Have you ever wondered why it is that certain foods can elicit such strong emotions in us? I was told once that every experience we have ever had is filed away in our subconscious mind. Even though we may not remember them, they are all there – waiting to be triggered by some seemingly unrelated sight, touch, taste or smell. I have found myself in this situation many times. I’ll be going about my business and then suddenly – POW! A familiar scent wafting out of someone’s window as I walk by, the locking of eyes with a kindly stranger on the street, or even watching a television commercial can send a flood of long-forgotten memories rushing to the surface. The process of making this Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream was one of those times.
As I gathered the fresh mint I needed from my garden, I suddenly saw myself at five, lying in a patch of green. It took a minute or two, but I eventually realized that I was remembering myself as a little girl playing in my grandmother’s garden. She had lush, thick rows of fragrant, fresh spearmint growing up and down the little flagstone path that led from the street up to her front door. I thought it was so exotic! I would lie down in the piles of feathery, textured leaves, drinking in their intoxicating scent, until Grandma would come out of the house and tell me to get up because I was “a crusha da meent”. I can only imagine what the neighbors must have thought seeing this crazy little kid rolling around on the ground!
Now that I can recall the experience again, it is so clear and vivid in my mind. And, I’m very grateful to that mint for bringing such a cherished memory back to me. That must be why I’ve always felt the need to have fresh mint growing somewhere in my yard, even though I don’t normally use it all that much. Somehow, just knowing that it’s there is a comfort.
When I bought some new little mint plants at the farmers market a few months ago, the guy that sold them to me warned me that they would grow like crazy. Boy, was he ever right! I’ve got peppermint, spearmint and applemint growing everywhere – scads of it! Among other things, I’ve been steeping it into tea, chopping it into salads and pureeing it into soups. I love that fresh, clean burst of flavor it brings wherever I add it. The funny thing is that, while I enjoy using mint in all kinds of savory dishes, I really don’t care for it in sweets. I especially don’t like it paired with chocolate, which is why nobody was more surprised than I to find that I absolutely adored this Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream. Yes folks, it’s true. I loved, loved, loved this ice cream! I’m such a dichotomy. Or pain in the butt. You decide.
Why then, you might ask, would I even bother to make an ice cream whose main ingredients are chocolate and mint – a combination I usually dislike? The answer is simple. I’m trying to use up some of that damn mint before it takes over the rest of my garden! I’m sorry, but there’s only so much peppermint tea that one can drink. And frankly, I’m getting a little sick of tabbouleh.
The recipe for this ice cream came (again) from David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop. I know that I use this book a lot, but I just haven’t found another I like better for making frozen desserts. David’s recipes are easy to follow – and they work.
So, let’s make some ice cream!
The first thing you need to do is collect a big pile of fresh mint leaves. I used a combination of peppermint and spearmint, because I had both. The mint is simmered with milk, sugar and cream, and then steeped in them for about an hour. This infuses the mixture with lots of lovely “mintiness”.
Next, it’s time to make the custard. Whisk up some egg yolks and pour a little of the warm, milky mint mixture in. Keep on whisking so that the eggs don’t scramble. Add it back to the pot and cook it slowly until it gets nice and thick. You’ll know it’s ready when you can run your finger down the back of a wooden spoon and leave tracks. After that, you’ll need to strain the custard in case there are any curdled egg bits in there. You definitely don’t want little globs of scrambled egg in your ice cream!
Make sure you chill the custard for a good, long time. Otherwise, your ice cream will not set up properly, and that would be a crying shame. Once it is thoroughly chilled, churn it up in your ice cream maker.
Now, here’s the tricky part. To make your “chips”, melt some bittersweet or semisweet chocolate. I just do this in the microwave. When the ice cream is about two to three minutes away from being done, drizzle the melted chocolate right into it in a thin stream. When the warm chocolate makes contact with the cold ice cream it will break up into small, very thin and shatteringly crispy flakes. Forget chocolate chips. This is way, way better!
When your ice cream has finished churning, scoop it into a freezer container and freeze it for as long as you can wait before diving into it. And I warn you, this might not be very long at all.
You’ve probably noticed that while this ice cream has a pale, greenish tinge, it isn’t really green. That’s how it’s supposed to look. If you need to see a more “in your face” green, you can add a few drops of green food coloring. I think it looks pretty and much more palatable the way it is, but to each his own. Whatever you do though, please, please, please don’t add any of that fake, mediciney tasting mint extract! It doesn’t need it. And if you do, please don’t tell me about it, because I might just cry.
Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz
1 cup (250 ml) whole milk
3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
2 cups (500 ml) heavy cream
Pinch of salt
2 cups packed (80 gr) fresh mint leaves
5 large egg yolks
6 ounces (140 gr) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, melted
Combine the milk, sugar, 1 cup heavy cream, salt, and mint together in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, and bring to a slow simmer. Once simmering, remove from heat, cover, and let stand for an hour to infuse.
Remove the mint with a strainer and press it down with a spatula extract as much of the mint flavor and color as possible. Discard the mint.
Pour the remaining heavy cream into a large bowl and set the strainer over the top. Rewarm the infused milk just to steaming.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour about a cup of the warm minty milk mixture into the yolks, whisking constantly. Scrape the warmed yolks back into the saucepan, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a wooden spoon or spatula.
Strain the hot mixture into the cool cream and stir until cooled. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, preferably overnight.
Freeze ice cream base in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
While the mixture is freezing, melt the chocolate in a small bowl over a pot of simmering water, or in the microwave oven. Stir until smooth.
When the ice cream in the machine is almost finished churning, drizzle the chocolate into the bowl in a thin stream. The chocolate will break into fine, thin flakes.
When the ice cream is finished churning, scoop into a airtight freezer container. Freeze to desired firmness.
Makes 1 quart