Right now, I don't think I have the words to properly convey what it was like to launch Seven Spoons the book. My book. Please bear with me, as I try.

Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream, Caramel and Candied Cacao Nibs | From the book, Seven Spoons by Tara O'Brady

The launch happened in stages. Last night, some of my nearest and dearest gathered at Ben McNally Books in Toronto. (If you've never been, please go. It is an utterly charming space, straight out of Harry Potter in the best way, all wood and warm lighting. And Ben is even better.) I had to make a speech. I did so with my sons and nephews nearby — they stole the show. And, even though I had the distinct sensation of my windpipe vibrating while I spoke, looking out onto that room of people, shaking or not, I felt exceptionally lucky.

We had cheese from St. Lawrence Market with pickled strawberries, charcuterie, and chocolate chip cookies. There were a few rolls of Instax film (evidence, here), and bubbles and oysters around the corner to end the night with Nikole, Michael, and Julia. There again, that lucky feeling. 

Today was a blur; interviews and tastings, and a lot of excitement. A highlight was when some readers took time out of their day to come and say hello. It is because of all of your that I have this opportunity in the first place. So, to share this day with you feels right.

Very quickly, there's something else to share — a recipe from the book, and the one I may crave the most. It's my Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream, swirled with espresso caramel and topped with candied cacao nibs. It is no secret that I love ice cream. I announced the book with one, so launching it with another lines up nicely. I'm also quite a fan of coffee. Thus, putting them together was inevitable, and condensed milk in the mixture sealed the deal. I describe it in detail below.

For now I'll sign off, with gratitude. Here's to you, with ice cream. 


By the by, a few people and places have written about Seven Spoons. If you'd like to read their thoughts, here they are:

  • I spent a day cooking with Chris Nutall-Smith, talking about the book, butter tarts, and inspiration, while sipping on some Palomas. It was a good time. (The Globe and Mail)
  • Deb declared the Mushrooms and Greens on Toast a "one-pan miracle" and I don't think I could hope for higher praise. (Smitten Kitchen)
  • Heidi makes the case for green smoothies, with my Default Smoothie with kale, pineapple, and nut butter to make her point. (101 Cookbooks)
  • Sara, a person I consider an expert on Huevos Rancheros, gave her stamp of approval to my Huevos a la Plaza de Mercado, and I couldn't be more chuffed. (Sprouted Kitchen)
  • I was so happy to once again appear on Design*Sponge's "In the Kitchen With ..." series, this time with my Esquites and Yellow Tomato Gazpacho. Sincere thanks to Grace and Kristina. (Design*Sponge)
  • Food52 asked me to write about the inspiration behind the book, and I was honoured to oblige. (Food52)
  • Epicurious calls my Chicken with a Punchy relish a knockout, in a pun I appreciate. (Epicurious)
  • Ashley made the Roast Chicken with a Punchy Relish, and used lentils as the base. Brilliant. (Not Without Salt)
  • Shauna and Danny prepared a gluten-free feast from the book, including their adaptation of the Bee-stung Fried Chicken, and naan. (Gluten-free Girl and the Chef)
  • Olga made the Lentil Kofta Curry, and some thoughtful words about community. (Sassy Radish)
  • Julie's Bee-Stung Fried Chicken (+ her fritters!) look brilliant. (Dinner with Julie)
  • ... and Julie invited me to her other site to talk music and dinner parties.As an aside, have you seen the documentary It Might Get LoudI found it fascinating. (Rolling Spoon)
  • Vy posted a detailed and thoughtful look at a whole collection of recipes. (Beyond Sweet and Savoury)
  • Shelley also discussed the book as a whole, and then featured the Fattoush with Fava Beans and Labneh. (Cookbooks 365)
  • My publishers invited some new-to-me bloggers to the launch last night, and I am so glad they did! Nikki and Christine were firecrackers. So fun. (Nikki the Knack and Padfoot's Library)



Indians make something they call espresso, which I've talked about before, but it’s unlike any espresso you’d see in Italy; it’s actually closer to a Greek frappé, a bold brew of instant coffee whipped with an enthusiastic amount of sugar, and then combined with hot water and milk. The slurry magically blends, then splits, with a layer of thick foam above a rich, creamy elixir below.

I’ve been a longtime fan of that coffee, so when I was first introduced the Vietnamese version, a drink with very much the same uncompromising intensity, the same weighty, toasted, caramel flavor, this time tempered with sweetened condensed milk, I was lost. When I decided to freeze it, well then things got even better.

This is my full-stop favorite ice cream, both to make, and to eat. It is brazenly prepared without a traditional custard base, which isn’t missed in the least, and skipping that step makes it quick work to pull together. A voluptuous mix of evaporated milks and cream gets infused with ground coffee, then chilled, churned and swirled with caramel. Easy peasy, that's that, and you’re left with an ice cream worthy of any and all accolades. Have a spoon at the ready.

