I'm sure you’ll agree it’s been a cracking summer weather-wise. When May was officially declared the coolest since 1996 – rounding off the coldest spring in a century – hopes weren’t high on the summer weather-front.
I think we all expected it to be a re-run of last year’s dire conditions (which came on the back of a forgettable 2011, which followed on from a... you get the drift).
But the weather gods obviously decided to shine on us at last as, all things considered, summer 2013 has been stonking.
If nothing else, it has done wonders for sales of ice cream and sellers have been able to smile at last after a rough ride in recent years.
Nothing says summer quite like ice cream. It helps to cool you down when it’s hot and puts a smile on your face.
It’s what we had all been waiting for. And hopefully the hot weather isn’t over yet.
September and October have in recent years been pretty special. If the trend continues we’ve got a few more weeks left yet to enjoy ice cream.
We’re really lucky here in the North East that we have some fantastic award-winning independent ice cream makers.
There’s Doddington Dairy up at Wooler, Wheelbirks and Vallum in the Tyne Valley, Morwick Dairy up at Warkworth, Archers down at Darlington and Mark Toney’s and Beckleberry’s here on Tyneside.
And that’s not to mention the scores of smaller top-class ice cream bars and parlours operating in towns and villages across the region.
We make our own ice creams and sorbets here at Food Social too. We could buy it in, but we pride ourselves on making as much as we can ourselves as well as being seasonal and local.
And by local we mean, as far as possible, within 50 miles of the restaurant here in Shieldfield.
Ice cream isn’t just a summer treat. We have seasonal varieties on the menu all year round.
Vanilla is a staple, but we do other flavours such as hazelnut praline, blackberry ripple, passion fruit (one of my favourites – a tropical vacation wrapped up in a sunny dessert), ginger, star anise (a great winter one) and rum and raisin to name but a few.
And then there are the sorbets – strawberry, raspberry, lemon. The possibilities are endless.
It’s really satisfying to make and eat your own homemade ice cream.
For one thing you know exactly what’s gone into it (and it won’t be a load of E-numbers, oils and stabilisers) and for another it gives you the chance to experiment with all sorts of weird and wonderful flavours.
I’m always surprised that more people don’t do it, but there’s a misconception that it’s hard to do and a task best left to the ‘professionals’. If I had a pound for every person who’s told me ice cream making is a challenge too far, I’d be a millionaire.
Yet while ice cream may be a magical treat, there is nothing mysterious about how it’s made and it’s actually one of the easiest desserts to do.
One of the biggest fallacies is that you need to have an ice cream maker. You don’t.
Admittedly, using one is quicker, but there really isn’t any need to rush out and spend hundreds of pounds on another piece of kitchen equipment unless you are working up to making ice cream on an industrial scale.
Making it by hand requires nothing more than a few basic utensils, a freezer and patience.
After making your chosen recipe you transfer the mixture to a shallow-lidded plastic container and put it in the coldest part of the freezer for a couple of hours.
Take it out, tip out the contents into a bowl and blend with an electric whisk (this is where technology does help as otherwise you’d have to do it by hand) to break down the ice crystals and return the box to the freezer for another two hours and repeat the procedure. Refreeze and leave until you want to serve (hopefully amazing your dinner guests in the process as few things impress people more than homemade ice cream. Astonishing really when it is so simple).
Sorbets are a more natural, healthy option and even easier to prepare.
Basically they’re just water or fruit juice blended and sweetened with fruit, chocolate, wine, liqueur or even fresh herbs and spices (elderflower, ginger and lemongrass are wonderfully delicate and refreshing flavours). And they are so simple to make.
Unlike ice cream, sorbets don’t usually contain any dairy ingredients, making them a good choice for anyone who is lactose intolerant or watching their weight.
With more hot weather to look forward to before the kids go back to school, ice cream really is the hippest way to stay cool this summer.
Andrew Wilkinson is head chef at Food Social @ The Biscuit Factory, Shieldfield, Newcastle, NE2 1AN, 0191 260 5411, www.foodsocial.co.uk Open 12pm-2pm and 5.30pm-10pm Monday-Saturday and 12pm-3pm Sunday.
RECIPE OF THE WEEK: BLACKBERRY RIPPLE ICE CREAM
For the ice cream:
500ml whole milk
500ml double cream
500g egg yolks
400g caster sugar
2 vanilla pods, split
For the blackberry compote:
400g caster sugar
Juice of a lemon
For the beignets:
1tsp caster sugar
90g plain flour
1 litre vegetable oil
100g caster sugar (for dusting)
Zest of a lemon
First make the ice cream by bringing the milk, double cream and vanilla pods and seeds to a simmer. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a bowl until pale and fluffy.
When the milk and cream come to a boil, pour half of on to the egg mixture and combine. Reduce the heat to low-medium and pour the liquid back into the pan of milk.
Using a wooden spoon, stir until the liquid thickens (make sure it doesn’t scramble).
Chill and then strain off the vanilla pods and seeds.
Place in an ice cream maker and churn to manufacturer’s instructions.
To do it by hand, tip into a large freezer-proof container and chill.
Transfer to the freezer and take out every hour for three hours and blend with an electric handheld whisk.
Then leave the ice cream in the freezer for a final time until it is solid.
Meanwhile, make the compote by cooking the blackberries, sugar and lemon juice in a pan on a medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour into a sterilised jar and cool.
To make the beignets put the butter, sugar and water into a pan and melt down. Add the flour and salt and cook out for three-four minutes.
Take the pan off the heat and beat in the eggs. Put the dough into a piping bag.
Heat the vegetable oil in a large pan and using either the piping bag or a spoon make small roundels from the dough and fry them for between five-six minutes.
Remove from the oil and roll in the extra caster sugar mixed with the lemon zest.
Serve scoops of the ice cream in cocktail glasses with the beignets and drizzle over the compote.