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
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.
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?