Makes about 1 quart



  • 1 (14-ounce/400g) tin evaporated milk
  • 1 (14-ounce/400g) tin sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup heavy (35%) cream
  • 2 ounce (57 g) coffee beans, ground, see note
  • Seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean, or 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • A good pinch of salt

To Serve or Swirl

  • Espresso caramel and/or Candied Cocao Nibs, recipes follow


Combine all the ice cream ingredients in a medium saucepan set over medium heat. Cook, whisking often, until the mixture begins to steam. Remove from the heat and leave to steep for 20 minutes.

Using a fine-meshed sieve, or a standard sieve lined with cheesecloth or a coffee filter, strain the mixture into a bowl. Cover and chill for 3 hours, but preferably overnight. Freeze the base according to your ice cream maker’s manufacturer’s directions.

Spoon 1/3 of the ice cream into a storage container. Smooth the top, and pour over a few tablespoons of caramel in long stripes. With the tip of a knife, lightly swirl the caramel into the ice cream. Layer in half of the remaining ice cream, and repeat the layers two more times, ending with a drizzle of caramel. There will be caramel left over. Set this aside. Cover the ice cream and freeze for at least 6 hours.

Serve as is, or in a sugar cone, or scattered with candied cacao nibs. Then, dive in.

Note: The coffee beans should be medium ground. Café Du Monde French Roast Chicory is the traditional choice for the hot preparation that inspired this cold one. For a milder, rounded flavor, use 2 tablespoons of instant espresso powder or 3 tablespoons instant coffee powder instead of ground beans.

Chocolate fudge can take the place of the caramel.

Masala Chai variation: Replace the coffee with 2 tablespoons black tea such as Darjeeling, a short cinnamon stick, 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger and 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom and 3 peppercorns. Omit the espresso in the caramel, or omit the swirl entirely.



Makes about 2/3 cup


  • 1/2 cup (106 g) dark brown sugar, packed
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml)  heavy cream
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon finely-ground espresso beans or espresso powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract


In a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high, heat the brown sugar, corn syrup, butter and salt, stirring until the butter is melted. Pour in heavy cream and espresso beans. Bring to a boil, whisking until smooth and the sugar is dissolved. Lower the heat and simmer, undisturbed, for 1 minute longer. Remove from the stove and stir in the vanilla. Set aside to cool, stirring occasionally. If making ahead of time, cover and refrigerate until needed, then rewarm gently before using.

Note: Any leftover caramel can be used on pound cake, or plain ice cream, or stirred into a milkshake or warm milk. Those sips can be made all the more warming with a share of whisky.



Makes approximately 1/2 cup


  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (43 g) cacao nibs
  • 1/2 teaspoon unsalted butter


Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat.

In a wide, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat, warm the sugar for a minute, without stirring. Scatter the cacao nibs over the sugar, and leave the pan undisturbed until the sugar begins to melt in spots. With a wooden spoon or silicone spatula, quickly stir the cacao nibs into the liquid sugar, incorporating any unmelted sugar as you go. Once most of the sugar has coated the nibs, remove the pan from the heat and quickly stir in the butter. Immediately scrape the cacao nibs onto the prepared baking sheet, pressing them into an even layer with the back of the spoon or spatula. Allow to cool.

Break the cacao nibs into tiny clusters by hand. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 month.

Friends, I'm writing a book.

I wanted to keep this business under wraps until I was sure it was really, truly, real. And now, it is. 

In the spring of 2015, around the ten-year anniversary of this site, my first cookbook will be published by Ten Speed Press and Appetite by Random House in Canada. 

(There's a lot in that paragraph right there that seems surreal.) 

Plums by Tara O'Brady

The book will be a collection of previously unpublished recipes, with only a few especially-loved ones revisited. When I was working up the proposal for the book, Sean noticed that the recipes on my prospective list were ones I already make; to him, they weren't new. And to me, that was the whole point. It is meant to be all the best from my kitchen, given to you. It is the meals I make in my day-to-day and for our celebrations, and the family secrets I've long wanted to get down on paper. It's a book we've lived and are still living, one tested and tried at our table.

The book is an extension of Seven Spoons. The funny thing about writing a blog is that while some may have started reading at the beginning in real-time, as years wear on, it's more and more likely that folks joined in along the way. So, there's never set course by which the story will be told. Parts can be read out of order, skipped even. A book gives the opportunity to set up a complete, contained work — it will be a sustained conversation, and one I'm excited to have.

Black + German Plums by Tara O'Brady

That said, the idea of a book still feels wobbly and whoa-boy-crazy sometimes. There's been moments when I've turned completely jello inside. But sharing the news with you pals, knowing one day I'll be sharing a book with you, well, that makes it great. Grand, stand-stand-up straight, arms wide, big grins, hurrah and yelping, super, happy great.  

In other words, your company makes it better. Makes this less intimidating, makes me less fearful. Everything more fun.

Actually, your company makes me better. Your company is what's at the heart and start of all of this. You've been here, sticking around, even when I was quiet, picking up right where we left off. You have been immeasurably kind. I am grateful and so very happy to know you.

plum rippled ginger crunch ice cream

It was the day before yesterday that I found out that the book had been officially announced. I read the email twice, squinting at my phone. Sean was home for lunch and right beside me. I was sure I was reading it wrong. It didn't sink in until later, until I was driving a few towns over, when laughter bubbled up. 

