Make some of Kitty Travers' delicious ice cream and you'll never want another Mr Whippy
Kitty Travers was told by an elderly Italian cafe owner she'd never be able to make ice cream like he did - now she runs her own business and has a new book out. She talks to Ella Walker
Ice cream, ordinarily, is something you dig out of the freezer when in need - it's cool, creamy comfort food, whether your vice is a cheap choc ice in a striped paper wrapper, or a tub of Ben & Jerry's swimming with chocolate fish.
It doesn't tend to be something you make yourself.
Kitty Travers, the brains behind La Grotta Ices, is hoping to change that though with her new book of ice creams...
So who is she? Well, Kitty is the ice cream equivalent of Willy Wonka. London-born, she started her career by dropping out of art school to sell sourdough in a bakery, before finding herself in Cannes, in the south of France, waitressing and eating ice cream for breakfast. Then came culinary school in New York and restaurant jobs in London, before an elderly cafe owner in Italy told her she'd never be able to make ice cream the way he did, so, following a stint in Naples, she launched La Grotta Ices in 2008.
Wearing aprons printed by her mum, she makes around 50 litres of ice cream in her 'shed' - a one-storey former Victorian greengrocers in south London that opens out onto the street, with vintage net curtains fluttering in the windows. It feels a little like being in Italy, sitting on a high stool, the sun streaming in, while she preps long strips of lemon verbena for the day's batch.
Why ice cream?
"It's a bit of a secret club," says Travers, recalling a trip to Italy where she met some Italian boys and quizzed them on the covert world of making gelato. "It's a fairly impenetrable industry."
Refusing to let that put her off, she set about discovering everything she could about ice cream-making - and was left rather disappointed. "A lot of things about ice cream are a bit sneaky," she says. "Just read the ingredients list. Some are basically whipped plastic."
"I've really ruined 99p ice cream for myself," she adds. "I love the nostalgia of them and still want a Flake, but I can't do it."
But she loves ice cream 'done proper'. "It's whipped frozen emulsification," she explains. "The human mouth finds that fun. It's smooth from the emulsification, it's whipped which offers high satiety - so you can just keep on eating it; and it's frozen, which keeps your brain engaged because of the changing textures." Scientifically and biologically, it's pretty hard to not like ice cream, it turns out.
How does she capture flavour?
"Ice cream is a really good carrier for flavour," she notes, explaining why she makes fruit ice creams, not just sorbets, and for her half the fun is trying to "squeeze the most out of every plant and fruit and get the essence of them".
She'll crush up apricot stones to add flavour, infuse milk with herbs or peach leaves ("When it's heated, that's when the flavour is pulled out"), do cold infusions ("That works well with rose petals") and macerate fruit like strawberries and nectarines overnight to "trap the perfume and aroma of their skin".
Some flavours have evaded her so far - bergamot, for instance - while the most interesting flavour she's ever tried was Lily of the Valley, "a tiny scoop in Paris. I tried to recreate it with Cornish Lily of the Valley and discovered it was poisonous..."
Peach is her favourite because it's rare to come across, while very little beats a raspberry ice cream that "tastes like one of the bobbles on a raspberry, but giant".
What do you need to know about making your own?
Making ice cream does not require magic or incredible skill, just a few ingredients combined correctly, namely, sugar, milk, cream and eggs - ice cream is basically a custard. Travers believes anyone can do it, once you've got the basics down.
Kit-wise, she recommends a thermometer, a big heavy-bottomed pan, a whisk, a chinois (for straining) and a ladle, as well as an inexpensive ice cream churner (you can nab one for around £30).
Crucially, says Travers, you need to get the best produce possible and waste as little as possible, especially if you're making fruit ice cream ("Fruit is expensive") and she recommends eating your ice cream as soon as possible. "There's nothing like freshly churned ice cream," she says.
And the most important question of all: does she prefer her ice cream in a cone or a tub?
"Always cone - you cover all the taste receptors on your tongue when you lick it," she explains. "And there's no waste!"
- 375g fresh apricots, halved, stones set aside
- 150g sugar
- 170ml whole milk
- 170ml double cream
- 3 egg yolks
- 1tsp honey (optional)
- To prepare the ice cream: Simmer the apricot halves gently in a non-reactive pan, just until they are cooked through and piping hot (do not boil). Cool in a sink of iced water, then cover and chill in the fridge.
- Place a clean tea towel on a hard surface, then line the apricot stones up along the middle of the towel. Fold the tea towel in half over the apricot stones to cover them and then firmly crack each stone with a rolling pin.
- Pick the tiny kernel from each shell, then grind them using a pestle and mortar with 20g of the sugar.
- Heat the milk, cream and the ground kernel mix in a pan, stirring often with a whisk or silicone spatula to prevent it catching. As soon as the milk is hot and steaming, whisk the yolks with the remaining sugar and honey (if using) until combined.
- Pour the hot liquid over the yolk mix in a thin stream, whisking constantly as you do so, then return all the mix to the pan. Cook gently over a low heat, stirring all the time, until the mix reaches 82°C.
- As soon as your digital thermometer says 82°C, remove the pan from the heat and set it in a sink full of iced water to cool - you can speed up the process by stirring it every so often.
- Once entirely cold, pour the custard into a clean container, cover and chill in the fridge.
- To make the ice cream: the following day, use a spatula to scrape the chilled apricots into the custard, then blend together with a stick blender until very smooth - blitz for at least two minutes, or until there are only small flecks of apricot skin visible in the mix.
- Using a small ladle, push the apricot custard through a fine-mesh sieve or chinois into a clean container, squeezing hard to extract as much smooth custard mix as possible. Discard the bits of skin and kernel.
- Pour the custard into an ice cream machine and churn according to the machine's instructions, usually about 20-25 minutes, or until frozen and the texture of whipped cream.
- Transfer the ice cream to a suitable lidded container. Top with a piece of waxed paper to limit exposure to air, cover and freeze until ready to serve.
La Grotta Ices by Kitty Travers, photography by Grant Cornett, is published by Square Peg, £18.99