The clocks have officially gone back. Spring has started. Apparently someone remembered to tell the sun this year too as it has firmly jammed its hat on these past two days and, after all the sun soaked weather and golden afternoons, I’ve found my mind wandering back to summer holidays with my family in Europe.
If we didn’t go to Dorset to see my grandparents and throw ourselves into the icy, iron-grey sea at West Bay, we would pack up the car and head to Italy, gorging on freshly-made pasta and daily pots of creamy ice cream, where the flavours and varieties blew my ten-year-old socks off. Or we’d drive to France, winding down the undulating coastline and stopping in chalets or Eurocamps along the way, shopping in the hypermarket and slowly turning a golden, nut brown under the relentless French sunshine. There was ice cream in France of course, but there it was a treat that we tore into through a plastic wrapper. It was like the ice cream vans at home, but somehow a million times more exotic – where a Mr Whippy would become a crème glacée and come with a foreign price tag.
It was always Zaps at home and Maxibons abroad. I’m sure you could get them in England too but they became, for me and my brother, the French calling card of ice cream. I still remember eating them on the beach in Brittany with my feet stuck into the sun-warmed sand, feeling the grit between my toes as I bit through the spongy biscuit into the snow-white ice cream beneath; or in the farm house we rented after I had fallen off my bike in the woods of the Dordogne, where the sharp crack of the chocolate layer distracted me from the stinging grazes on my kneecaps.
I haven’t had a Maxibon in years but today’s sunshine made me want to indulge in that most childish of feasts: an ice cream sandwich. This recipe is a slightly more grown up version – although I bet my 10-year-old self would have wolfed it down – using almond butter to add nuttiness to the creamy flavour and praline for a caramel crunch and the easiest recipe for ice cream I know. You could even half dip it in chocolate, for a real Maxibon reminder.
This will only make a smallish tubs worth of ice cream, but it’s so sinfully rich and creamy, especially when combined with fat little rounds of buttery shortbread, that it’s probably a good thing!
Almond Praline & Shortbread Ice Cream Sandwiches
For the ice cream
300 ml double cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp almond butter
175 g condensed milk
For the praline
85 g caster sugar
30 g roughly chopped almonds
For the shortbread
125 g salted butter
55 g caster sugar
180 g plain flour
- Whip the condensed milk, cream, vanilla and almond butter in a large bowl with an electric whisk. The mixture needs to thicken until it forms soft, unctuous peaks. Spoon into a container and pop into the freezer while you make the praline.
- Put the sugar into a heavy-based pan and leave it to melt over a medium heat until it has dissolved into liquid gold. Don’t stir it as this will cause crystals to appear in the sugar, making it unworkable. You can gently tip the pan, moving the sugar around if you think it is about to burn.
- When the sugar is dissolved, carefully (hot sugar burns are the worst!) tip in the chopped almonds and stir, quickly pouring it onto some greases proof paper and leave to set and harden.
- When it is completely cool, put your shard of praline into a food bag and whack it with a rolling pin until it has broken into little nuggets of nutty caramel with a bit of sugar dust. Take your ice cream out and mix in the praline with a spoon – swirling it in will give you perfect distribution without disturbing the ice cream mixture. Pop it back into the freezer and leave for at least 8 hours, preferably overnight.
- To make the shortbread rounds, mix the butter with the sugar and flour until it’s formed a paste and leave in the fridge for half and hour before you mould the biscuits – if the butter gets too hot it will split and you’ll be left with oily biscuits.
- While it’s cooling, turn the oven up to 180-190 degrees Celsius and make little balls of dough from your mixture. Place the balls onto a greased baking tray, making sure there’s enough room around each of them to let them spread and push them down with a fork to make fat rounds.
- Bake for 12-17 minutes until they are just golden and leave to cool on a wire rack before sealing them in a tin to keep fresh.
- When the ice cream is ready, take a fat dollop and sandwich it between two of the shortbreads – heaven in a sandwich!
Just think, if you make this ice cream now it’ll be ready to try tomorrow….