The last of the afternoon's errands had brought me out to a farm stand, one further than my usual. The weather had been showing off. I've got two coats ready for autumn but it was a wilting day of turned-up summer. The owner's daughter was behind the tables. Punnets were to her left, bigger baskets in the middle, then heaping bushels to her right.  Fruit and harvest got us talking, started us on that game of matching up favourites, of swapping tricks and tips and traditions. There was a discussion of peaches, the best for canning and eating, and talk of apricot jam. She offered me slices of fruit across the blade of her knife.

She told me some news, news that prompted me to share the photographs her mother let me take summer before last. She noticed her father's thermos of coffee, and I told her their plums were the stuff of legend. She walked me to the car, sending me away with more than I paid for, having pressed into my hand a bag weighted with Coronation grapes in tight, shadowy clusters, dusky purple-black, hugged up against a few, palm-sized, fat-bottomed pears with long stems. There were peaches already on the backseat, and plums in their baskets, ripe and full like water balloons, feeling as though their thin skins could only barely contain the sweetness within.

(If you're in Niagara, the stand is over on Victoria Avenue in Vineland, south of Claus Road. Drop me a line and I'll point you there.)

plum rippled ginger crunch ice cream

As I told her, I had in mind an ice cream stuffed with biscuits and plums, knobby in places with crunch, others smooth. In practice, it meant taking a prime extravagance and turning it into September's ice cream. Sharp and lush, this recipe is in honour of a family and the fruits of their farm, an ice cream that reminds me of the first time I drove out their way and found the sense to stop.  An ice cream as fancy as we needed to celebrate a book, as well as the years that brought us here, and the good fortune that brought me you.

Thank you for the bubbling laughter. 

(That was pretty smooshily said. Meant it just the same.)





Very much a plum crisp, frozen. I keep tripping over my words and calling it Plum Rumple Ice cream, which is how I sort of think of it. The fruit and crumbs and cream don't wholly blend, so the flavours are separate, yet in harmony.


  • 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 (14-ounce) can evaporated milk
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • A pinch of kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream


  • 8 ounces plums, pitted, halved if small, quartered if large
  • 2-4 tablespoons brown sugar, depending on fruit
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated ginger



  • 4 ounces gingersnap cookies, homemade or store bought
  • 1 1/2 ounces pecans, toasted


To make the ice cream base, stir the condensed milk and evaporated milk together in a medium saucepan. Spilt the vanilla bean down its length, scraping out the seeds. Add both the seeds and the bean to the saucepan, along with a pinch of salt. Heat over medium-low heat until just under a simmer, stirring often.

Pour the mixture, including the vanilla pod, into a clean bowl or pitcher. Stir in 1 cup of the heavy cream and taste. It should be very sweet, but not uncomfortably so. If needed, add up to 1/2 cup more cream. Cover and chill the mixture in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, and up to overnight.

While the base is chilling, make the plum ripple. Tumble the plums into small, heavy-bottomed saucepan along with 2 tablespoons of sugar and the grated ginger. Bring to a boil, stirring regularly, over medium heat, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Let the fruit blip away until the flesh is quite soft and the juices deeply coloured, around 3 to 5 minutes. Push the fruit through a fine-meshed sieve over a bowl, then pour the liquid back into the pan and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes more, stirring often. The sauce should look shiny and thick, with a fresh, true plum flavour, tangy but fairly sweet. Keeping in mind that the flavour will dull when frozen, , stir in additional sugar as needed. Set the plum sauce aside to cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

For the ginger crunch, simply crush the cookies in a mortar and pestle or in a resealable food bag with a rolling pin. The crumbs should be irregular, with some dust and some chunky bits. Pour the cookies into a bowl, then bash the toasted pecans the same way. Stir the nuts into the cookie rubble, and that's done.

To assemble, strain and freeze the ice cream base in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions. When it reaches the consistency of soft serve, spoon the ice cream out into a large mixing bowl. Fold most of the ginger crunch through the ice cream with a few purposeful strokes. Do not over mix.  

Spoon one third of the ice cream into a lidded, freezer-safe storage container. Sprinkle some more of the crunch over the layer, then drizzle on a few long stripes of the plum sauce. With the tip of a thin-bladed knife, gently ripple the plum sauce into the cream. Top with half the remaining ice cream, and repeat the layers, ending with crumbs and plums. Cover and freeze for at least 3 hours.

Makes a generous quart of ice cream.



  • The plums can be roasted instead of cooked on the stove. Arrange them snugly in a dish, toss them with the sugar and ginger, then pop it all into a moderately hot oven, say 400-425 degrees, until the fruit is soft. 
  • The crumble on my serving is pulverized candied pecans. They added some extra gilding to an already-fine day.


*Note: The book was tentatively-titled Well Fed, but that has since been changed. Some of the kind comments below reflect the earlier title. Thanks! 


