Ice Creams, Sorbets and Gelati: The Definite Guide
by Caroline Weir, Robin Weir
Publisher: Grub Street, Country: UK
ISBN: 9781904943464, Edition: revised, Year: 2010
Link to publisher’s page or site
This review is the personal opinion of the reviewer.

Overview

An impressive, compendious work about ice cream and other frozen sweets for home cooks. The much-awaited revision of an earlier book by the authors has yielded a greatly expanded range of delicious recipes, plus some additional history and trivia. The authors’ insistence on precision and recommended formulae for making ices is undermined by their own mistakes and inconsistencies, but despite this, Ice Creams, Sorbets and Gelati: The Definitive Guide is a work worth considering for any avid home ice cream maker.

Full review

First published in 1995 as Ices: The Definitive Guide (UK) and Frozen Desserts (US), Caroline Weir (née Liddell) and Robin Weir have now revised and enlarged their work in a new edition called Ice Creams, Sorbets and Gelati: The Definitive Guide. Very different in appearance, this is at first glance a more attractive hardcover volume, enhanced by numerous colour photos to accompany the recipes. The non-recipe content has been rearranged and expanded a little.

Alongside an appendix of calculations and technical explanation, glossary, suppliers’ addresses (UK/US/FR), bibliography and index are thirteen chapters explaining everything from the origins of frozen desserts to equipment, ingredients and, of course, numerous well explained recipes. The first edition had more than 200 recipes, while this one adds another 93. There are only a few gaps as they cover the gamut of ices and their accompaniments:

  • basic recipes,
  • standard and creative flavours (raspberry ice cream, date and sherry gelato, cider sorbet, burnt chocolate gelato, plum granita, tomato ice cream),
  • lollypops/suckers (bloody mary, kiwi, mint and lime),
  • bombes (blackberry spoom and sorbet bombe, christmas cake ice cream with brandy parfait), and
  • a range of accompaniments from sauces and syrups to cones and brittles (butterscotch sauce, Russian toffee, rose pouchong tea syrup, brandy snaps, allspice biscuits, almond crumble, sugar glass).

A welcome addition in the new book is a discussion of gelato (not as definable as one might think) and more than 25 gelato recipes — the absence of any gelato in the first edition was very strange, and it must be said that the new section is a little too focused on the authors’ pet themes of historical precision and the evils of industrial production. In general, the book lacks an attempt to provide a clear overview of the types of ices that exist.

Oddly, Italy is the home of another curious omission: the well known, fine granitas of some parts of Sicily, rather like a compact sorbet. Certainly, the most common form of granita across Italy (described by the authors) is made up of coarse crystals. I would have expected the authors to be aware of the fine almond granita popular in eastern Sicily, yet their own almond granita recipe is a coarse one using orgeat syrup rather than almond milk.

Already an impressive work when it first appeared, the Weirs’ book remains unparalleled in its breadth and attempted depth for non-professional cooks. (They have added a short chapter on commercial production that might help budding entrepreneurs a little.) The importance of and reasons for correctly balancing ingredients to ensure the right proportions of sugar, milk-solids-non-fat and fats is communicated quite well, and the authors’ knowledge is obvious. A downside of this breadth is that the book is incredibly wordy — it might easily lose more than a few readers through its reluctance to provide concise explanation. This is especially relevant to the discussion of proportions of ingredients, where diagrams would have greatly enhanced the communicative power of the book.

For readers wanting more than just cooking instructions, the book opens with an enjoyable (and opinionated) catalogue of myths about ice cream and a history of the development of frozen desserts. The authors are clearly frustrated by the spread of incorrect information (Nero, Marco Polo, Catherine de Medici, the list goes on) and tend to press the point a bit. Along the way, you’ll discover the origins of the term “hokey pokey”, the invention of a few commercial ice cream products, and the reasons why British ice cream had such an awful reputation in the latter half of the 20th Century. At times, the authors’ focus on circumstances in the UK (and to some extent the US) overly colours their text — less parochial commentary and a little more about other ice cream nations would have been appropriate — but it is nonetheless a fascinating read.

Despite the predominantly positive value of this book, it must be said that if you want to write a pedantic “definitive” work, it’s all the easier for pedantic readers to notice inconsistencies. The authors’ repeated insistence on historical precision, the exactitude of precise measurements, and what feels like an undercurrent of dislike for innovation occasionally sit in contrast with weaknesses of their own:

  • there’s an unexplained change in the quantities in the two basic vanilla ice cream recipes they give, seemingly swapping (or correcting?) some of the quantities between the two recipes, and despite this neither of these recipes conform even remotely to their recommended proportions of sugars, fats and milk-solids-non-fat (higher in fat, lower in sugar and much lower in MSNF),
  • the flawed example calculation of ingredient percentages, copied largely from the old book, despite changed ingredient quantities in the new one,
  • the (good) use of weights to calculate proportions is undermined by the (bad) mix of weights, volumes and units (3 yolks, 2-3 limes, 3 22cm bananas) in the actual recipes, making the weight calculations (if you want to tweak a recipe) unnecessarily fiddly,
  • the incompetent weight/volume conversion chart, reproduced exactly from the previous book,
  • finally, despite insistence that ice cream is served too cold and that advertisement photography has reinforced the ideal of hard, icy ice cream, the book’s own photos rarely show ice cream in any less frigid state.

This should have been a five-star book, but the flaws almost drag it down to three stars. Given the strength of the recipes (every one I’ve tried is simply delicious), I’m willing to give it four stars as a compromise. Despite its problems, every ice cream lover should probably own Ice Creams, Sorbets and Gelati: The Definitive Guide.

This is an original review for The Gastronomer’s Bookshelf.
Main rating: 4. Recommended – good
Visual appeal: Attractive
Suitability as a gift: If the person is really interested
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Rating: 4.2/5 (5 votes cast)
Ice Creams, Sorbets and Gelati, Caroline and Robin Weir | 2010 | UK, 4.2 out of 5 based on 5 ratings

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