‘Would you like to have a look at the sweet trolley’ is a familiar if rhetorical question in Ballymaloe House. When the sweet trolley is wheeled into the dining room, there’s a spontaneous murmur of excitement from guests – it doesn’t matter what stage of their meal, whether they are just sipping a bowl of soup or finishing a delicious plate of main course. They keep an eye in anticipation as it makes its way around the dining room piled high with delicious seasonal desserts.
The Sweet Trolley has been a tradition at Ballymaloe House ever since Myrtle and Ivan Allen opened the doors of their country house on a farm in East Cork in 1964. In the era of flamboyant dessert creations, the sweet trolley seemed a little outdated but then out of the blue in 2018, an email arrived to say that the Ballymaloe House Sweet Trolley had been shortlisted for the Trolley of the Year Award in the highly-prestigious World Restaurant Awards in Paris and guess what, it won! Suddenly, it was super cool to have a trolley again… Tons of press, radio and TV interviews – it was like the Oscars…
Pastry Chef, JR Ryall and his team in the ‘Sweets Section’ at Ballymaloe House create the irresistible selection on the sweet trolley every night. From the age of 4 JR wanted to be a chef, he cooked and cooked in his Mum and aunts’ kitchens. At the ripe old age of 13, he took his first cooking course at the Ballymaloe Cookery School– a present from his Mum. Year after year, during his school holidays he worked in Ballymaloe Sweets and eventually having completed a Natural Science degree in Trinity College in Dublin, he accepted Myrtle Allen’s invitation to be head pastry chef at Ballymaloe House. The rest is history…
JR travels widely and has worked in some of the most inspirations kitchens in the world – Ottolenghi, River Cafe, Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, La Grotta Ices, Paul Young Chocolate…
JR loved and was totally inspired by Myrtle and soaked up every word she said. Now at last he has written a book on Ballymaloe Desserts. It is published by Phaidon and was launched at the Ballymaloe Grainstore on Sunday, 11th September. It’s packed full of recipes for the delicious desserts so loved by Ballymaloe House guests for over 50 years plus many new contemporary creations that are fast becoming new classics.
JR shared his thought process when planning what desserts to serve on the Sweet Trolley at Ballymaloe House.
‘I use a simple template: there are always five desserts that change each day, each fitting a category; the combination of dishes should strike a balance of flavour, texture and aesthetics; and one dessert will always contain chocolate. This template has been used to plan almost every dessert trolley since the restaurant at Ballymaloe opened its doors.
The five categories are:
– Fruit: fresh, cooked or preserved
– Mousse, jelly, set cream or fool
– Frozen: ice-cream, sorbet or granita
– Pastry, cake or pudding
This basic template is used throughout all four seasons to ensure the five dishes on the trolley each have a different quality, but if someone wants to try a little bit of everything, the desserts on their plate must balance and work together. In addition to these five daily changing dishes, there is always one extra dessert on the trolley that never changes: Mrs. Allen’s Carrageen Moss Pudding, a silky soft-set seaweed dish that is a Ballymaloe speciality. For most guests, it is the most intriguing dessert we serve.
Many of the desserts served on the sweet trolley are accompanied by a complementary sauce, or even a biscuit (cookie), to elevate that dish. For example, coffee ice-cream is always served with Irish coffee sauce, while all fruit fools are accompanied by thin crisp shortbread biscuits. In many of the recipes that follow, I indicate favourite pairings such as these.
At Ballymaloe I plan each dish when I know what fresh produce is available, so I often change the menu at the last minute. Perhaps the plums that I was eagerly watching are just not ripe enough to pick on the day I thought they would be, and then an unexpected basin of wild blackberries arrives at the kitchen door. Perfect, a blackberry dessert it is. Then I look at the menu plan to see if anything needs to be altered to balance the last-minute change. Reacting in this way and using which produce is best is what makes the Ballymaloe dessert trolley so unique.’
Here are a few to whet your appetite.
Ballymaloe Desserts by JR Ryall is published
by Phaidon. Photography by Cliodhna Prendergast
Lemon Meringue Roulade
This is one of the most popular meringue desserts I make at Ballymaloe, and it has several layers of lemon flavour that add up to a well-rounded experience: the sweet meringue is tempered with fresh lemon zest, the cream filling is rippled with tangy lemon curd and the decoration of fragrant crystallized lemon verbena leaves and thin strips of crystallized lemon zest bring it all together. If you feel like going one step further, spoon the pulp of a few passion fruits over the lemon curd before rolling the roulade.
