At a glitzy event at Palais Brongniart in Paris in February 2019, Ballymaloe House won Trolley of the Year Award at the inaugural World Restaurant Awards for its iconic “sweet trolley” as it’s known. More than 100 chefs from 37 countries made up the panel of judges for eight different categories of the restaurant experience.
Ballymaloe House had first been long-listed, then short-listed. The tension was nail-biting and then, at last, the announcement. The iconic dessert trolley Myrtle Allen had introduced at Ballymaloe House when she opened her own dining room as a restaurant in 1965 had won the top award — super-exciting.
The original timber trolley was made by the late Ballymaloe farm carpenter Danny Power, who was well known for his tasty woodwork.
Every evening, Myrtle piled it high with a selection of seasonal desserts. Always a homemade ice-cream made from the rich Jersey cream of the farm’s pedigree herd. This was, as it still is, served in a bowl of ice that Myrtle created to keep the ice cream chilled throughout the evening. A meringue gateau of some kind, a compote of fresh seasonal fruit from the walled garden.
Rhubarb perhaps, or green gooseberry and elderflower followed by currants and berries in summer and autumn. Perhaps an orange or silky chocolate mousse, creme brûlée or her favourite carrageen moss pudding with soft brown sugar and cream.
Fast-forward to now. JR Ryle, the young pastry chef who came to work with Myrtle in 2004, accepted the award on behalf of Ballymaloe. He continues to work his magic with his passionate team in the Ballymaloe pastry kitchens but now he’s also in demand to do “sweet trolley” pop-ups.
He’s just been to New York to do the first US Ballymaloe “sweet trolley” pop-up. King on King Street in Manhattan was the venue; it was a roaring success, totally oversubscribed.
I spoke to co-owner of King, Ballymaloe Cookery School alumni Claire De Boer, who with her friend Jess Shadbolt opened King on King St in September 2016: “Something magical happened, it felt like a house party, everyone was chatting to the next table and having fun.”
The pastry chef at King also trained at the Ballymaloe Cookery School and the River Café. Brian McGin of Netflix flew in from Australia and Claire Ptak of Violet Cakes came from London. Food journalist Christine Muhlke of Bon Appetit, a big fan of King, came to the rescue when JR was having difficulty sourcing a trolley in New York.
David Tanis was there from The New York Times, four people from the prestigious Prior Travel Club. Clare De Boer told me that due to the overwhelming demand they decided to do two sittings and stopped the bookings at 80-plus.
Special Silverwood tartlet tins had been flown out to New York two weeks earlier. Jerpoint glass in Kilkenny was commissioned to make the hand-blown glass bowls for the compote and panna cotta. They arrived just two days before the event — nail-biting stuff. Stable, that shop in Westbury Mall in Dublin, provided the beautiful linen for the trolley but sadly the hand-thrown Fermoyle Pottery didn’t arrive from Ballinskelligs until after the event — next time!
Watch this space for news of future Ballymaloe “sweet trolley” pop-ups.
Meanwhile, here are some of the desserts that wowed the New Yorkers...
These thin biscuits are so-called as they are supposed to resemble the shape of cat’s tongues. JR likes to shape these into long and skinny biscuits so perhaps more like a lizard’s tongue, but that name would not really sell them very well. Regardless of the length, they should be quite thin and delicate.
125g soft butter
125g caster sugar
175g plain flour
4 egg whites
¼ tsp vanilla extract
4 tbsp finely chopped pistachio nuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 180C/350F/gas 4.
Line a flat baking tray with parchment paper.
Place the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and beat vigorously until pale and fluffy.
Add the sifted flour, vanilla extract and egg whites and fold gently with a spatula until the mixture is combined. It will look like a thick batter.
Transfer the mixture into a piping bag with 1cm nozzle or use a “disposable” plastic piping bag and just snip off the top with a scissors to give exactly the size needed.
Pipe onto to the lined baking tray in long thin rows 1cm thick and 10cm long. Leave a 3cm gap between the biscuits to allow them to spread a little when cooking. If using the pistachio nuts, sprinkle them on to the uncooked biscuits now.
Bake in the oven for 12 minutes by which time they will have coloured generously around the edges. Remove from oven and allow to cool still on the parchment-lined baking tray. When cool remove to wire rack and store in an airtight box lined with kitchen paper.
JR’s Rhubarb Tartlets are truly delicious — best served warm for afternoon tea or pudding.
Makes 36 tartlets approximately
Cold Cream Pastry (see recipe below)
450g (1lb) thinly sliced pink rhubarb
Preheat oven to 220C/425F/Gas Mark 7.
