Weekend Food with Darina Allen: How Ballymaloe creates that award winning dessert trolley

The original idea was simple: Try to do something different, something that celebrates the restaurant world in a new, more relevant and entertaining way, awards from the ground up but it took a whole decade to become a reality. These ground breaking awards celebrate the excellence, integrity and rich culture of the restaurant world.

So with much pomp and ceremony, the inaugural World Restaurant Awards were held at the Palais Brongniart in Paris on February 18, 2019. Ten countries and four continents were represented, in a glitzy, super chic event that celebrated not just the chefs that work their magic with foams, gels, skid marks on plates and liquid nitrogen – instead these awards celebrated many other aspects of the restaurant experience.

Over 100 judges from 37 countries made up a cosmopolitan, multicultural, gender balanced, panel of experts – chefs, restaurateurs, influential media figures, film makers, book publishers, food scientists, activists, campaigners.

They chose from 18 different categories including:

No reservations required – for places where it is possible to turn up without a booking. This award went to Mocoto, Sao Paulo Brazil

House special– restaurants defined by one particular dish was won by Lido 84 on the edge of Lake Garda in Italy for their simple but iconic pasta dish, Cacio e Pepe en Vessie (cooked in a pigs bladder).

Multi-starred Alain Ducasse won the Tattoo-free chef of the Year.

The Tweezer-free kitchen went to Bo.Lan in Bangkok.

The Pop Up Event of the Year was awarded to the Refugee Food Festivals.

New arrival of the Year went to Inua in Tokyo.

Ethical Thinking, rewarding environmental and social responsibility to Refettorio – various locations. Food for Soul, an Italian not-for-profit organisation that addresses food waste, loneliness, and social isolation through community meals.

Instagram Account of the Year was won by another 3-star Michelin chef, Alain Passard of Arpege in Paris.

Off map destination was won by Wolfgart, a 20-seat restaurant in a 130-year-old white washed fisherman’s cottage on the edge of the ocean in Paternoster on the Western Cape.

Wolfgart also won Restaurant of the Year. Chef owner Kobus Van der Merve said ‘by keeping it small, we keep it sustainable’.

Red-Wine serving Restaurant -for those who shun current fashion by championing the red grape. This category was won by a cult London wine bar called Noble Rot.

Ireland was nominated in two categories and won both: Collaboration of the Year went to Cork’s own Denis Cotter of Café Paradiso and farmer Ultan Walsh from Gortnanain Farm in Nohoval who has been growing beautiful produce for Café Paradiso for over 18 years. Denis accepted his award in beautiful, fluent gaelic.

Much to our excitement, The Trolley of the Year Award went to Ballymaloe House. JR Ryle, who is the passionate young pastry chef and I proudly accepted the award on behalf of Ballymaloe and dedicated it to the memory of Myrtle Allen whose idea it was to have a trolley groaning with delicious desserts for her guests to choose from. She and her husband Ivan opened their home as a restaurant in 1964.

Everything about the ‘Oscars of Food Awards’ was super exciting. Chefs from all over the world flew in to give us a taste of their special little dish. The finest pata negra was carved off the bone into paper thin wisps, hundreds of oysters were shucked, tender abalone, black pepper soft shelled crabs, tantilising tacos, chilli crab beignets and delicious coconut madelines, warm from the oven made by Cheryl Koh from Singapore, who promised me the recipe.

But perhaps what impressed me most was the short film by perennialfarm.org which reminded us cooks and chefs, what restaurants can do to combat climate change.

  • Chefs can help by sourcing from climate friendly farms and ranches.
  • Going carbon neutral with zero ‘foot print’
  • Composting
  • By conserving energy and reducing consumption and waste.
  • Spreading the message that food can be a solution: www.perennialfarm.com

It’s so worth thinking about how we can all do our bit. Meanwhile here are some perennial favourites from the world famous Ballymaloe House sweet trolley.

Orange Mousse with Dark Chocolate Wafers

This mousse sounds slightly ‘retro’ now, but everyone loves it when we serve it on the sweet trolley at Ballymaloe.

