What to do with a leftover tub of homemade red currant ice cream? Make ice cream cake, of course! When completely cooled, slice a round sponge cake / pan di spagna into two disks. Wedge the first disk into the bakery paper-lined cake pan and spread a layer of softened ice cream on top. Proceed with the next layer of cake and ice cream (for my top layer I used whipped cream with mixed berries), and place back in the freezer for at least an hour. Remove and let sit at room temp for minimum 15 minutes before serving.
Every year around this time our red currant plant starts yielding absurd quantities of fruit—or at least too much for two people to keep up with. In the past week I’ve given away a couple bags full and have frozen about a kilo. I’m not really into marmalade (both the process of making it and the texture annoy me), which leaves few options for how to make use of the copious amounts of berries currently all about the place. It turns out the hens don’t really like them, by the by.
Last year I made a refreshing (if a bit sour) and gorgeous-to-behold red currant sorbet. I’d started making my own sorbet a couple years back, after having purchased and been disappointed by one too many sickeningly sweet store-brought varieties, invariably full of glucose syrup—fine, technically it’s just sugar, I realize—plus the ubiquitous corn syrup, thickeners, stabilizers, colorings, and so on. With homemade sorbet you can pretty much achieve a ‘natural’ dessert and you control the sweetness level, something I find appealing. It’s much more economical. It’s easy. And there’s really no limit to the kinds you can make. So while contemplating a large bowl of currants, I thought about going with that recipe again. Then I remembered I had a carton of cream in the fridge! And minutes later I was busy making this ice cream. I hate to brag (really I do), but at times it’s just unavoidable—this ice cream is knock-your-socks-off good.
1 & 1/2 cups (about 250-270 grams) of fresh red currants
1 cup (225 grams) sugar
1/3 cup (about 80 mls) water
2 cups heavy cream (I used a 500-ml carton)
Rinse the berries and remove all the little stems. Process the fruit until you have a thick, fairly uniform liquid, then strain once in a small-hole colander and then again in a mesh one. You won’t keep every tiny seed out; it’s okay, nothing to go all OCD about. The seeds are sort of cute (and besides, this is homemade ice cream). Set the juice aside. In a small saucepan over low heat, dissolve the sugar in the water, stirring constantly until you have a thick syrup. You don’t have to bring it to a boil. Let cool and then add the syrup to the fruit blend and combine well in a bowl. At this point, definitely test the sweetness. Currants are sour. I liked the sweetness achieved with this amount of sugar, but you could sweeten further if you wish. Place the bowl in the freezer for a few minutes while you whip the cream until very thick and pillowy. Gently fold the cream into the fruit mixture, then transfer to a sealable container and freeze. After about two hours the consistency is like a soft-serve ice cream. Freeze for another two hours if you want a more traditional ice cream consistency. Since this ice cream contains no fake-texture-preserving junk, it will freeze completely solid, so on successive days be sure to take it out of the freezer about 15-20 minutes before serving and stir it up a bit.
To make this sorbet, I used the better part of two ripe cantaloupes. Place a large ceramic or tin bowl or pot in the freezer while you prep the sorbet. Roughly cube the flesh and place it in a food processor or blender. You can also use a hand-held wand mixer, in which case place the fruit in a large bowl. Process until you have a thickish liquid. Add about 1/2 cup of syrup (bring 1 cup of water and 1/2 cup sugar to a boil, stirring periodically; remove from heat and let cool before using) and 3 large spoonfuls of mascarpone (optional). The mascarpone doesn’t alter the flavor but does make for a nice pastel color and creamy consistency. Blend well, transfer to the chilled container, and cover with a lid or plastic wrap. Freeze for 4 or 5 hours, forking it every now and then. Remember to remove frozen solid sorbet from the freezer and let rest at room temp for about 30 minutes before serving. Fork it up and then use an ice cream scoop to serve. If you like, garnish with red fruits like the currants pictured above or fresh mint leaves.
