The unlikely partnership of brown bread and ice cream is as quintessentially British as the Queen and corgis, although its history arguably goes back further. Its origins are thought to date to the likes of early English cooking authorities such as Eliza Acton and Hannah Glasse. In Elizabeth David’s social history of ices and ice creams, Harvest of the Cold Months (Michael Joseph, 1994), she reports finding a recipe for brown bread ice cream in an 1837 recipe book by a confectioner who had worked at Regency London’s most fashionable ice cream parlour, Gunter’s. The fabled Mrs Beeton made brown bread ice cream; and Jane Grigson’s benchmark English Food (Macmillan, 1974) includes a recipe that many regard as a classic.
So how does it shape up for the 21st century? It’s one of those duos that—like David Beckham and Posh Spice—sounds improbable initially but works way better than expected.
The crunch of the bread, broken up and caramelised in the oven with sugar, creates a kind of poor man’s praline. It’s a nutty, chewy contrast to the creamy, brown-sugar spiked custard base, all given a grown-up kick with—what else?— a whack of whisky.
Speaking of whisky—spelled whiskey in Ireland—it is surely no coincidence that this ice cream is a favourite among Irish cookbook authors. Whether you choose the Emerald Isle’s finest or a wee dram from Scotland to add to Lesley Russell’s recipe, this version may become your favourite, too. For best effect, be sure to use a dense, flavoursome brown bread to ensure its flavour survives the freezing process. In deference to the season we’ve offered the slightly unorthodox but undeniably delicious option of a teaspoon of mixed spices for extra fragrance and a festive touch.