For the Meringue
4 large egg whites
225g (8oz) caster sugar
finely grated zest of 1 large unwaxed lemon
icing sugar, for sprinkling
For the Filling and Decoration
300ml (10fl oz) whipped cream
4 tablespoons Lemon Curd
crystallized lemon zest, to garnish (recipe on P53 in Ballymaloe Desserts)
12 crystallized lemon verbena leaves (recipe on P192 in Ballymaloe Desserts)
2 blue cornflower heads, separated into flowers
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.
Line a low-sided 20 × 30cm (8 × 12 inch) rectangular pan with baking paper.
To make the meringue.
Check that the bowl of your electric mixer is dry, spotlessly clean and free from grease. Place the egg whites and sugar into the bowl and whisk until the mixture forms stiff peaks, about 10 minutes.
Add the lemon zest to the meringue and gently fold through. Once the zest has been added to the meringue it will begin to wilt, so quickly spread the meringue in an even layer on the lined pan and place in the oven. Bake for 20 minutes. Allow to cool and lightly sprinkle the top with icing sugar.
To Fill and Decorate.
Invert the meringue, still in the pan, onto a sheet of baking paper so the crisp top of the meringue faces down. Remove the pan and carefully peel off the baking paper. Position the meringue so the long side is facing you. Spread three quarters of the whipped cream over the meringue, leaving a 2cm (1 inch) edge on the long side furthest away from you. Spoon the lemon curd in a line down the length of the cream. Using the tip of a palette knife, spread the curd over the cream in a rippled effect. Starting at the long side nearest you, and using the baking paper to assist, carefully roll the meringue into a log. Unwrap the roulade and transfer to a long serving plate. Pipe the remaining cream on the top and decorate with the crystallized lemon zest, crystallized lemon verbena and individual cornflowers.
When making lemon curd, think of it as a custard – stir the mixture constantly on a medium–low heat until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon – once the curd has thickened it is ready. The curd will continue to thicken as it cools, but if for any reason you want a very thick curd, add one extra egg yolk along with the eggs. Lemon curd is a short-term preserve and can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
Makes approx. 300ml (10fl oz)
1 large egg yolk
2 large eggs
55g (2oz) butter
110g (4oz) caster sugar
finely grated zest and juice of 2 large lemons
In a small bowl, beat the egg yolk with the whole eggs to combine, and
then set to one side. Melt the butter
in a small, heavy, non- corrodible pan on a low heat. Add the sugar and lemon zest and juice to the
pan followed by the beaten eggs. Stir
the mixture constantly with a whisk as it cooks on a low– medium heat. Once the mixture thickens enough to coat the
back of a spoon, remove the pan from the heat. If you want to use a thermometer to monitor
the temperature as the curd is cooking, it is ready when it reaches 82°C/180°F.
Pass the lemon mixture through a fine
sieve to remove the lemon zest (at this point the zest has done its work and
infused the mixture with its fragrant oil). Store in a sterilized airtight jar in the
Panna Cotta with Espresso Jelly
The original version of this dessert came about for a special long-table dinner that Rory O’Connell, co-founder of the Ballymaloe Cookery School, and I used to collaborate on each summer. It consisted of rich Jersey cream panna cotta topped with a single layer of intense coffee jelly. Over time, I played around with the proportion of jelly in relation to the vanilla cream. I set layers of the dark jelly through the panna cotta and eventually the recipe evolved into this striking stripy pudding. The coffee jelly can be replaced with other flavours too; blackcurrant jelly works particularly well. When I serve this dish on the dessert trolley at Ballymaloe, it is always accompanied by a tall glass of thin, crisp pistachio langues de chat.
For the Panna Cotta
600ml (20fl oz) fresh cream
1 vanilla pod, split lengthwise
pinch of salt
50g (2oz) caster sugar
2 gelatine leaves
For the Espresso Jelly
3 3⁄4 gelatine leaves
600ml (20fl oz) hot strong coffee
135g (4 1⁄2oz) caster sugar
1 teaspoon cornflour, for dusting
Langues de Chat (recipe on P182 in Ballymaloe Desserts)
Place a 1.2 litre (2 pint) glass bowl in the refrigerator to chill.
To make the panna cotta.
Place the cream in a small heavy pan with the split vanilla pod, salt and sugar. Put on a low heat and bring to below simmering point.
Meanwhile, soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for 5 minutes. Remove the gelatine leaves from the water, shaking off the excess, add to the hot cream mixture and stir to dissolve. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a bowl and then scrape any remaining seeds from the vanilla pod and add them back into the cream. Rinse the vanilla pod in warm water, allow to dry and save for decorating the finished dish. Allow the cream mixture to cool to room temperature. I usually sit the bowl in an ice bath, stirring the cream frequently, to speed this up. Cooling the cream brings it closer to its setting point. When it is close to setting it will thicken slightly and there is the added benefit that the vanilla seeds will now stay suspended in the mixture and not pool in a layer on the bottom of the bowl. Ladle enough of the cream mixture into the glass serving bowl to make the layer 1cm (1⁄2 inch) deep. Leave in the refrigerator to set.