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I haven't known how to come back here, or exactly what to write. I'll apologize first and foremost; I'd not intended to be gone so long. There really is no easy introduction to this explanation, as the reason I've been quiet is that we lost my grandmother. My Mum's mum.

She and I were close. She was sharp, and encouraging, and a talent in the kitchen. When my brother and I were growing up, she lived with us sometimes,  a steadfast influence always. We were fortunate to have had her as long as we did. I was granted the grace of sharing her last days.

She was a teacher who liked crossword puzzles, and apples in her salad. She would tell us not to drink our juice too fast at dinner, or we'd ruin our appetites. She made a habit of the library. I remember the day she took her hair, which was long and dark and worn in a low bun at the base of her neck, and had it cut into a short bob, set in curls. I thought she looked like Queen Elizabeth.

Still beautiful, only different.

A few days ago, caught up in the busy-mindedness that happens when we potter about with efficient industry, I was checking off items on the running to-do list in my head when I reminded myself; "It's Sunday, I should call Grandma." 

No. She's gone. And with the realization, the air left of the room.

It seems that close, that possible, that on the other end of the line she could pick up and I'd hear her voice again. At some point soon, I hope to be able to do her justice, to come close to explaining who she was, and how much she meant to us.

I'll tell you about the dinner we held in her honour; of all that was made, of those who celebrated together and the stories that were told. I'll be sure to describe the photographs and the music.

I'm not there yet. But I look forward to it.

Until then, here's some of what I said that afternoon:

When I think of Grandma, I think of someone who liked things done a certain way, who had particular tastes, and who wasn’t afraid to let her mind be known. I think of a woman with faith. I think of a woman with strong opinions and the conviction to stand by them. I think of someone who put up with me running to jump in her bed, every time I had a nightmare. I think of a woman who was stubborn, so much so that it feels surreal to stand here without her. I think of independence and strength, a strength that lasted all her days, a strength that serves as fine example for the times ahead.

I think of a woman to whom we are forever grateful, to whom we are forever indebted; one who we love dearly, and whose legacy continues in all those gathered.

She will be truly missed.

roly poly

During my grandmother's decline and passing, food was a tricky thing. It was full of complications and, paradoxically, spontaneous joys. I became prickly about the subject, finding it difficult to talk about cooking and meals and all those things she enjoyed, and we enjoyed together. Having children to feed kept me in the kitchen. The boys had begun to understand what was happening, and so I made her recipes. They called her Gigi.

A little while after we said goodbye to Grandma, we accepted an invitation from dear, darling Jason and Jeff to spend a weekend at their cottage with a bunch of pals. It felt strange, and almost heavy, to be packing up and getting excited again. Someone told me it was "just the thing to do. A change is what you need." They were right.

That group that descended upon Muskoka was one of the finest contingents of individuals we could ever be lucky enough to know; in the end, my stomach hurt from laughing. Goodbye hugs on the dock felt like the last day of camp. The next day, I wanted to go back.

At first the trip had felt half an adventure, half as though I was leaving things behind. But as time passed, it seemed less like moving away from recent days, and more that I was heading in a direction of this new normal, one I'm not wholly ready for, but where I need to go. To a place that's still beautiful, only different.

Those friends set me on my way.

Beyond the fun and games and meteor showers, we'd had meals together, shared in the making and the eating, family-style, tight around the table. It felt comfortable, good. I don't think I can ever fully repay them for the difference they made. I will try, though. 

so this was tasty.

I might begin with lifetime supply of ice cream sandwiches. If that's agreed, then these are most certainly the ones where I'll start. The cookie is crumbly, yet densely, unmistakably full of peanut butter, craggy with dark chocolate and gritty bits of oatmeal. They're alternately squishy and substantial, and make the ideal base for an a scoop of ice cream. What's even better is where I got the recipe.

My friend Sara wrote a book, and her husband Hugh took the pictures. It's called The Sprouted Kitchen (Ten Speed Press, 2012), after the website they've built together over the last three years. You probably know all about them, since they've done a cracking good job of making a name for themselves already. Nonetheless, I'll say the collaboration between the two of them is one of the most striking I know; I remember the first time I saw their work, I asked myself "now, where did this come from?" It was too lovely, too fully-realized, a package of pretty, all tied up.

The book is the very much more of same, with 100 of Sara's best recipes, including Lentil Meatballs in Lemon Pesto (zesty and punchy), Quinoa Collard Wraps with Miso-Carrot Spread (vibrant with colour), and Baked Artichoke Dip (addicting). 

In Sara you'll find an earnest cook who wants to feed people healthfully, with whole foods, conscientious choices, and meals full of personality. Her recipes are gorgeous, and Hugh captures them deftly; he's got an artful way with detail, that one. They should be proud.

As a bonus, the pair of them are too stinkin' cute for words. 

I'm glad to share their excitement, and for the opportunity to express my gratitude to those who have been keeping me company. I'm glad to be back here, too. 

Grandma, we know that you are home. I wore your earrings one day and my hair was up, and Mum said I looked like you. I can't imagine words that could have meant more. Thank you for everything.