Serves 6-8

2 organic oranges (1 1/2 ifvery large)

4 eggs (preferably free-range)

21/2 ozs (70g) caster sugar

2 teaspoons gelatine

2 tablespoons water

1 organic lemon

8 fl ozs (225ml) whipped cream

Chocolate Wafers

2 ozs (50g) best quality dark chocolate

Decoration

2 oranges

8 fl ozs (225ml) whipped cream

a pinch of caster sugar

Wash and dry the oranges; grate the rind on the finest part of a stainless steel grater. Put into a bowl with 2 eggs, 2 egg yolks and the caster sugar. Whisk to a thick mousse, preferably with an electric mixer.

Put 3 tablespoons (3 American tablespoons + 3 teaspoons) of water in a little bowl, measure the gelatine carefully and sprinkle over the water. Leave to “sponge” for a few minutes until the gelatine has soaked up the water and feels spongy to the touch. Put the bowl into a saucepan of simmering water and allow the gelatine to dissolve completely. All the granules should be dissolved and it should look perfectly clear.

Meanwhile, squeeze the juice from the 2 oranges and 1 lemon, measure and if necessary bring up to 1/2 pint (300ml/1 cups) with water. Stir a little of the juice into the gelatine and then mix well the remainder of the juice. Gently stir this into the mousse; cool in the fridge, stirring regularly. When the mousse is just beginning to set around the edges, fold in the softly whipped cream. Whisk the two egg whites stiffly and fold in gently. Pour into a glass bowl or into individual bowls. Cover and allow to set for 3-4 hours in the fridge, or better still overnight.

Meanwhile make the chocolate wafers. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over barely simmering water. Stir until quite smooth. Spread on a Silpat mat or a heavy baking tray. Put into a cold place until stiff enough to cut in square or diamond shapes.

While the chocolate is setting, make the orange-flavoured cream. Grate the rind from half an orange, add into the whipped cream and add a pinch of caster sugar to taste.

Peel and segment the oranges. Decorate the top of the mousse with orange segments and pope on some rosettes of orange-flavoured cream. Peel the chocolate wafers off the card and use them to decorate the edges of the mousse.

Ballymaloe ice bowl

The ice bowl was Myrtle Allen’s brilliant solution to keeping the ice-cream cold during the evening on the sweet trolley in the restaurant. I quote from The Ballymaloe Cookbook.

“It took me twelve years to find the solution to keeping ice-cream cold on the sweet trolley in my restaurant. At first, we used to unmould and decorate our ices on to a plate. This was alright on a busy night when they got eaten before melting. On quieter occasions the waitresses performed relay races from the dining-room to the deep freeze. I dreamed about 19th century ice boxes filled from ice houses, to my husband’s increasing scorn, and then I thought I had a solution.

"A young Irish glass- blower produced beautiful hand-blown glass cylinders which I filled with ice-cream and fitted into beautiful tulip-shaped glass bowls. These I filled with ice cubes.

"Six months later, however, due to either the stress of the ice or the stress of the waitresses, my bowls were gone and so was my money. In desperation I produced an ice bowl. It turned out to be a stunning and practical presentation for a restaurant trolley or a party buffet.”

To make a Ballymaloe Ice Bowl

Take two bowls, one about double the capacity of the other. Half fill the big bowl with cold water. Float the second bowl inside the first. Weight it down with water or ice cubes until the rims are level. Place a square of fabric on top and secure it with a strong rubber band or string under the rim of the lower bowl, as you would tie on a jam pot cover.

Adjust the small bowl to a central position. The cloth holds it in place. Put the bowls on a Swiss roll tin and place in a deep freeze, if necessary readjusting the position of the small bowl as you put it in. After 24 hours or more take it out of the deep freeze.

Remove the cloth and leaves for 15 to 20 minutes, by which time the small bowl should lift out easily. Then try to lift out the ice-bowl. It should be starting to melt slightly from the outside bowl, in which case it will slip out easily. If it isn’t, then just leave for 5 or 10 minutes more. Don’t attempt to run it under the hot or even cold tap, or it may crack.

If you are in a great rush, the best solution is to wring out a tea-towel in hot water and wrap that around the large bowl for a few minutes. The best course of action is to perform this operation early in the day and then

fill the ice bowl with scoops of ice-cream, so all you have to do when it comes to serving the ice-cream is to pick up the ice bowl from the freezer and place it on the serving dish. Put a folded serviette under the ice bowl on the serving dish to catch drips.

At Ballymaloe, Myrtle Allen surrounds the ice bowl with vine leaves in summer, scarlet Virginia creeper in autumn and red-berried holly at Christmas. However, as you can see I’m a bit less restrained and I can’t resist surrounding it with flowers!

