Desert island foods.
Everyone’s got them. One of mine – possibly the least practical choice ever assuming the island in question is of the tropically lush variety – is ice-cream. I have always loved it and that won’t ever change. I love sinking a spoon in when it’s at that perfectly soft, yielding texture, feeling the flavours both traditional & off the wall melt on my tongue and just enjoying the sheer delight that comes from eating it. Isn’t that the purpose of food? To give pleasure? I’m pretty sure you agree because those people who see food as fuel and nothing more? They don’t read food blogs. They’re too busy shoveling food in without a single thought as to whether or not they want to eat it or are even enjoying it and honestly, who ever felt worse after ice-cream? It’s literally one of the happiest foods there is.
When J & I moved to Islington, one of the things that we quickly became enamoured with was the choice of independent businesses in the area; from the hardware store that would be perfectly at home in any white-picket-fenced-small-town to the butchers whose slabs of gorgeously marbled meat make you want to press your face up longingly against the window to the coffeeshop staff who work tirelessly to provide a caffeinated buzz and a smile to every one of their Apple toting patrons, not only do we love the choices that we have on our doorstep, we also really value & feel proud of the community – our community – that supports and encourages them.
One in particular took up residence in a small corner of my heart from the first visit – Udderlicious, a petite but perfectly formed ice-cream parlour on Upper Street.
I know…ice-cream ‘parlour’? It’s as wonderfully old-fashioned a word as you could ever delight in using and conjures up daydreams of a scoop of something sweet like cherry pie, rum & raisin or lemon sherbet but it’s a splendid word for Udderlicious.
There’s a swing chair perfect for snuggling up with your sweetheart in, glass jars of sprinkles that seem to have fallen from the tip of the latest rainbow and creamy tin milk jugs in the window full of cotton candy blossoms that invite in the very essence of spring, even if April showers softly dapple the windows outside.
As someone who has recently moved into the food industry, I’m constantly hunting for new ways to increase my food knowledge. I also like supporting local companies where the plunge has been taken by someone to do what they love and to spend their days in the creative way they may have only imagined before and this is why when I reached out to Raj and Raj, owners of Udderlicious, I was thrilled to be invited to spend some time with them, learning how they make ice-cream, giving it a go myself and seeing a tiny bit of what goes into turning something delicious into something commercially successful.
Arriving mid afternoon with the faintest of butterflies in my tummy – the product of pleasant anticipation at what was to come combined with the effervescent excitement of the unknown – I was greeted by one beaming owner who shall hereafter be known as Girl Raj before being led back to the kitchen to meet her equally smiley husband, Boy Raj.
As I would find out after spending the afternoon in their company, this is a couple every bit as welcoming as their shop and every bit as lovely as their ice-cream – warm, friendly and just as obsessed with food as I am, it was an absolute joy to spend a few hours in their whimsical, sugar scented and utterly scrumptious world.
Before I arrived, I’d been asked to dream up potential ideas for flavours that I could make and even turn into my very own ice-cream cake. Although anything with chocolate would work for me, I jumped at this opportunity and put forward both a Turkish Delight inspired flavour of rose, pistachio & dark chocolate and something that would bring a taste of the tropical to N1 in the form of avocado & coconut.
On the day we went for a combination of both and to say it worked well would be a monumental understatement – luscious, light and crammed full of different textures, my avocado, pistachio & dark chocolate ice-cream was an absolute winner.
So let’s retrace our steps and see how it all began…
Milk. Cream. Skim milk powder. Sugar. Blend. Pasteurize.
Ok, I realise that makes it sound a heck of a lot faster and easier than it actually is but due to time constraints, that was the status of my ice-cream upon my arrival – a jug of sweetly fragranced blended liquid that was crying out for the addition of my chosen ingredients which meant that my first task was peeling and de-stoning several beautifully green skinned avocados, a task that frankly I could do in my sleep thanks to number of these I put away every week.
We added 4 whole fruits first, tasted, added another, tasted and opted for a final one which helped turn the milk mixture a gorgeously pale, grassy green. Avocados don’t have the strongest flavour in the world – it’s part of what makes them so perfect with spicy foods like Mexican – and we wanted to make sure that you could really tell what the flavour was when paired with the richness of the milk & cream.
