The first time I ate ice cream with alcohol in, it made me cry.
I was on holiday with my family in Italy, a much littler loaf than I am now, and we’d just emerged from eating lunch at our favourite local pizzeria. The kind of pizzeria with no pretensions, just incredible dough rolled paper thin, rich red tomato sauce spread over the top and milky mozzarella dotted between volcanic blisters of risen crust. By all accounts we should have been full, but anyone with even the slightest sweet tooth will understand that there’s full, and then there’s the pudding stomach.
Normally we’d have jumped in the car and headed up into the walled town to get a cone of homemade ice cream from one of the local bars, but for some reason or other we had to get on the road. If memory serves me correctly it was raining, so my Dad hot footed it into the next door café to grab a couple of cornettos for my brother and I to eat in the car 0n our way to wherever we were going.
Eating a cornetto is such an exciting thing when you’re a child. There’s the foil crimped round the top to carefully prize back, the round carboard lid to remove (making sure to lick off any excess chocolate stuck to the underside before disposing with it) and the paper wrapping to tear open then peel back in a slow circle until the top of the ice cream is completely revealed. When you’ve eaten the whole thing and just a tiny foil cone remains, you then tip the final chocolate filled chunk of crispy wafer into your mouth for a final burst of flavour before licking your lips and wiping your grubby fingers. Preferably not on the car seat, or your older brother, as I fear may have occurred more than once.
So, I’m in the car, I perform the necessary rituals and I prize a little fleck of chocolate topping into my mouth. So far, so good. Then it’s time to take a big long lick of the creamy coloured ice cream underneath, and that’s when the tears begin. My dad didn’t read the label properly and the after lunch treat he’s bought for his five year old is actually a whisky flavoured cornetto. Oops.
When writing this post, I googled ‘Whisky Cornetto’ and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of information available. I’m not sure it was ever on sale in the UK, but from the look of various forums it has definitely been discontinued in Italy – maybe more parents made the same mistake as my Dad, maybe it didn’t sell that well, but for whatever reason, if you want to find an alcoholic ice cream nowadays, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
And sometimes an alcoholic ice cream is exactly what you want. Since those formative years in the family car, my tastebuds have developed somewhat, and although I’m not a big fan of overly boozy desserts, sometimes a sniff of something sybaritic can really give them a lift. One of my favourite flavours ever is the vin santo ice cream made at the River Café (which I’ve replicated here), so a couple of weekends ago when deciding what sort of ice cream to make to accompany some chocolate fondants, I decided to tweak the recipe to use up the end of an everlasting bottle of Frangelico that sits on my sideboard (delicious in desserts but I’d never drink it on its own).
While I love the contrast of cool, creamy, boozy ice cream with a rich chocolate fondant, I wanted to add a bit more texture to this dessert. Recently I’ve been making a lot of hazelnut praline – I can’t get enough of the stuff – and wondered how the crispy shards of nutty caramel would taste if churned through ice cream.
The answer is amazing. Because alcohol stops ice crystals forming, the ice cream stays beautifully soft, smooth and scoopable, while the praline melts into the creamy base to become both chewy and crunchy all at once. The flavour is rich and toasty, with hints of caramel, a tang of alcohol and a mellow, nutty aftertaste. I only had a tiny amount left after our dinner party to take some pictures, so the photos in this post really don’t do it justice, but I urge you to try this ice cream.
While this recipe is lovely just as I’m presenting it, it’s also infinitely adaptable. Why not make a traditional almond praline and stir through an amaretto ice cream, try it with pecans and Bourbon, or peanut praline and a chocolaty liqueur? Replace the praline with crumbled cookies (Oreos, Bourbon biscuits or spicy speculoos) or syrup soaked sponge, or try any number of dessert wines rather than a liqueur. As long as you’re careful not to add too much booze (this can prevent the ice cream from freezing at all), the world really is your oyster with this recipe.
You could even stuff the ice cream into cones, top with chocolate and make a homemade cornetto . . . as long as you don’t offer it to any unsuspecting kids.
Hazelnut Praline Ice Cream
For the hazelnut praline
100g golden caster sugar
65g hazelnuts, toasted and chopped
Line a baking tray with a silicone baking mat. Spread the sugar on the bottom of a heavy bottomed saucepan and cook over a medium heat until it begins to melt around the edges. Drag the melting sugar into the centre of the pan with a heatproof spatula then stir gently until all the sugar is melted. Cook until the liquid is a deep amber colour, then remove from the heat and stir in the chopped hazlenuts.
Pour the praline in an even layer over your baking mat and leave to cool and harden. Once completely cool, blitz in a blender to a coarse powder. The praline will keep for up to a week if you want to make it in advance.
For the ice cream
5 x large, free range egg yolks
80g light brown muscovado sugar
600 ml double cream
1 x quantity hazelnut praline, as above
Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until light and frothy.
Heat the double cream in a medium saucepan with 50ml of the Frangelico until warmed through. Remove from the heat and pour over the egg and sugar mixture, whisking continuously until combined. Return the pan to a medium heat and cook your custard until it coats the back of a spoon.
Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining 110ml Frangelico. Strain into a large mixing bowl set over an ice bath and whisk until cooled. Chill thoroughly in the fridge before churning in your ice cream maker.
Just before the ice cream is ready, pour in the praline and allow to churn until incorporated. Spoon into container and freeze for at least four hours before serving.
Because of the high alcohol content, this ice cream should be nice and soft served straight from the freezer. Perfect with a hot chocolate fondant, or drenched in a shot of coffee for an adult take on an affogato.