However you present it, ice-cream served in a bowl of ice like this usually draws gasps of admiration when you bring it to the table.

In the restaurant we make a new ice-bowl every night, but at home when the dessert would be on the table for barely half an hour, it should be possible to use the ice bowl several times. As soon as you have finished serving, give the bowl a quick wash under the cold tap and get it back into the freezer again. This way you can often get two or three turns from a single ice bowl.

Note: Don’t leave a serving spoon resting against the side of the bowl or it will melt a notch in the rim.

Ballymaloe Praline Ice-Cream with Praline Brittle

The praline can be made from almonds, hazelnuts, pecans or even salted peanuts. If this is too expensive in these credit-crunch times, make brown bread ice cream, which gives a similar texture for a much lower price.

Serves 6 - 8

110g (4oz) sugar

225ml (8fl oz) water

4 egg yolks

1 teaspoon pure

vanilla extract

1.2 litres (2 pints)

softly whipped cream

Praline

110g (4oz) unskinned almonds

110g (4oz) sugar

Put the egg yolks into a bowl and whisk until light and fluffy (keep the whites for meringues). Combine the sugar and water in a small heavy bottomed saucepan, stir over heat until the sugar is completely dissolved, then remove the spoon and boil the syrup until it reaches the ‘thread’ stage, 106-113°C (223-236°F). It will look thick and syrupy; when a metal spoon is dipped in, the last drops of syrup will form thin threads. Pour this boiling syrup in a steady stream onto the egg yolks, whisking all the time. Add vanilla extract and continue to whisk until it becomes a thick creamy white mousse. Fold the softly whipped cream into the mousse, pour into a bowl, cover and freeze. Meanwhile make the praline. Put the unskinned almonds with the sugar into a heavy saucepan over a low heat until the sugar gradually melts and turn a caramel colour, DO NOT STIR, when this stage is reached and not before, carefully rotate the pan until the nuts are all covered with caramel. When the nuts go ‘pop’, pour this mixture onto a lightly oiled Swiss roll tin or marble slab. Allow to get quite cold, when the praline is quite hard, crush in a food processor or with a rolling pin, the texture should be quite coarse and gritty.

After about 1 1/2 hours when the ice cream is just beginning to set, fold in the 4 tablespoons of praline powder and freeze again. If you fold in the praline too early it will sink to the bottom of the ice cream.

To serve, scoop out into balls with an ice cream scoop. Serve in an ice bowl, sprinkle with the remainder of the praline powder.

Toasted Almond Meringue with Chocolate and Rum Cream

This mixture can of course be halved but you’ll need to use a hand held electric whisk rather than a food mixer to create the volume.

Serves 12

75g (3oz) almonds

4 egg whites

225g (8oz) icing sugar

Filling

50g (2oz) good quality dark chocolate (62%)

25g (1oz) unsweetened chocolate (85%)

2 tablespoons rum

2 tablespoons single cream

600ml (1 pint) softly whipped cream

Decoration

5 toasted almonds or chocolate curls

Check that the bowl is dry, spotlessly clean and free from grease. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Blanch and skin the almonds. Grind or chop them coarsely — they should not be ground to a fine powder but should be left slightly coarse and gritty. Toast in the preheated oven for 4-5 minutes until golden. Reduce the temperature to 150°C/300°F/Gas Mark 2.

Mark four 7 1/2 inch (19cm) circles or heart shapes on silicone paper or a prepared baking sheet. Mix all the sugar with the egg whites at once and beat until the mixture forms stiff dry peaks, 5- 8 minutes. Fold in the almonds. Divide the mixture between the two circles or heart shapes and spread evenly with a palette knife. Bake immediately in the preheated oven for 45 minutes or until crisp, they should peel off the paper easily. Turn off the oven and allow to cool.

To make the filling

Melt the chocolate with the rum and single cream very gently in a very cool oven, or over hot water. Cool and then fold the mixture into the softly whipped cream.

To assemble

Sandwich the meringues together with most of the filling. Decorate with rosettes of the remaining chocolate and rum cream stuck with halved toasted almonds or chocolate curls.

Toasted Almond Meringue with Raspberries

Substitute 10fl oz (300ml) softly whipped cream and 12oz (350g) fresh Autumn raspberries for chocolate and rum cream in the recipe above and use to fill the meringue as above.

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