Brown bread ice cream. It’s a mistake, right? How can stale brown sodabread combine with… um… cream and er… to make… um?
Start again. Brown bread ice cream is a simple Irish classic. (OK, it probably comes from other countries too, but tiny nations need to claim as much as they can.)
People love it or hate it. They say this ice cream is the bee’s knees or it’s highly overrated. Or they’ve never heard of it or say what’s the fuss?
After all, it is just a simple combination of chewy yet slightly crispy breadcrumb nuggets within a smooth vanilla ice cream. That’s all we’re talking about.
Exactly. Brown bread ice cream should be simple and unfussy. It doesn’t look anything special either, so I won’t even bother with a photograph (though there must be bloggers and food stylists out there who can use their F-stops and Instagram filters to turn it into a lewd slab of gloopy gastroporn).
While I won’t give you a photo I’ll still try to picture it. Cue the wibbly-wobbly dreamy camera dissolves and dry ice machines, because brown bread ice cream comes from… it comes from… the mists of time!
On mists (and time)
It comes from a time, in fact, before the TV schedules were swamped by celebrity chefs. A time before the plain people of Ireland became accustomed to words like “bake-off” or “cupcake”, or “caffè freddo” or “moreish”. And a long, long time before pork was ever “pulled”.
Brown bread ice cream comes from an epoch before fried food now had to be “pan-fried” and baked food had to be “oven-baked”, and long before you had to “seal” (they really mean sear) the meat. This particular ice cream is a dish from before the time when food became “produce” (produce that you had to “source”, and “source locally” of course).
Brown bread ice cream probably first appeared many years before television came along, let alone colour TV. It probably made its first appearance shortly after refrigeration became mechanised, and decades before colour TV cameras first fell in love with piping bags and psychedelic food dyes and presenters who wore thick slabs of make-up and vast chiffon ballgowns on screen (and were called Fanny).
We’re talking about an age before “medleys” of this or postmodern “deconstructions” of that. The Age of Domestic Science.
This was an age when cookbooks had entire sections near the back called “Invalid Cookery” (recipes designed for the ill and unwell), and sometimes a “dummies’ guide” type section near the front about how to use one of those newfangled electric cooker things.
Generations of Irish grannies still have a battered and bruised old copy or two of All in the Cooking from those very days. First published in the 1940s, All in the Cooking was Ireland’s definitive Domestic Science bible. It was a best-selling textbook – literally – that came in two volumes.
It was produced by the crowd at Coláiste Mhuire and the Cathal Brugha Street catering college up in Dublin. And the two books were plain, modest, no pictures, not even a line drawing or lithograph. No superfluous text either, no preambles about the historical or social context of a dish, or about the author’s memories / opinions / sensations / travelogues, or Lists of Suppliers or anecdotes culled from the shoot of the TV series.
In All in the Cooking, everything had to be reduced, simmered, boiled down to a simple, bare, neutral list of key ingredients and unambiguous techniques. Like a good simple stock.
All in the Cooking, a bit like brown bread ice cream, came from a monochrome age of no-nonsense recipes with the occasional frill thrown in. So frugal were the times that even the brown bread in the ice cream was probably one of those happy kitchen accidents that became yet another clever way to recycle leftovers.
Brown bread ice cream recipe
Maybe I’m dreaming but I’m not certain if All in the Cooking has a recipe for brown bread ice cream. It’s not in volume two, and my copy of volume one seems to have”disappeared”. Yet I’ll always associate the two things together.
Here’s my basic recipe. You’ll come across far more elaborate concoctions, custardy ones involving eggs (possibly separated – or even divorced) or the finest vanilla pods from Madagascar, or a splash or dash or drizzle of Jameson or Black Bush or what have you.
I’d be the first to admit: whisked egg yolks do make a richer ice cream. So does a properly caramelised bread crumble – it’s a bit like a praline, only with breadcrumbs instead of nuts.
But I’m keeping things ultra-simple here…
- Turn some stale brown bread (about 3 cups) into chunky breadcrumbs in your usual food processor
- Dry the breadcrumbs slowly on trays in a cool oven (120°C), as if making Panko breadcrumbs. This can take 20 minutes, or more if they still feel slightly moist. You want them dry but not toasted
- Meanwhile whip 2 cups (500 ml) of double cream until it forms the proverbial soft peaks
- To the cream, add 150g of caster sugar
- Add an optional splash of vanilla essence
- Mix well and pour the cream/sugar mixture into a wide tupperware dish or tray, cover with foil, freeze for an hour (nobody had an ice cream maker in granny’s day)
- Dissolve a further 50g of caster sugar in 4 tablespoons of water under a low heat, and leave it to cool down
- Pour this sugar syrup onto the breadcrumbs
- Fold the breadcrumb mixture into the half-frozen cream
- Continue freezing for an hour and a half or so until fairly firmed up, taking the mixture out the freezer every so often to break up the ice crystals by beating the stuff vigorously with a fork or wooden spoon
To serve – and still keeping it really simple – why not try it with coffee as an affogato?
The return of ‘All in the Cooking’
After going out of print in the 1970s, All in the Cooking became a collectible. I used to scour Irish secondhand bookshops for ones, and I’ve seen them for sale on Amazon at $200 a copy.
But do not panic: it’s about to be republished: the All in the Cooking reprint will be available on Amazon from 7 September.
It’s in hardback, and I don’t know if its cover is the same as my original, which lost its dust jacket several centuries ago and bears the stains and scars of many a kitchen battle.
Ring the churchbells! Light bonfires across the land! Set all the ovens to lettered control F or numbered control 6 (425ºF, 215ºC)! Ireland’s greatest cookery book is back! By popular demand!