Hearing about how the flavours are picked for the shop was so interesting as was learning about those that have become best-sellers and those that have been loved in concept but less so in reality, and how different every single tub is even when they’ve been prepared identically. That’s the lovely thing about ice-cream when every single scoop is made by hand and by people who have real passion for what they do using local & sustainable produce wherever possible; their unofficial alliance with Bad Brownie is the stuff of sugar addicts’ fantasies.
Engaging with local community is hugely important to Udderlicious; they have monthly competitions in which their customers can submit their own ideas for ‘Flavour of the Month’ and past winners have been seasonal (pumpkin pie & amaretti), classical (espresso & chocolate biscotti) and pick-your-sides divisive (bourbon carrot cake)!
Once hand-blended, the jug of avocado flecked milk was poured into the ice-cream machine itself where it was churned by large blades which continuously scraped the mixture from the side of the drum to avoid ice-crystals. The process incorporates air to help give the ice-cream its structure & lightness and is surprisingly quick as after what seemed like only a few moments, the liquid had transformed into the ultimate soft serve texture.
Now for the addition of one of the most important parts of any ice-cream – the extras. You know…the chewy/chunky/crunchy extras that give each mouthful that something extra. I love ice-cream with ‘stuff’ in it so Boy Raj’s brilliant idea of swirling the dark chocolate straciatella within the layers of avocado ice-cream so it would go hard and Girl Raj’s suggestion of scattering the pistachios whole over the top and down the sides both went down a treat. Hands up who remembers that absolutely classic staple of childhood dessert, ‘Ice Magic’? Some things you simply never outgrow a hankering for and this flavour was going to satisfy all those cravings in a beautiful way.
Allowing the ice-cream to spill gently out of the machine was simple. Coaxing it gently into the direction you wanted it to go took slightly more practice but was immensely satisfying as it twirled lazily, burying the tub below with fat twists of pastel softness. Liberal squeezes of molten chocolate combined with dozens of shelled pistachios sprinkled over each layer resulted in a glorious piece of edible art that was then popped into the blast freezer.
While it was hardening the rest of the straciatella was looped & swirled onto the outer shell of a second tub so that it could be also be cooled and subsequently draped around what would become the cake of my dreams.
Scooping out enough to fill a silicone cake mould, we then popped that & the original tub back into the freezer and while that was working its magic, Girl Raj was generous enough to let me sample every flavour currently in the shop. I feel I should point out here that this was with
Silencing my inner Augustus Gloop was tricky here given that I could have happily fallen face first into every flavour on display; the banana has always been my favourite but the fig & rhubarb was completely divine as was the simple-and-timeless-as-a-little-black-dress dark chocolate. For those who tend to drift towards the sorbet on a dessert menu, the mango version here was on a whole-other-level of good with nothing to complicate the juicy, nectar sweetness coming through in every spoonful.
The mix of classic flavours with seasonal influences and bang-on trends means that there’s something for the palate of every customer; you can get a single scoop of strawberry or a waffle cone of chocolate-nut-covered salted caramel and not be made to feel like either is ever the wrong choice. To me, that’s the sign of a great retailer – one who offers variety without losing the essence of who they are.
Once the cake was released from its frozen home and revealed in all its glory, the straciatella was gently placed around the edges with squidges – that’s a technical term BTW – of molten chocolate popped on to hold it in place. Massive in adorability but tiny in stature ice-cream cones filled with coffee and banana ice-creams were placed on top and one final chocolate zebra stripe completed the picture.
One of the things I loved most about this experience wasn’t just how pretty the end product was or how much I enjoyed learning about how something I adore comes into being, it was how proud I was of the end result. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, like seeing something come to life in front of you and knowing that you designed it in your mind and made it happen.
If that’s how I feel after a single flavour, I can only imagine how proud both Boy & Girl Raj must be everytime they open that front door, see people’s eyes light up as they gaze upon tub after frosty tub of glorious ice-cream and hear the first murmurs of delight & pleasure emanating from their customers, be they the 5 year old with their single scoop of strawberry or the 65 year old with their waffle cone of chocolate-nut-covered salted caramel.