Food: Scoop of the Year ; It's Easy to Buy Good Ice-Cream These Days, but Nothing Quite Compares with Making Your Own. and, as Michael Bateman Explains, It Couldn't Be Simpler

Article excerpt

When Shona Crawford Poole first wrote about ice-cream, it was quite ambitious and daring to want to make your own. Twenty years later, the world of ice-cream is a very different place. Not since Haagen-Dazs broke the mould have we had to make do with tubs of milk powder, sugar syrup and vegetable oil frothed up, for maximum volume and profit, with as much air as the mixture can stand.

What's not yet fully appreciated, however, is that you can make superb ice-cream at home - it's not rocket science, requires very little commitment in time and effort, and with Poole's new book, Ice Cream (Conran Octopus pounds 12.99), you have all the know-how to do the job.

Well-conceived and beautifully illustrated, Ice Cream doesn't tax your understanding of freezing but treats you as an adult who wants to take on board as many good ideas as possible in a short time. Furthermore, with the price of quality ice-cream what it is, investing in even a top- of-the-range ice-cream-maker will soon pay for itself.

Apart from price, the prime advantage of home-made, says Poole, is freshness. All ice-creams and sorbets are best the day they are made - a top chef like Raymond Blanc at the Manoir aux Quat' Saisons makes them fresh daily - and that's something manufacturers can't deliver. Instead, says Poole, they have to resort to devices to extend shelf-life: "They use a higher proportion of sugar and fat. This is particularly true of sorbets which soon lose their fleeting fragrance and delicacy." No wonder many are sickly sweet.

A further advantage of home-made is that you can tailor flavours to your own taste. You can have sorbets that zing (freeze a puree of home-grown fruits or simply freshly-pressed orange juice). And you can be adventurous, creating your own combos, apple and runny honey, pineapple and fresh ginger, seville orange sorbet and marmalade ice- cream. Even ice-cream with "lumps" in it: dried fruit, hazelnuts, candied peel, crunchy broken caramel or toasted brown breadcrumbs. You can also take your own healthy route, using yoghurt or ricotta rather than cream as a base.

Most gloriously, you can add booze in proportions which would make manufacturers gulp - it's so uneconomical. Vodka instead of vodka flavouring in your vodka lemon sorbet; claret granita made with a pint of decent red Bordeaux; even champagne sorbet with a pint of bubbly in it. And ices and sorbets made with port (freezes beautifully) or dark rum, and liqueurs or eaux- de-vie such as Poire William. Not even the instability of booze-laden ice-cream presents a problem when you eat it fresh at home.

If you aren't ready to invest in specialised equipment, you can make a workable ice-cream without, but for just pounds 35 you can buy a machine that will do the business. And it's all so very simple. You don't have to mess around measuring out cheffy sugar syrups as some suppose. Any mixture, such as strawberries pureed with sugar to taste, says Poole, can be whizzed around in the machine to produce a pleasing frozen slush, as she calls it, in 20 minutes.

The cheaper machines have an 800ml to 1 litre bowl which has to be put in the deep-freeze for eight to 18 hours before you make each batch. Poole advises going for one of the top-of-the-range models which, though bulky, contain their own freezer, and work continuously, making litre batches one after another.

"My Gaggia Gelateria is the size and bulk of an old-fashioned typewriter," says Poole, "too big for my kitchen - it has to go in the shed. You may need to raise your voice when it's churning but it makes silky smooth ice-cream or sorbet at any time. It is easy to use, easy to clean and a joy to own." (The Magimix Gelato Chef is similar.)

Bought ice-cream tries to be all things to all men; your home options are much more individual (think of the classics, ice-cream made with a rich egg and milk custard, parfaits, semi-freddos), and can be the basis of a more ambitious dessert like a bombe, a frozen mousse encased in ice- cream. …