ABOUT ARISTOTLE, HAPPINESS, AND ICE CREAM - Part I Homemade recipe *without a machine* for strawberry, vanilla & chocolate, and a banana split.
An ode to iced sweets.
It is said that “loving oneself” is a prerequisite for true happiness —as long as this sentiment arises from reality and acceptance, as opposed to lack and self-delusion, because then it can spiral into all kinds of toxic behaviors. But what does self-love look like? How can we turn this oblivious idea into a more palpable action? If according to Aristotle, “happiness is a good that by itself makes life better”, then loving oneself could look something like, getting out of our neurotic daily existence every once in a while, to give ourselves a long, comforting hug and a generous bowl of ice cream. As silly as it may seem, there are facts in the history of iced deserts to prove that sometimes, all we need is a spoonful (or a bite) of frozen sweetness in our mouths to make our lives better.
There is something universally healing about the ingestion of cold desserts. It is probably the conjunction of sugar and ice, that far from just refreshing our bodies, has the ability to numb our minds from daily struggles, and lead us into a state of temporary bliss, abandon, nothingness… For the sake of reproducing this soul-reviving experience, humans have been coming up with all kinds of intricate solutions since ancient times.
In the beginning, they used to bring snow from the mountains in the backs of their animals or on their own, and store it. We know this, thanks to the vestiges of underground icehouses found in Troya and some regions in China (2500 A.C). Ice was primarily used to preserve foods, but, towards the beginning of the Christian era, other culinary applications were described. It is said, to mention a few popular recounts; that ice-cold wine was a popular summer drink in ancient Greece; that a couple of hundred years later —while stationed in the city of Petra— Alexander the Great (who, by the way, was Aristotle’s pupil) gave plain snow to his soldiers as a refreshment; and, that during his reign as emperor of Rome (54-68 A.D.) Nero was very fond of consuming snow with fruit juices and honey1.
But ice cream as we know it today —be it the version that strictly contains “cream” (like the English word implies) or not necessarily (like the Spanish “helado” or other more encompassing translations)—, had to go through two crucial discoveries to be possible: the endothermic effect and electronic refrigeration. These advances, organically divided the history of ice cream into three major periods, each carrying its own share of social changes, new traditions, and lovely desserts with them.
Before the process in which liquid is artisanally frozen by surrounding it with ice and salt called “the endothermic effect” was figured out, ice creams had notable antecessors, like the still widely popular Middle-Eastern sharbat or “sherbet”. Although it is said that this medieval Persian dessert could, in turn, have been adopted from a Chinese tradition (Marco Polo described a similar sweet in his travel diaries that he said to have tried it in Tibet) and is not exclusively served frozen (it is also a cold drink), it can nonetheless be considered ice cream’s oldest known relative, since, not only did some of its versions include both, snow and dairy, it also embraces the uttermost essence of all iced desserts: their ability to heal. And I do not mean that in a rhetorical sense exclusively; according to the Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets, the curative quality of sharbat is implied in the etymology of its name, as it “derives from the medieval Arabic sharāb, meaning a drink or a dose of water, medicine, or other liquid”, it also states that “the essential thing about a şerbet (how it is named in Turkish) is sweetness, which is considered auspicious in Turkey and the Middle East”.
For this two-part post dedicated to iced sweets, I will be sharing the recipes of a few personal favorites….
HOMEMADE ICE CREAM *WITHOUT A MACHINE*
I learned to do this recipe thanks to a friend who had a boyfriend who was a French chef; he used to give private cooking classes in her home kitchen, while he acquainted himself with living in Mexico City since were about to get married, so I was fortunate to enroll. It was a revelation to me. Till then I blindly believed that decent homemade ice cream was impossible without a machine. And, even though, why would one bother when there are such good options out there that you can buy in a carton, it is still very enjoyable for me to do it every once in a while, give myself extra points for snacking “healthy”, and experiment with different flavors….
(*My friend married someone else at the end… and now has three beautiful daughters, one of which is an aspiring cook, so this recipe is for her. I hope she makes it.)
5 egg yolks
1/2 l of whipping cream
150 g of sugar
water (enough to cover the sugar)
Heat the water and the sugar until it dissolves (being careful that it does not turn brown).
With a stand or hand mixer, beat the yolks and add the sugar-water mix slowly so that it cools down as it mixes.
On a separate bowl, whip the cream until it forms peaks.
Fold the egg mix into de whipped cream and add flavoring.
1/4 c of good quality unsweetened cocoa powder
*Follow basic instructions, but add the cocoa powder to the water-sugar-egg yolk mix, before you fold in the whipping cream.
1 vanilla bean
*Follow basic instructions, but add the scrapings of the vanilla bean to the water-sugar-egg yolk mix, before you fold in the whipping cream.
1 c of pureed strawberries
*Follow basic instructions, and fold in the pureed strawberries at the end.
Definitely one of my favorite desserts ever.
Cocoa powder (or shaved chocolate)
Chopped peanuts (walnuts, almonds, pistachios…)
Cherries (or any favorite berries) to top
Whipped cream (whatever you consider enough is enough)
Cut the banana in half and set it on a plate.
Af the scoops of ice cream and top with the whipped cream, cocoa, nuts, and berries.
Open your mouth.
Close your eyes.