My current response to “how are you” is that my one personality is being overheated and that’s how I’m doing, thanks very much (and honestly, how am I? What kind of a question is that in this economy?) As such, the only thing to do is make ice cream, put it in the freezer, and then eat it, in lieu of being able to stash myself in said freezer. Oh sure, one shouldn’t complain, this is Wellington, city of a thousand winters, but as a pale vampire nursing a thriving vitamin D deficiency living in a bedroom with a microclimate that’s increasingly not unlike a dense rainforest, it’s all a bit much! (An alternate response to “how are you” is to coolly inform them that you’re coming out of your cage and you’re doing just fine.)
This is not just any old ice cream – although it never is. I suppose we could generously concede that I have one other personality trait, that I’m a bartender, and as such concocting cocktails and imagining various combinations of x and y poison regularly occupy my thoughts. In this case, I thought it would be fun to take Fernet-Branca, the “bartender’s handshake”, an ancient and storied Italian bitters that we doggedly take pride in necking shots of at every opportunity, and incorporate it into my favourite food.
I first became aware of Fernet-Branca when it was mentioned in Jilly Cooper’s rollicking and bonk-heavy novel Rivals; (side note: it’s really the only book of hers I can stomach and it’s heavily problematic but on the whole I adore Declan and Caitlin and Taggie and Rupert and Lizzie like they’re old friends and basically she was never more winning than in this particular book and I like to reread it every summer.) The character Rupert Campbell-Black has had the memoirs of his ludicrously prolific sex life published in the local paper in an attempt to Campbell-Blacken his name ahead of a bid for a television franchise (idk, it’s the plot) and his friend Basil Baddingham (really) offers him a Fernet-Branca as fortification before he reads it. If it’s the sort of thing offered on that level of apocalyptic magnitude, you can see why it’s a bolstering shot for bartenders to drink at any occasion, like a wine match but for your emotions. All of them.
When I was at Motel bar we would have shots of it at midnight, as an oh-we’re-halfway-there-living-on-a-prayer type reinforcement. Like sailors with their rations of rum, we had our Fernet, and we kind of revelled in the romanticism of it all, from hosting a tasting with the (wonderful, lovely, raucously good fun) brand supplier to making a fidget spinner in the shape of the logo (never thought I’d use the words romanticism and fidget spinner together in a sentence, but it is 2018.) On the final night of Motel’s existence – New Year’s Eve – my contribution to the cocktail list naturally had Fernet Branca in it.
Not everyone likes it, and nor should they, but I am not particularly sorry for taking joy in the shared experience of it because honestly, bartending is a hard, often thankless, mop-bucket-water covered, underpaid, underslept occupation and you’ve got to derive joy from stuff where you can! Don’t get me wrong: the flavour is challenging. Some would say appalling. As my brand t-shirt says, it contains 27 herbs and all of them legal, and it’s literally medicinal (or so we insist), so if you get “mouthwash but harsher” or “jaeger but without the sugar” vibes then that’s, like, more or less accurate. But I figured that against a backdrop of soft, mellowly rich cream and sugar its aggressiveness would be mollified into gentle tones of mint, and I was delighted to be proven right. In all honesty sometimes I swear I taste actual dirt when I drink the stuff, but any rough edges are muffled and calmed by all that dairy. Before it gets all too easy though I also folded in paper-thin, irregularly shaped shards of dark, dark chocolate (made by melting it on a sheet of baking paper and then letting it set before breaking it up.) The bitterness of the chocolate is a natural pair for the Fernet and interrupts the smoothness of the ice cream with its fragile crunch.
It’s also, as is so often my aim, really easy to make. I’ve no capacity for making a yolk-heavy anglaise in this heat, so instead I just bung together some cream and some sweetened condensed milk, which come together to make an ice cream of rapturously soft velveteen-ness. Oh and you don’t need an ice cream machine to make this, or any of my ice cream recipes.
fernet-branca stracciatella ice cream
a recipe by myself
- two shots (60ml or quarter of a cup) Fernet-Branca
- one tin of sweetened condensed milk
- 800ml cream
- 100g dark chocolate
Firstly sort out the chocolate: rip a large sheet of baking paper and lay it on the bench, then gently melt the chocolate (I do it in short bursts in the microwave, once the squares start to look like they’re about to collapse and lose their shape you can give it a stir and it should just turn into liquid.) Spatula it out in an even, thin layer onto the sheet of baking paper and leave to harden. If your house is super warm, pop it in the fridge instead.
Whisk the cream with moderate enthusiasm until it’s thickened and lightly aerated but not whipped, which should only take thirty seconds or so. Tip in the tin of condensed milk, scraping out every last sticky vestige from inside, and add the Fernet. Whisk again to combine.
Tip it into a container of about 1.5L capacity and put it in the freezer for a few hours. At this point, crumble up the sheet of chocolate – the easiest way to do this is to just fold up and scrunch the baking paper so it all breaks up into uneven pieces – and fold it into the slightly-solidified ice cream. Return it to the freezer and leave until it’s, well, ice cream.
Yes, I did take home quite a bit of merch when the bar closed.
I considered calling it Mint Choc Chip for Grown Ups but that felt a bit elitist, although possibly it’s even more elitist to call it Stracciatella, which refers to the thin, shard style of chocolate stirred in. Since Fernet itself is Italian I figured, might as well go full immersion. But all you need to know is that it’s just extremely delicious stuff, an icy herbal minty kick blanketed in sweet frozen cream with the welcome interruption of chocolate, what’s not to love? Don’t be tempted to add more Fernet to the ice cream itself, or the alcohol content will act as aggressive anti-freeze, I suggest instead eating it affogato style with a further shot upended over a scoop of the stuff.
Oh and speaking of conviviality and bartending and stuff I’m now working at Laundry Bar, and having an excellent time of it, thank you. It’s so good to be bartending again! There’s a bit in the aforementioned book Rivals where Cameron Cook is all “I only feel alive when I see my name in the credits of shows I’ve produced” and while I don’t want to be that codependent on my job I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being immensely fulfilled by something that also happens to pay your rent, and in my case making cocktails is what makes me super happy, it just is what it is.
Should all this talk of ice cream get your fancy tickled, I’d also like to recommend some other supremely easy recipes of mine that I’ve blogged about: apple cinnamon ice cream; cocoa and olive oil sorbet; or grapefruit ripple ice cream are a fine place to start.
title from: Blondie’s upbeat yet wistful (best genre) song Sunday Girl.
I’ve been listening to a LOT of Teenage Fanclub. Their song Norman 3 is just like, so bloody nice, don’t let the suspiciously drab title fool you. The chorus is repeated so many times that you think your brain is short-circuiting but then you just never want it to end.
I have also been fiending Less Than Jake, to pluck one from the air, History of a Boring Town is v good.
Don’t even think for a second that I’m not still on my Les Miserables buzz. Let’s hear it for Philip Quast, whose surname sounds like a Harry Potter in-universe curse word, generally accepted to be the definitive Javert, just flawlessly delivering on his big number, Stars. I adore his enunciation (“this I swehhhhh by the stars”).
next time: I made some vegan coconut pikelets the other day but it was too hot to talk about anything but ice cream so this recipe took precedence. So; next time!