Depending on where you live, the early days of July could be late for fresh lavender, but if you happen to have any lovely purple buds still left on your plants, here’s a refreshing sorbet recipe to try. Bring 3 cups of water to a boil and add 10 to 12 lavender buds with about 3/4 cups plain white sugar. Turn off the heat, stir well, and let the mixture cool for at least 15 minutes. Strain the mixture and transfer it to a ceramic or metal container (ideally one that’s been in the freezer for about 30 minutes prior). Fork up the mixture every now and then. It should be ready after about 3 hours. When you serve this sorbet, you’ll notice that the natural color leaves a bit to be desired: it’s almost a dark grey. An entirely optional trick is to dust the sorbet with colored sugar made by blending blue and red food coloring into a few teaspoons of white sugar.
Tangy, fresh, and almost embarrassingly easy to make, this red currant sorbet needs firstly super fresh and ripe currants, about 250 grams (one very full measuring cup). Clean them very carefully, especially the tiny stems. Place them in a bowl or tall container with 150 mls of water and 110 grams of regular sugar. Then blend with a hand mixer until all the fruit is smooth. Taste the liquid and sweeten more if you like. I strained the mixture to get most of the seeds out, but if a few spill through not to worry (they are sort of cute). Then transfer to a ceramic dish or metal pan and freeze for at least three hours, forking the sorbet periodically.
You will never spend two dollars on a coffee-shop scone again after tasting these homemade darlings. I make round scones using a water glass to cut the shapes, but if you prefer triangular scones, use a dough scraper to make the triangles.
500 grams flour plus extra for working
125 grams sugar plus extra for dusting
2 tsps baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
125 grams heavy cream or half & half (or whole milk if you must)
125 grams sour cream
1 stick (115 grams circa) butter plus 2 Tbls for brushing
1 cup frozen mixed berries
Preheat the oven to 425°F/220°C
Set the berries out to thaw a little. Place the butter in the freezer while you get started. Blend the liquid cream and the sour cream in a bowl and put in the fridge. In another bowl mix all the dry ingredients and set aside. Generously flour a work surface. Using the large-hole side of a cheese grater, grate the very cold butter into the flour mix. Toss gently with your fingers until the butter is covered and distributed throughout the flour. Now add the cool cream mixture to the flour mix, folding the ingredients together until just combined. Turn the mixture out onto your work surface. Flour your hands and knead about 8 to 10 times. Don’t overwork the dough and don’t worry if it’s lumpy-looking.
Dust the mound of dough with flour. Roll out the dough to about 1/2 inch thick (it will be a large ‘sheet’). Cover half of the dough with the berries (it’s okay if they are still a bit frozen). Using a large dough scraper or a large spatula, carefully fold the dough over onto the berry-covered side so you have a kind of sandwich. If the dough breaks as you are attempting this, just piece it back together as best you can with your hands. Dust the top with flour and roll out again gently one last time to ensure the berries are nice and nestled in the dough. Flour the lip of a water glass and start making rounds.
Transfer the scones to a parchment paper-covered baking sheet. Brush them with melted butter and dust with sugar. Any straggler berries can be pressed into the tops of random scones. Bake on the middle shelf for 15 to 18 minutes or until just turning golden on the edges (longer if you like harder scones).
Not unlike the turducken or its charmless cousin the cthurkey, the Italian film genre known as cinepanettone brings together fine individual parts—cinema and panettone, in this case—that when united spawn a monstrosity. While on the whole I find Italians ‘do Christmas’ well, striking a reasonable balance of tradition, religion, family, and commercial madness, the intrusion of this superbly tacky cultural phenomenon into the holiday season is something I’ve never really understood. Back in the first flush of my love affair with Italy, one of the factors contributing to my desire to know this country up-close and personal was Neorealismo; so you might well imagine my dismay when, about year into my Italian life, I discovered that Christian de Sica, son of one of the greats of the Neorealist movement, was a founding member of the travesty known as cinepanettone!
