Foody Friday: Ice cream base

Jul 5, 2009 by

I’m thinking of renaming these posts “Weekend Recipes” since I seem far more likely to post them on a Sunday as I am a Friday. Any thoughts?

Anyway, though you wouldn’t know it looking at the weather (or perhaps you would; you don’t get rain like this at any other time of year) but it’s summer. And summer means ice-cream!

I’ll be doing ice-cream recipes for July and August, taken mostly from The Book of Ices, 1885, by Mrs Marshall. She was the Mrs Beeton of ice-cream, patenting her own ice-cream maker and putting ice-cream in an edible cone for the first time.

Ice-cream (well, sorbet) was first eaten in Britain by Charles II, though it was so expensive he was one of the only people at the feast to actually get a taste. Frozen fruit ices were already well-known in China, and made their way over with a whole bunch of other Chinese imports like tea. By the reign of Queen Anne ice-cream was a popular court dish, though it didn’t become readily available to the average Briton until late in the 19th Century, when ice became easier to come by. Italian ice-cream merchants used to sell “penny licks” – a scoop of ice-cream in a glass, that the purchaser would lick up in one mouthful, and return the glass to the merchant – but these disappeared in the Edwardian period when they were linked to the spread of TB (quite accurately so!). Luckily, thanks to pioneers like Mrs Marshall the ice-cream cone was on its way into fashion, providing us with TB-free ice-cream for decades to come!

Victorian ice-creams were usually based on custard, making them rich, sweet, and eggy. And very, very indulgent! For the first post, I’ll detail how to make the custard bases, and how to make ice-cream without recourse to ice-cream maker or even a freezer (well, not strictly). After all, we’ve been making ice-cream since long before that little device, as I explain later.

Very Rich Ice-cream Base


1 pint cream
1/4 lb caster sugar
8 egg yolks


Large saucepan
Large bowl
Wooden Spoon
Fine sieve


Mix the egg yolks and sugar until the mixture is smooth.

Boil the cream, and add to the yolks and sugar.

Mix well, and return to the pan. This time, don’t let it boil, just keep stirring until it’s thick enough to really stick to the spoon.

Strain it, and leave to cool

Cheaper ice-cream base


1 pint milk
1/4 lb sugar
1/2 oz corn flour




Boil everything together until nice and thick.

Strain and leave to cool.

How to Make Ice-Cream

There’s several ways of doing this. You can use a large bowl and a small, or two different-sized bags, or any kind of ice-cream maker (but not an electric one).

When I said you didn’t need a freezer, it was something of a fib. You need ice, but at no point do you need to put th ice-cream mix in the freezer. It takes forever that way, whereas this method can be done and dusted in twenty minutes.

Put you ice-cream mix in the small bag/bowl, and fill the large half-full with ice and salt. Doing this myself, I can go went about a kilo of salt for every litre of ice-cream. Put the small bag/bowl inside the large. If it’s a bowl, start stirring; if it’s bags, start kneading and shaking (and make really sure that neither bag bursts!).

Ready for some physics while you work? The salt brings down the melting point of the ice, which means it melts more easily. But in order to melt it needs energy. It takes the energy from the ice-cream mix (and your hands!) which causes the molecules to vibrate more slowly, which causes the ice-cream mix to get colder as the ice gets warmer. Eventually you have a a bag/bowl of salty water, and a bag/bowl of frozen ice-cream! You need to keep it moving to stop it freezing in one giant lump. The more you keep it moving the more evenly it freezes and the better the texture of your ice-cream.

And all this takes about twenty minutes, and a bit of elbow grease. Or a lot of very eager small children.

The Victorians would take the ice-cream and put it in moulds, normally matching the flavour of ice-cream (and if I tell you cucumber, fish and wheat moulds were common, you know what kind of recipes you’re in for over the next two months!), and then put them in the ice-house to set. If you’re wondering where the ice came from, that’s where; it was collected from ponds and pools in winter and stored underground. It was usually filthy, which is why it never comes into contact with what you’re actually planning to eat. It wasn’t until we started importing ice from American towards the end of the century (nice big clean lakes, vast expanses of snow, and access to iceburgs) that people started putting it in drinks and consuming it themselves. After all, who wants a scotch on the rocks with added pondweed?

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