Darina Allen: Treats from the Ballymaloe ‘sweet trolley’

The Ballymaloe House ‘sweet trolley’ is legendary indeed. For over 50 years it has been wheeled around the dining rooms at Ballymaloe House piled high with tempting desserts to tantalise guests at the end of their meal. 

The first cart was made in the 1960’s by carpenter, Danny Power, in his farm workshop to Myrtle Allen’s specifications. A shelf on top with a little ledge around the edge to hold the array of desserts. Another underneath for plates, serving utensils and top-ups. Ever since it has delighted diners.

All conversation ceases as the entire table listens to the description of the temptations on offer, home-made Ballymaloe ice-cream served in an ice bowl, a meringue cake or a pretty fluted dish piled high with little “kisses” sandwiched together with a tangy homemade lemon curd and always a compote of fruit in season.

Tonight it’s poached pears in a saffron and cardamom syrup. Always a tart of some kind too, made with buttery puff pastry or perhaps a chocolate and hazelnut or almond tart in a buttery short crust.

There may be a fruit fool, tonight it’s blackcurrant from the Ballymaloe walled garden in the summer and served with JR’s heart shaped shortbread biscuits, a recipe passed on from 1950’s in Ballymaloe kitchen. Many of the recipes have a story. Tonight panna cotta is served in glass pedestal bowls with an espresso jelly made with the coffee beans, roasted on the farm by Mark Kingston of The Golden Bean, who sources his beans from single estates around the world.

The coffee jelly lightens the rich panna cotta deliciously. This is JR’s inspired version of the Italian dessert which is every bit as unctuous as a crème brûlée, another Ballymaloe sweet trolley favourite served with a thin layer of caramel on top rather than torched as is more the norm nowadays.

JR Ryall, is head pastry chef at Ballymaloe House and has been for over 10 years. He came to work with Mrs Allen during his school holidays when he was just 14, he joined the team permanently when he finished his education and has only left for short periods ever since when he travels all round the world, always on the look out for something new to add to his recipe repertoire.

However we all love the original recipes that Myrtle Allen served from the first evening in 1965 when she and Ivan decided to open the doors at Ballymaloe House.

The sweet trolley was very 1960’s – Arbutus Lodge in Cork also had a wonderful sweet trolley that we all enjoyed. I particularly remember the oeufs à la neige or floating islands of feather light meringue and the boozy rum babas.

And now the sweet trolley, so beloved by Ballymaloe guests, and considered in the 80’s and 90’s to be a bit passé, is once again having its moment and is reappearing as a special feature in trendy restaurants.

The selection changes every evening and of course reflects the season and JR’s excitement. Myrtle has always loved to incorporate little tastes of our local and traditional food into her menu.

Carrigeen Moss pudding, so much part of our traditional food culture is also a much loved feature of the Ballymaloe offerings, little pots of the light delicate mousse with fluffy tops are still found on the sweet trolley every evening.

The homemade ice-cream or granitas is chosen from a selection of 12 or 14 that JR makes, and continues to add to. The sorbets are made with the ripe berries from the garden. The ice-cream was originally made from the rich Jersey cream from Ivan Allen’s herd of purebred Jersey cows. Tonight there are also a chocolate marjorlaine and pistachio tuiles to enjoy with the fool – all impossibly tempting and delicious.

Ballymaloe Praline Ice-Cream with Praline Brittle

The praline can be made from almonds, hazelnuts or pecans.

Serves 6 - 8

110g (4oz) sugar

225ml (8fl oz) water

4 egg yolks

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1.2 litres (2 pints) softly whipped cream


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, 106-113C (223-236F). 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 turns a caramel colour — DO NOT STIR — when this stage is reached and not before, carefully rotate the pan until all of the nuts are 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 one-and-a-half hours when the ice cream is just beginning to set, fold in the four 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.

Hazelnut Praline Ice-Cream

Substitute skinned hazelnuts for almonds in the above recipe and proceed as above.

Rory O’Connell’s Pistachio Langues de Chat

These thin biscuits are so called as they are supposed to resemble the shape of cats tongues. Rory 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. He serves them with mousses, fools, soufflés, ices of all sorts and of course with a cup of tea or coffee.

The flavouring here is vanilla but orange or lemon zest or ground sweet spices such as cinnamon or star anise also work well. Finely chopped nuts such as pistachio, almond, pecan or brazil nuts can be scattered over the shaped and uncooked batter to give a lovely crunchy and flavoursome finish.

Serves 8

125g (4½ oz) soft butter

125g (4½ oz) caster sugar

4 egg whites

¼ tsp vanilla extract

175g (6oz) plain flour

110g (4oz) pistachio, finely chopped

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. I wash and dry the bag and keep it for the next time.

Pipe onto to baking tray in long thin rows 1cm thick and 10cm long.

Scatter the finely chopped pistachio on top of the batter.

Bake for 12 minutes by which time they will have coloured generously around the edges. Remove from oven and let cool on the parchment-lined baking tray.

When cool remove to wire rack and store in an airtight box lined with kitchen paper.

Irish Coffee Meringue

Another gem with an Irish twist.

Serves 6-8

2 egg whites

110g (4oz) icing sugar

2 tsp instant coffee powder (not granules)


300m (10fl oz) whipped cream

2 tbsp approx Irish whiskey


chocolate coffee beans


Parchment paper

Draw 2 x 7½ inch (18cm) circles onto a sheet of parchment paper. Then turn them over so the pencil or pen doesn’t mark the meringue.

Put the egg whites into a spotlessly clean and dry bowl. Add all the icing sugar except two tablespoons. Whisk until the mixture stands in firm dry peaks. It may take 10-15 minutes. Sieve the coffee and the remaining icing sugar together and fold in carefully.

Spread the meringue carefully with a palette knife onto the circles on the parchment paper. Bake in a very low oven 150C\\300F\\Gas Mark 2 for approx one hour or until crisp. The discs should peel easily from the paper. Allow to get quite cold.

Add the whiskey to the whipped cream.

Sandwich the meringue discs together with Irish whiskey flavoured cream. Pipe five rosettes of cream on top. Decorate with chocolate coffee beans if available.

JR’s Panna Cotta with Espresso Jelly

This is a delicious variation on a classic panna cotta. Serve with wafer thin Langue de Chat biscuits for a special treat.

Serves 6-8 people

600ml (1 pint) double (heavy) cream

50g (2oz) castor sugar

1 vanilla pods, split lengthways

2 gelatine leaves (or 2 teaspoons powdered gelatine)

cold water for soaking gelatine leaves (or 3 tablespoons water if using powdered Gelatine)

1 x espresso jelly recipe (see below)


1 pedestal glass bowl

Panna cotta

Put the cream into a heavy bottomed saucepan with the split vanilla pod and castor 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 3 tablespoons (4 American 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.

Espresso Jelly

Very strong hot coffee

45g (1½ oz) castor sugar

1¼ gelatine leaves (1¼ teaspoon powdered gelatine)

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 3 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.


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