Always roll cream pastry straight from the fridge — it must be well chilled. If the pastry comes to room temperature it will be too soft to handle.
Using plenty of flour, roll the cold pastry to a thickness of 2mm (1/8 inch). Cut the pastry with a 7.5cm (3 inch) round cutter and use the discs of pastry to line 3 standard shallow bun trays.
Arrange thin slices of rhubarb on each disc of pastry. Spread a rounded teaspoon of demerara sugar on top of the fruit in each tartlet. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the sugar begins to caramelise and the pastry is a golden brown colour. Use a palette knife to remove the tartlets from the bun tray while still hot. Place on baking parchment which has been sprinkled with caster sugar.
Serves 6-8 people
JR Ryle’s delicious variation on a classic panna cotta. He likes to serve it with wafer-thin langue de chat biscuits for a special treat — it was a huge hit at the Ballymaloe “sweet trolley” pop-up in New York. The espresso jelly cuts the richness of the panna cotta deliciously.
600ml (1 pint) double (heavy) cream
50g (2oz) caster sugar
1 vanilla pods, split lengthways
2 gelatine leaves (or 2 tsp powdered gelatine)
Cold water for soaking gelatine leaves (or 3 tbsp water if using powdered gelatine)
For the espresso jelly
Very strong hot coffee
45g (1½oz) caster sugar
1¼ gelatine leaves
1 pedestal glass bowl
For the panna cotta
Put the cream into a heavy-bottomed saucepan with the split vanilla pod and caster sugar.
Put on a low heat and bring to the shivery stage.
Meanwhile, soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for a few minutes until soft.
Squeeze excess water from the leaves, add to the hot cream mixture and stir to dissolve.
Strain the mixture through a sieve to remove the vanilla pod (rinse the vanilla pod in warm water, allow to dry and save for later).
Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature before pouring into the pedestal bowl.
To save time the hot cream mixture can be stirred over an ice bath to cool it faster.
Place in the fridge and allow to set.
Carefully spoon over the cooled, but not yet set, coffee jelly.
Return to the fridge and allow to set.
If using powdered gelatine: Sponge the gelatine in three tablespoons of water. Put the bowl in a saucepan of simmering water until the gelatine is dissolved. Add a little of the cream to the gelatine, then stir both mixtures together. Remove the vanilla pod and continue as above.
For the espresso jelly
Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for a few minutes until soft.
Meanwhile, place sugar in a measuring jug and add enough coffee until there is 200ml (7fl oz) in total, stir to dissolve.
Squeeze excess water from the gelatine leaves, add to the hot coffee and stir to dissolve.
Allow to cool to room temperature before using.
Note: Allowing the panna cotta mixture to cool before decanting into the glass serving dish will prevent vanilla seeds from pooling in the bottom of the bowl. Instead, they stay in suspension and look much prettier.
To make a more special version of this dessert the panna cotta can be layered in a glass bowl with the jelly. For a good result make 3 x espresso jelly recipe and set the panna cotta in three layers, each separated with a layer of the jelly. Each layer must be allowed to set completely before the next layer is poured over. The resulting dessert is both eye-catching and delicious — a huge hit in New York.
Serves 10 approx
Myrtle always included a compote of seasonal fruits or berries but in winter many fruits have abysmal flavour. However, citrus are at their best. This delicious fresh-tasting salad uses a wide variety of the ever-expanding citrus family. It’s particularly delicious when a few blood oranges are included. Ugli fruit, pomelo, tangelos and sweeties all add excitement and extra zing. This salad will keep for three or four days in your fridge.
225g (2lb) kumquats
350ml (12 fl oz) water
200g (7oz) sugar
1 lime — may need more
225g (2 lb) clementines
115-225g (1-3 lb) tangerines or mandarins
2 blood oranges
1 ruby grapefruit
Lemon juice to taste if necessary
Slice the kumquats into 3 inch (5mm) rounds, remove pips.
Dissolve the sugar in the water over a low heat, add the sliced kumquats.
Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes or until tender.
Remove from the heat.
Allow to cool.
Remove the zest from the lime with a zester and add with the juice to the kumquats.
Meanwhile peel the tangerines and clementines and remove as much of the white pith and strings as possible.
Slice into rounds of 3 inch (5mm) thickness, add to the syrup.
Segment the pink grapefruit and blood oranges and add to the syrup also.
Leave to macerate for at least an hour.
Taste and add a squeeze of lemon juice if necessary.
Note: If the juice is too intense simply dilute with a little cold water to taste.