From The Sprouted Kitchen: A Tastier Take on Whole Foods (Ten Speed Press, 2012).

Sara says: Making this recipe requires a little bit of time, since you'll have to wait for some of the ingredients to chill, but once they are made, they'll keep in the freezer for up to a month, so you'll have an ice cream sandwich whenever you please. It's such a special treat to have these waiting in the freezer when someone pops over. The cookies are pretty tender, so I freeze them before I put the ice cream between. They never get rock hard in the freezer, so even on the first bite you can enjoy them without hurting your teeth.

I find that a thinner, more fluid natural peanut butter, such as Laura Scudder's Organic Smooth Peanut Butter, works best. You can purchase oat flour, but I love the convenience of making it myself, and the texture of homemade oat flour is quite lovely. To yield the amount you need for this recipe, pulse about 1 1/4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats in a food processor until it looks like a coarse flour.


  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup dark muscovado sugar
  • 1/4 cup natural cane sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 cup creamy natural peanut butter
  • 1 1/3 cups oat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips, coarsely chopped
  • 2 quarts premium vanilla bean ice cream, see note
  • 1 cup chopped roasted peanuts, for garnish (optional)

With an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugars together until fluffy. Add the egg, honey, and peanut butter and mix until well combined. In a large mixing bowl, combine the oat flour, baking soda, salt, and chocolate chips. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until just combined. Chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Roll the dough into 1 1/2-inch balls and place them on a baking sheet 2 inches apart, using a second baking sheet as necessary. You should have about 30 cookies. Bake, rotating the trays halfway through, until the outer edges turn golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool. Once cooled, transfer to plates and chill in the freezer for at least 20 minutes.

Remove the ice cream from the freezer and let soften for a few minutes. Using and ice cream scoop, place one scoop of ice cream on the bottom of a cookie and top it with another cookie. Gently press down and smooth the outer edge. Roll the ice cream edge in the peanuts, pressing them to adhere, and place the sandwich back on one of the plates in the freezer. Repeat. Once fully frozen, after 20 to 30 minutes, wrap tightly in plastic wrap or parchment paper. They will keep in the freezer for up to a month.


  • I used a 2-inch scoop to portion the dough and ended up with 18 cookies, making 9 sandwiches. They baked for about 10 to 12 minutes. 
  • Instead of vanilla bean ice cream, I used the Crème Fraîche Ice Cream from Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones(Ten Speed Press, 2012), the exceptional new book from Bi-Rite Creamery. I left the lemon out of the recipe, adding vanilla bean, and substituting half the granulated sugar for turbinado. We made brown sugar crème fraîche at the cottage to serve with crumbles, and I'm still thinking about it. The tangy finish of the ice cream works really well with the richness of the oatmeal cookies; I'm sure a sour cream or buttermilk ice cream would also be very nice.


My wholehearted congratulations to Sara and Hugh on The Sprouted Kitchen, and its release on August 28, 2012. If you can't wait to see it for yourself, I've got some great news! Ten Speed Press has generously offered a peek into the book, with the complete table of contents and a 10-recipe sampler. You'll want to bookmark that page.

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If Béa's dessert was a paragon of restraint, exquisitely delicate, this brash incarnation of much the same ingredients is its antithesis.

And, comically, the story of this cookie-studded, caramel-rippled ice cream began in stubborn frugality. 

On the same day that friends were introducing us to Sweetheart Sundaes, on this end we were making blondies (think brownies without the cocoa). Our bars were heavy with shards of semisweet chocolate, and a measured scattering of white; they baked up shatteringly glossy at their top and dense with chew at their centre. Following the theme of St. Valentine, my lads and I cut the slab into appropriate heart shapes, to wrap and give to fond friends.

Our affection was well represented. 

However, no matter how neatly, carefully, mindfully hearts are punched out of a rectangle, there will be scraps left over. In the manufacture of multiple trays of blondies, those scraps can pile up staggeringly quick. There's only so many that can be nibbled while you work, and as a result it became necessary to consider a suitable use for all those irregular bits.

bits and bobs

Thank goodness for ice cream.

With a faithful affection for frosty confections, I keep the pantry stocked with all that's needed to facilitate the most direct route to frozen happiness that I know — condensed milk ice cream.

It's pour-and-heat and you're ready to go, with only the wait to chill and freeze to contend with. We could have stopped there, stirring in those leftover chunks, arriving at a rocky-with-cookies n' cream conclusion. But, I decided the coming long weekend deserved fanfare of its own, and so espresso-kicked caramel would serve as epilogue to this tale.

Caramel, straight up, can be a tricky business. Even in this energetic application of excess, I thought that too much caramel would be rather too much. It's a modest amount we made, but what's more is there's a sharpness to that sweet, thanks to espresso. The toasty, roasted, tannic depth of coffee cleaves the thick richness of the caramel, taming the throaty burn that caramel can often bring; the combination ends up in between affogato and the nicest butterscotch candy and my-good-gravy-this-is-good  — that is to say, it's something we can work with.


