Bombastic

Food - Bee Wilson on how to chill out in the hot weather

At last - proper ice-cream weather. Freezing ices at home has become an alluring prospect for the first time this summer. But what kind? The choice of recipes usually seems polarised between insubstantial fruit sorbets and granitas on the one hand, and rich, custardy ice-creams on the other.

There is, however, a Third Way, made not with water, not cream, but with egg. The results are beguilingly delicious, not too watery, not too creamy, and you don't need any special equipment to make it. You simply whisk the yolks with sugar and flavourings over a low heat until you have something approaching a zabaglione, and then freeze it in a mould. It sounds like a modish novelty, but it is actually one of the oldest types of frozen pudding.

In 17th-century Florence, there was a sweet frozen egg dish called a candiero. Count Lorenzo Magalotti described "Egg yolks barely cooked/Beaten in spotless porcelain,/And if you want something sovereign/When they are beaten and frothy/Then put in sugar/Rather more than a pinch."

Jasmine blossoms, lemon peel, musk and amber are also mentioned as flavourings. In Naples at the same time, there was a kind of egg ice, very sweet, flavoured with orange or cinnamon or candied pumpkin, and formed into bricks (a grand equivalent, I suppose, of our bricks of Wall's ice-cream sandwiched in wafers). A more elaborate formula was used in Victorian London to fill those baroque moulds you see in the pastel colour plates of old cookery books. It was called a bomba. In Harvest of the Cold Months (Penguin, £16), Elizabeth David describes the bomba made at Gunter's in Berkeley Square. The recipe used 16 egg yolks to a pint of spring water, "a glass of noyau or maraschino and a sugar syrup 'to your liking'".

My recipe is more pared down. The great advantage over ice-cream is that, once you've made it, you can forget about it. It doesn't go block-like and impenetrable, as sorbet often does, because the egg-foam freezes at a higher temperature than water. There is no stirring every 20 minutes to break down the ice crystals. And when it melts, instead of a milky puddle on the plate, you have a smooth, spoonable zabaglione.


Bomba

6 medium organic egg yolks, 75g white caster sugar, zest of half an organic lemon

Put four small dariole moulds, ramekins or little cups into the freezer to chill. Have ready on the hob a large saucepan half-filled with almost simmering water. Over this, suspend a large mixing bowl in which you put all the ingredients. Whisk vigorously, preferably with an electric hand-whisk, until the egg yolks have turned from yellow to white and become a thick glossy mass, more than doubled in volume. Turn off the heat. Pour the mixture into the chilled moulds and freeze. After 6 hours (or up to 48), take them out, run a knife round the edge to loosen, dip briefly in hot water and demould on to your fanciest plates.

Variations

1) Add some chopped candied pumpkin (or candied fruit) to the mixture before you freeze it and pretend you are in 17th-century Naples.

2) Add a tablespoon of raisins soaked overnight in dark rum for a retro rum'n'raisin effect.

3) Omit the lemon peel and stir in two tablespoons of brandy or Marsala or any liqueur of your liking, in which case it will taste more like an old-style trattoria zabaglione.

4) After the bomba is frozen, stud the little puddings with pistachios, walnuts or flaked almonds, to look like hedgehogs if you are so inclined.

5) If you want to make a true Edwardian centrepiece, then choose your mould and multiply the quantities accordingly: 20 egg yolks for a small castle, or 7,204,660,523 for a life-size Millennium Dome (this is an approximate estimate).

This article first appeared in the 31 July 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Why Tony Blair is a Bobo