a trick. They should be feed­ing us the boiled sweets of our teen­age years. ‘Con­fec­tion­ery of your life’ is made up of the sher­bet lem­ons after foot­ball prac­tice, tri-coloured lol­li­pops called ‘traffic lights’ sucked at the bus stop, kitsch pink candy shrimps in party bags, pear drops on a wintry Sunday morn­ing and, best of all, the glory known as the chocol­ate lime.

It was in memory of the liv­idly green and slightly powdery chocol­ate lime that I whipped up this pud­ding. It’s infin­itely health­ier than its boiled sweet cousin, although it has to be said that it’s a lot more trouble to pre­pare. But close your eyes, think of get­ting ready for that first teen­age disco with a chocol­ate lime in one cheek and high expect­a­tions in your heart. And then smile smugly to think that unlike the enamel-eroding boiled sweet, this pud­ding is good for you.

Frozen Mango Glasses and Lime Ice-Cream, With Bit­ter Chocol­ate Truffles on the Side

Serves 4

For the glasses

400g ripe alphonso mangos

For the ice cream

3 limes — the juice of three of them and the zest of two

Half cup vanilla sugar

2 cups double cream

For the truffles

Half cup double cream

3 table­spoons golden syrup

90g dark chocolate

90g milk chocolate

Quarter cup milled flax­seed, cocoa and ber­ries, plus more for rolling

These quant­it­ies make too much by far, but the slightly nutty truffle mix­ture is a deli­cious filling for a cake

Sprigs of mint to decorate

Puree the man­goes in a blender and pour into cup-making moulds for at least 6 hours. I bought these moulds in a kit­chen sup­ply shop and although they’re rather daft, some­times a flashy trick is what you’re after.

Make the ice cream by warm­ing the lime juice and stir­ring in the sugar. Stir until dis­solved and add the fine zest and the cream. Cool in the fridge and then tip into your ice cream maker and fol­low the instruc­tions. Again, it makes too much for this par­tic­u­lar recipe but it keeps well.

The truffles are easy to make, although truc­u­lent and unco­oper­at­ive on a hot day. Add the cream and golden syrup to a pan and heat until the mix­ture starts to bubble gently. Melt the chocol­ate into the mix­ture and once it’s smooth, add the flax­seed and cocoa. Freeze in a bowl for a couple of hours and then scoop out balls of the mix­ture with a tea­spoon and roll them in more flax­seed. Return the truffles to the freezer while you wrestle with the mango glasses.

Turn the glasses out of their moulds, fill with lime ice cream and arrange the truffles on the side. Dec­or­ate with sprigs of mint. I poked a lovage straw in to suck up the mango as it melted, but I’m rather obsessed with lovage at the moment, so you don’t need to fol­low my lead on this one.