These films come out at Christmastime—hence the name association with the Italian Christmas cake panettone—and turn more or less on the same recycled plot within a Christmas-vacation setting. The formula, going strong and inexplicably successful since the first of the genre was released in 1983, often involves couples in crisis or ridiculous circumstances. The backdrop is usually a snowy ski haven or a tropical resort. Stereotypes and cleavage are never wanting.
Let’s turn our attention to the better half of cinepanettone. An infamously time-demanding cake to prepare, panettone is a fluffy-buttery-spongy tall cake filled with candied fruits (the type of fruit changes from region to region). Like so many Italian treats, panettoni really are an art form. Have a look here and here to get an idea (in Italian) of the work required to make one from scratch, then go out and buy yourself one at an Italian bakery or specialty shop. Italians eat panettone throughout the season and into the celebrations around the New Year and the Feast of the Epiphany. In fact, traditionally the last of the season’s panettone is eaten on Saint Blaise’s feast day, February 3. So one need not feel that after Christmas day panettone is off the menu, by any means.
Across the numerous, often ambiguous stories of Lucia, the virgin saint who rejected her suitor and gave her dowry to the poor, the one constant is her association with light. Although Sicilian and celebrated in Italy, Lucia is arguably most revered in Scandinavian countries, where today young women dressed in white will sing Lucia songs and carry candles in her honor, evoking ancient, heart-of-winter rites meant to illuminate the year’s longest nights. In folkloristic terms, Lucia makes up part of the company of figures with whom Saint Nicholaus cavorts, such the Krampus, the red-tongued devilish punisher of bad children, and La Befana, the gift-bearing ‘good witch’ who flies the world over on the eve of the Epiphany. Interestingly, Lucia shares qualities with both: depending on the version of the story, Lucia sometimes rides a broom (like La Befana); while in some Swedish traditions, young people dressed as Lucia go about scrounging for schnapps, not unlike their far-creepier counterparts in the Krampus procession.
These buns, called Lussekatter (meaning ‘Lucy cats’) are the treat to have on Lucia Day. Raisins placed in the curls are meant to recall eyes, as Lucia is the patron saint of the blind and the eyes are her attribute (she was blinded before being executed). This does not exactly explain how this cat-tail-shaped, saffron-flavored, raisin-dotted soft bun equates with Lucia’s feast day though, does it? Well, maybe with a little more research (and why not a trip to Sweden next December, eh?), illumination will come in time for next year’s Santa Lucia.
The recipe comes courtesy of Joe Pastry. I used mascarpone in place of quark, a soft fermented cheese commonly used in baking throughout much of Europe but not available in Italy.
Buona Santa Lucia!
This is Jamie Oliver’s recipe, adapted from his lovely Jamie’s Italy.
200 ml (7 ounces) sugar, plus more for dusting the frozen wedges
200 ml (7 ounces) water
200 ml (7 ounces) lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon
1 heaping Tablespoon of mascarpone
2 additional lemons to make the frozen wedges
Choose a container to freeze the sorbet in. Oliver uses a tin pan. I have used an enameled baking dish and a heavy glass bowl. Put the dish in the freezer while you prepare the sorbet. Bring the sugar and water to a boil. Turn off the heat and let it cool. You’ll have a thick syrup. After 15 to 20 minutes, add the lemon juice and zest, stir, then add the mascarpone. Taste it now to check for sweet-sour ratio. You could add more sugar at this point if the liquid is too sour. This is a matter of individual taste. Pour the liquid into your container and freeze. Check it every hour or so and ‘fork it up a bit,’ as Oliver says. It’s ready after about 3 hours and can keep in the freezer for a few days.
So, what’s the twist? I garnish the sorbet with frozen sugary lemon wedges: Slice your fresh organic lemons into thin rounds, then halves, so you have several wedges. Remove any seeds, gently as to not disturb the pulp. Dust the wedges with sugar on both sides, place on a sheet of aluminum foil, and freeze together with the sorbet. Add a sprig of fresh mint for aroma and a dash of contrasting color.
Dedicated to my great friend, Sirpa Salenius, who has waited very patiently for this recipe.