The image above was taken with my phone. In the immediacy of a dead camera battery, hot caramel, melting cream and what we'll now call smug frugality, you work with what's nearby, what's on hand. 

Here's to that working out just fine.

Crumbled cookie ice cream with espresso caramel

The condensed milk ice cream is an old favourite of mine, and its cooked sweetness works as a subtle underscore to the caramel ripple. 


  • 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 14-ounce can evaporated milk
  • 1 fresh vanilla bean
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 3/4 cups heavy cream, divided
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon finely ground espresso beans or espresso powder, depending on taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup roughly crushed cookies, see note

In a medium saucepan, combine the condensed milk and evaporated milk. Spilt the vanilla bean down its length, scraping out the seeds. Add both the seeds and the bean to the saucepan, along with a good pinch of salt. Heat over medium-low heat until just under a simmer, stirring often.

Pour the mixture, along with the vanilla bean, into a clean bowl or pitcher. Stir in 1 1/2 cups of the heavy cream. Chill for a few hours or overnight.

Meanwhile, make the caramel. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat the brown sugar, honey, butter and a pinch of salt, stirring until the butter is melted. Pour in 1/4 cup of heavy cream, along with the ground espresso beans. Bring to a boil, whisking until smooth and the sugar is dissolved. Reduce the heat to low and continue to boil, undisturbed, for 1 minute longer. Remove from the heat, stir in the vanilla. Set aside to cool, stirring occasionally.

Strain the milk mixture in an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer's direction. Depending on the capacity of your machine, either add the crushed cookies a handful at a time to the machine during the last few minutes of churning (the mixture should be the consistency of soft serve), or once the freezing cycle is finished, remove the ice cream to a large, chilled bowl and fold in the cookies by hand.

Spoon 1/3 of the ice cream into a storage container. Smooth the top, and pour over a few tablespoons of caramel in long stripes. With the tip of a knife, lightly swirl the caramel into the ice cream. Layer in half of the remaining ice cream, and repeat the layers two more times, ending with a drizzle of caramel. There will be caramel left over. Set this aside.

Cover the ice cream and freeze for at least 3 hours. To serve, warm up the remaining caramel, along with any leftover cookies, or some chopped, toasted walnuts if you happen to have them around. Make sundaes, and try to keep from grinning.

Makes about 1 quart.


  • Blondies were the cookie of choice because we had them on hand. They had a balance of crunch and soft that gave a terrific texture; chocolate chip cookies, or oatmeal cookies are what I'd recommend for their similarity. If you're hard pressed though, there's little wrong with bashed up vanilla wafers.
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Here we are, under two-weeks-and-counting until Thanksgiving; my bar none favourite holiday of the year. There's a laundry list of things to do between that day and this, but I've got one thing settled - a secret to stash away in case of emergency on those busy days - and it goes like this: honey and toasted nutmeg ice cream.

It was in between plans of roasts and butter rolls that I started to consider a spiced ice cream. Not for the main event, as there's tradition firmly in place for that - intended instead as a ramp up to those times of feast and family. The theory was a sound one, as, in practice, having a pint of frozen ambrosial goodness sets a humming tone of anticipation for what's to follow.

I like it alone, and I'd like it with an apple cake or a slice of pumpkin pie. In the case of the latter I think the two custards, one frozen and one, well, pie - similarly smooth but contrasting in temperature and heft - would be particularly nice on a shared plate. Or if, say, this ice cream was employed to simultaneously spark the warmth and soothe the sour of that plum crumble I talked about before, that would work too.


Having said that, I don't know if I'd want it in mounded servings. A smallish scoop suits me fine, and a smallish spoon too. There's a reason behind this uncharacteristic moderation; despite the short list of ingredients, this ice cream's taste develops slowly on the palate. It meanders. It slips along on a base of cream, and the combination of honey and nutmeg is carried to a station greater than its beginning.

And on that note, there was a point as I whisked eggs and the cream steeped, that the combined scents of the two mixtures on the counter reminded me, worryingly, of eggnog. Our relationship is tempestuous, that between the Nog and me. It starts out festive and merry but often ends in the overstepping of boundaries and things taken too far.

I'm not ready to rekindle the romance; it is one best saved for the end of the year.

Lucky for me then, that when combined, there's a levelling to the egg and the spice. While the first introduction of this ice cream might be a vague suggestion of yuletide cheer, the actual impression it leaves is altogether different.

Without the boozy undertones of rum or bourbon or brandy, whatever your mix — and I'm not critisicing a boozy undertone, as I am a big fan — but without that alcoholic throatiness, the nutmeg blooms broader; with a tickling heat, yes, and also a higher, flowery, perfumed taste that is in beautiful cooperation with the honey's similar disposition.

(But don't let my particular mood stop the addition of a spirited pour into the mix.)

 So there you are, set for Thanksgiving. And October. And Wednesdays. 

nutmeg honey ice cream

Honey and toasted nutmeg ice cream
Adapted from Saveur Issue #134.