To make the espresso jelly.
Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, add the sugar to the hot coffee and stir to dissolve. Remove the gelatine leaves from the water, shaking off the excess, add to the coffee mixture while it is still hot and stir to dissolve. Allow to cool to room temperature. Again, I usually use an ice bath to speed up this process. Remove from the ice bath, if using, and keep at room temperature.
Ladle the cooled coffee mixture on top of the set cream to a depth of 1cm (1⁄2 inch). Allow to set; this does not take long. Repeat the layering process, alternating between the vanilla cream and the coffee mixture, until both mixtures have been used up. Allow each layer to set before applying the next.
Dust the dried vanilla pod in cornflour so it is white all over and rest the pod on the edge of the layered pudding. The assembled dish can be kept in the refrigerator for up to three days. Serve chilled with a plate of langue de chat to pass around.
Almond Tarts with Raspberries
Myrtle Allen began making these tarts and tartlets for the Ballymaloe dessert trolley over half a century ago. The cases (shells) couldn’t be easier to prepare. It literally takes one minute to mix the three ingredients together. When baked, the tart cases can be stored in an airtight container for several days and the fruit can be arranged on top just before serving.
The crisp almond case (shell) is conveniently gluten free. While this recipe is for a raspberry version of the tart, it can also be topped with strawberries, blueberries and even peeled grapes (pips removed). Ripe peaches or nectarines are also delicious: just peel, slice and fan the fruit over the caramelized almond case.
Makes 24 tartlets (or two 18cm/7 inch tarts)
For the Almond Case
110g (4oz) soft salted butter
110g (4oz) caster sugar
110g (4oz) ground almonds
450g (1lb) raspberries
3 tablespoons Redcurrant Jelly, for glazing (recipe on P48 in Ballymaloe Desserts)
300ml (10fl oz) whipped cream
sweet geranium leaves or fresh mint leaves, to garnish
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.
To make the almond case.
Place the butter in a bowl and cream well. Add the sugar and ground almonds and stir until everything is evenly combined. Don’t beat or over work the mixture. Divide the mixture between two 17.5cm (7 inch) round pans or twenty-four shallow tartlet pans (I use two shallow, flat-bottom bun (muffin) pans that each have twelve wells).
Place the tarts in the oven and bake for about 25 minutes, until golden brown. Tartlets will take 10–15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to slightly cool before popping out of the pan.
If the tarts or tartlets appear to be sticking to the pan, and break when you attempt to pop them out, put the pan back in the oven for a minute. When it warms up, the case should pop out easily.
Arrange the raspberries over the surface of each tart or tartlet. Warm the redcurrant jelly in a small pan until it melts and gently brush over the fruit. Take care that the glaze does not drip onto the case or you run the risk of it losing its nice crispness. Fill a canvas piping bag, fitted with a small star tip, with the whipped cream and pipe around the edge of each tart or tartlet. Garnish with sweet geranium or fresh mint leaves.
Wild Blackberry and Sweet Geranium Sorbet
Wild blackberries are plentiful and free, and in September local children pick vast quantities from the hedges around east Cork. Bucket after bucket of the dark berries arrive at our kitchen door, and for those few weeks, blackberries go into almost everything we make. This recipe produces a richly coloured sorbet, making good use of some of those berries. I like to serve this sorbet with a little softly whipped cream and some Puff Pastry Twists, crisp Langues de Chat or a nutty version of Bittersweet Cocoa Nib Nougatine (all of which are included in the Ballymaloe Desserts cookbook).
10 sweet geranium leaves
220g (8oz) sugar, plus extra to taste
300ml (10fl oz) cold water
450g (1lb) fresh or frozen blackberries
juice of 1⁄2 lemon, plus extra to taste
1 tablespoon kirsch, or to taste (optional)
Put the geranium leaves, sugar and cold water into a heavy pan, place on a medium heat and bring to a boil. Simmer for 2 minutes, remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 10 minutes.
Remove the leaves and add the fruit. Pour the fruit and syrup into a liquidizer and blend to a purée. Pass the mixture through a fine sieve to remove the seeds. Add the lemon juice.
Taste and adjust with a little more lemon or sugar if required. If the blackberry flavour needs a little encouragement, add a splash of kirsch to taste. Pour the mixture into an ice-cream machine and churn according to the manufacturer’s directions. This sorbet is best enjoyed the day it is made. Store in an airtight container in the freezer.