When the twenty-three-year-old Neapolitan ice-cream maker, Giuseppe Tortoni, came to Paris in 1798, he brought with him "an ancient and ailing mother, an ugly and bothersome wife, three ill-mannered children and a swaybacked horse who was the only member of my family who has any sympathies for my ambitions."
The first thing Tortoni did was to buy the nearly bankrupt Velloni's ice cream shop on rue de Rivoli. Soon the renamed Café Tortoni became one of Paris' most fashionable rendezvous. American au-thor Washington Irving wrote that "never, in any single place, have I seen so many famous people simultaneously gathered for the pur-pose of satisfying their pleasures." It is no wonder that Irving was so impressed, for Tortoni's regular clients included diplomats Talleyrand and Metternich, Russian born banker Sir Basil Zaharoff, author Francois August Chateaubriand, the Duke of Mornay, the Baron de Rothschild, and Charles XIV, king of Sweden and Nor-way. So popular did the café become that when King Louis XVIII wanted to reward a friend for his services, he tried to buy the café for him. Tortoni, wishing neither to sell nor to offend the king, set a price so outrageously high that even the king had to refuse the offer.
Tortoni, a superb inventor of ice cream dishes, was also a talented restaurateur and a shrewd psychologist. He supplied his male guests with lorgnettes, thus allowing them to appraise and com-ment on the attributes of the women walking by the café. Tortoni outlived his mother, his wife and his horse, and when he was eighty-nine years old wrote that "my children, although now adults, remain ill-mannered, and I fear for the fate of my little establish-ment once I am gone and it falls into their hands."
His fears proved groundless; his daughters, and later their children, maintained the ice cream parlor until 1900, when, during a particu-larly bad lightning storm, the building caught fire and burned to the ground. The popular meeting place never reopened, but several of Tortoni's inventions have lived on, and the two that follow are world famous. Biscuit Tortoni
1/2 cup milk
2 cups sweet cream
1 cup macaroon cookies, crushed
5 Tbsp confectioners' sugar, sifted
small pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
Maraschino cherries for garnish
crushed toasted almonds (unsalted), for garnish
In a mixing bowl combine the milk and 1/2 cup of the sweet cream. Add the macaroons, sugar and salt and let stand, covered, for 1-2 hours.
Whip the remaining sweet cream until it is just stiff, taking care not to over-beat. Into this fold the macaroon mixture and the vanilla extract and then pour the mixture into 8 individual dessert glasses. Sprinkle each portion lightly with crushed nuts and on each place a maraschino cherry. Cover the glasses with plastic wrap and place in the freezer until frozen through. Transfer to the regular refrig-eration compartment and discard the plastic wrap about 5 minutes prior to serving. (Serves Glacé aux pêches Tortoni
Peach Ice Cream Tortoni
1 cup milk
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 vanilla bean about 2 1/2" (5 cm) long
8 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp almond extract
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups peaches, peeled, stoned and crushed
In a saucepan combine the cream, milk, and vanilla bean. Bring just to the point of boiling, immediately lower the flame and, stir-ring constantly, let simmer for 2-3 minutes. Remove the bean and reserve.
In a mixing bowl beat together the egg yolks and sugar until light. Gradually strain the hot cream and milk into the egg yolks, stirring briskly and then, into this mixture squeeze the seeds of the re-served vanilla bean. Transfer the mixture to the top of a double boiler and cook over but not in about 1" (2 1/2 cm) of simmering water until the mixture has the consistency of thick syrup. Remove from the heat, add the almond extract and then let cool, stirring occasionally.
Pour the mixture into chilled 2" (5 cm) deep containers and cover with aluminum foil. Place in the freezer for 1 hour and then stir thoroughly. Return to the freezer for 1/2 hour more and then stir again. Pour the mixture into a large ring mold or bowl and mix in the crushed peaches. Return to the freezer, stir again after 30 more minutes and then let freeze solid. (Yields about 2 quarts (2 liters)