I have made this ice cream once with egg yolks alone and again with whole eggs. The batch with whole eggs had a clearer, brighter flavour of honey and spice. As one would expect, the egg yolks afforded a silkier custard, which had its own merit

In the dead of winter, in need of a cold-weather-worthy ice cream and feeling particularly blithe, I might try it with 8 egg yolks for kicks. Go with what works for you.

1 whole nutmeg
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream (35%), divided
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup liquid honey
6 egg yolks or 4 whole eggs, see head note
1/8 teaspoon salt

Grate 2 teaspoons of nutmeg into a small skillet. Toast the ground nutmeg over medium heat until aromatic, around 2 minutes. Remove to a bowl and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine the milk and 1/2 cup of heavy cream. Add the rest of the (whole) nutmeg to the pot with the milk mixture and bring to a simmer over moderate heat. Remove from heat and allow to steep for 10 minutes. 

In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks (or whole eggs, if using) with the sugar, honey and salt. Pouring in a thin, steady stream, whisk in the hot milk mixture into the eggs. Tansfer the mixture back to the pan and cook, stirring, until thickened, 8-10 minutes. Pour custard through a fine-meshed sieve into a clean bowl. Stir in the remaining 1 cup heavy cream and toasted nutmeg; cover custard lightly and chill. 

Churn in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's direction then transfer to an airtight container and freeze until set.

Makes 1 quart.



  • The type of honey used will greatly impact the ice cream's flavour. A wildflower honey will be subtle and almost fresh, with the cream coming through, while a more robust buckwheat will be far more prominent.


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Go grab a calendar. Circle this coming Saturday with the most attention-grabbing ink you can find. If you start right after we're done here, you'll only be five days away from this chocolate ice cream, the chocolate ice cream, as far as we're concerned today.

It comes by way of one Fergus Henderson, famous of the restaurant St. John and Michelin stars, Nose to Tail, and of parsley salad and marrow bones. And in my book, chocolate ice cream, too.

Boy oh boy, does he ever know a thing or two about chocolate ice cream.

The recipe was in The Observerages ago, way back in March. In March I wasn't ready for ice cream. Not yet. We were in the beginning throes of the coldest, wettest spring of memory. Darn that rain. Then I saw it elsewhere, only last week, at the exact right time.

I didn't wait. I like you a lot, so I wanted you to know that you shouldn't either.

Let's have at it. The process is the usual for a custard-based ice cream with a couple of essential quirks to make this one marvelous. I'd expect nothing less with such a pedigree. 

It begins with eggs and milk whipped together to frothy, pale lightness; hot, cocoa-stained milk added to those, then melted chocolate. The mix is cooked over gentle heat until it begins to give some resistance to the spoon as you stir.

Many recipes, most recipes, for chocolate ice cream would end there with the instruction to chill and churn the base, and you're done. We, however, have one more step to go. Time for caramel.

Yessiree, caramel. It's easy enough; sugar and water in a pan, cooked to bubbling, deep amber, subdued with a swirl of cream. The combination will sputter and spit quite wildly for a moment, but then the sugar relaxes into the calm whiteness, and, there you are, with a cream caramel. It is stirred into the custard all gets tucked in the fridge.

We wait. The base needs to sit and settle. Two sleeps later the ice cream machine revs up for its workout and churns the custard to the frosty consistency of soft-serve. You could eat it right there. I was tempted to eat it right there. But, no, press on, time for the the freezer. And, bear with me, we wait again. Did I forget to mention that? Three days this time. You might want to push the container all the way back to the far reaches of the freezer as to avoid temptation upon each opening of the door. If you've got a pack of frozen peas in there, put the bag in front of the ice cream and save yourself the heartache.

Then, one day, the wait's over and there's sunshine and a deck waiting for some company. And it's time for ice cream.


It is a grown up ice cream, which is not to say our boys didn't get chocolate mustaches (and beards, fingers, hands and shirts) from eating this out of sugar cones on said back deck, because they did, but moreover to give you a sense of this ice cream's elegant civility. Bright and perky it isn't.

It is densely aromatic, less of milk and more of cocoa bean. It has a musky darkness that rumbles low like a mumur in the back of your throat. The suggestion of bitter, balanced sweetness is mentioned first by chocolate, then the cocoa, then again with the burnt edge of caramel. It's the best kind of companionship amongst them, equal collaborators to the whole.

It is weighty, on the palate and upon the tongue; straight out of the freezer it is like cold fudge, as it melts, it's hard to describe - reminiscent of pudding, although more velvety than that.

This ice cream does not require embellishment or accompaniment. It was, as it was, everything it needed to be. Right there, out back, on that second step I like so much, our summer started. And in five days, yours can too.


Chocolate Ice Cream

Fergus Henderson’s recipe, rewritten from versions inThe Observer and Bon Appetit.


  • 200g dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa solids, chopped
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 115g caster sugar
  • 500ml whole milk
  • 40g cocoa powder
  • For the caramel
  • 70g caster sugar
  • 75ml water
  • 50ml double cream


Make the chocolate custard. Place the chocolate in a small bowl set over a pot of simmering water, making sure that the bowl does not touch the water. Stir until the chocolate is melted, then remove the bowl from the heat and set aside to cool. 

In a medium, heavy-based saucepan, whisk the milk and cocoa powder over medium heat together until the mixture comes to a gentle boil. Set aside.

Prepare an ice bath and set a bowl in it.

In another bowl with a whisk, electric beater or stand mixture, beat the eggs and sugar together until the colour has lightened and the mixture is thick, around 5 minutes. At this stage, the mixture should fall back upon itself in a ribbon when the beaters are lifted. Whisking constantly, pour the hot milk into the yolk mixture in a thin, steady stream. Return the mixture to the saucepan and whisk in the melted chocolate. 

Cook over a low heat, stirring often, until the mixture thickens. This should take around 8 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Make the caramel. In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan, stir together the sugar and water. Bring to a boil over a medium heat, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved. Raise the heat to medium-high and continue to boil, without stirring, until the sugar turns a deep amber caramel, around 5 minutes. Off the heat, gradually whisk in the cream. Slowly and carefully whisk the caramel into the chocolate custard base. Once fully incorporated, strain the custard through a fine-meshed sieve into the bowl over the ice bath. Stir occasionally until the custard is cool, then cover and chill in the fridge for 2 days.

Freeze the custard base in an ice cream machine as per manufacturer's instruction. Once churned, transfer to a clean container, cover and freeze for 3 days to allow the flavours to develop.

Makes 1 litre.


  • British double cream has a butterfat content of about 48%. Lacking that, I used a 35% cream without difficulty or complaint. Caster sugar is also sold as superfine sugar.
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I am compelled to begin with a disclaimer on this one.

In full respect to the efforts of the family, friends and educators of my youth, I was a bright enough child; even if the story that follows might lead you to believe otherwise.

When I was less than a teen but over the age of 10, I came upon a curious round object in the storage room of my parents' house. It was about the size of a side plate, with an inscription on its face that was impressive and important in a bold, Old English-style script.

"This is a Round Tuit. Guard it with your life as tuits are hard to come by, especially the round ones. It will help you become a more efficient worker. For years you've heard people say 'I'll get that done, as soon as I get a Round Tuit.'"

Ha, ha. Funny stuff, we all get the joke. Except that I didn't.

Lost in the fanciful curls and swirls of the decorative font, I skimmed over the word "tuit" as "trivet". (This was also an impatient age for me, and I was often scolded for reading quickly rather than attentively.) From then on, I believed from that trivets must be Highly Useful Things. I was puzzled when the precious treasures were tossed carelessly onto counters and shoved into drawers with abandon, or squashed beneath hot pots at the dinner table.

Surely the adults knew that round trivets were a rarity.

Of course at some point I realized my mistake and I continued on with growing up. But what I didn't forget, was the importance of getting a round to it, every once in a while.

This is one of those times.

I adore condensed milk. I love it in baking, or spooned into dark, rich coffee or heavily-spiced tea. I have an unhealthy attachment to the little row of cans that are stashed in my pantry - and oh, don't forget, it can be used to make Dulce de Leche.

And, I must confess, I have been churning Condensed Milk Ice Cream for months, but have kept curiously quiet on the subject. That ends now.

This is shout-it-from-the-rooftops-worthy stuff. It is a churned adaptation of kulfi, the Indian frozen dessert made with condensed milks. Kulfi is densely textured and has a substantial weight on the spoon, but this my friends, this is unimaginably supple, with a deep, rounded creaminess. I imagine that if velvet could be made into ice cream, this is what it would be.

We had this ice cream alongside berries through the summer, and ate it sandwiched between these cookies in immoderate scoops. It's the one I'm keeping on hand to top pies and crisps and crumbles through fall and, in winter I'll skip the cardamom and there will be a shot of espresso involved. Maybe two. In spring rhubarb compote will be just the thing.

Without question, it's worth its weight in tuits. Or trivets.

Condensed Milk Ice Cream

Since condensed milk brands will differ in terms of thickness and sweetness, there is a range for the whipping cream. If yours is on the thinner side, you will want the lower quantity of cream, if thicker, the greater. Without a custard base, the method is blessedly fret-free. In fact, if one was careful, I think you could prepare the base of milks and cream in (gasp!) a microwave.


1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

1 14-ounce can evaporated milk

1 fresh vanilla bean

3 green cardamom pods, bruised but not broken (optional)

A generous pinch of kosher salt

1 to 1 1/2 cups heavy cream

In a medium saucepan, combine the condensed milk and evaporated milk. Spilt the vanilla bean down its length, scraping out the seeds. Add both the seeds and the bean to the saucepan, along with the cardamom pods and salt. Heat over medium-low heat until just under a simmer, stirring often.

Pour the mixture, along with the vanilla and cardamom, into a clean bowl or pitcher. Stir in 1 cup of the heavy cream and taste.  It should be very sweet, but not tooth aching. If needed, add up to 1/2 cup more cream. Chill the mixture well, then strain and  freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's direction.

Makes about 1 quart.

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