Harvest Time Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

October 02, 2017
By Holly Jennings

 

Compare and despair. That is what my friend John Camilleri said to me after I sized myself up this way: So and so is more successful than me, more confident than me, more charming, more fashionable. That exchange was had years ago, on a subway platform in New York, where we both lived at the time. Those three magic words still resonate.

 

In cooking, however, most everything that’s learn-able—techniques, flavor pairings—is done by direct comparison. In the kitchen, comparing isn’t despairing, it’s illuminating. Take mint and dark chocolate. When do you ever get a chance to fully appreciate why those two ingredients are a classic pairing? When you buy a peppermint patty, thin mints, or mint chocolate chip ice cream, the flavor components are already combined and inextricable. Besides, the hard, waxy chocolate chips found in most store-bought versions of mint chocolate ice cream barely taste of chocolate at all. (As a chocolate love, I say “Why bother?”)

 

Kentucky Colonel Mint

Last week, to beat the first hard frost of fall, I set out to make mint chocolate chip ice cream as a means of using up two large pots of Kentucky Colonel, an heirloom variety of mint. I was determined to see if I couldn’t improve on the drab chocolate chips of store-bought ice cream, to give my mint a worthy partner. The result was far better than I could have imagined: My homemade version has a pale green color and fresh minty flavor that is subtle and lingering yet powerful enough to hold up to the assertive notes of dark chocolate. Best of all, the chocolate tastes like chocolate, like very good dark chocolate.

 

But what I loved as much ending up with a very good bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream to enjoy was discovering, first-hand, what dark chocolate does for mint. You can do the same: After completing the recipe below, you will have some ice cream clinging to your ice cream maker (the bowl or the other parts of the machine or both) and you will have some chocolate clinging to the inside of the bowl that you melted it in. First, eat a spoonful of the remaining plain mint ice cream, then take another spoonful of the ice cream and anoint it in the bowl with the residue of melted chocolate, and then eat that up. You will immediately see what dark chocolate does for mint: It brings it to life and even make it more minty. I think Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream should be renamed Dark Chocolate in the Service of Mint ice cream.

 

The other thing I loved about this whole grand experiment is that it reminded me how worthwhile it is to make homemade versions of old-fashioned favorites at home. When food companies, especially big corporate ones, get a hold of a classic food, over time, it becomes a pale imitation of its former self, leaving anyone with good taste to wonder why it was so popular in the first place.

 

If you have a lot of mint that you need to harvest and are looking for something to do with it, please try my recipe. And please especially try it if you think of mint chocolate chip as an artificial-tasting, chocolate-lite flavor more suited to children than adults, and definitely not worth your time. Because that is exactly what I used to think, too.

 

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P.S. My goal was to post this story yesterday, by October 1. But I’m glad that I missed my own deadline because last evening and this morning I saw and heard two things that make writing about mint chocolate ice cream seem very frivolous. The first was a documentary film about the American writer James Baldwin, called I Am Not Your Negro, that tells the story of his significant and lifelong effort, through writing and activism, to counter racism in America; the second was the news that a “lone wolf,” from his hotel room perch, had, as of last count, slaughtered nearly sixty people, and wounded at least 500 more, at a country music concert in Las Vegas. In the face of all of the emptiness and meaninglessness of so many acts of hatred and violence, my search for a genuine mint chocolate chip ice cream is my counter act. I’m not talking about eating out of the angst caused by emptiness and meaninglessness—like the so-called “sheet-caking movement”—but making meaningful food that is connected to a meaningful way of life, and to life as a whole.

 

The daily act of seeking genuine flavor in food might seem benign, at worst, self-serving. In fact, it is an act of subversion: it is anti-corporation and anti-agribusiness and pro–small family farm, pro–animal rights, and pro-environment. All, or nearly all, of the ingredients I used to create my batch of mint chocolate chip ice cream were produced outside the “system” and procured either directly from the producer or, because I believe in something called Main Street, at small locally owned shops and markets. I try to buy from the “ground” up, buying heirloom varieties and heritage breeds, not just for best flavor, but also to ensure the diversity and long-term vitality of our food supply, rather than the dividends of a shareholder. I’m not saying making mint chocolate chip ice cream isn’t frivolous, because it is. But it’s what I’ve got. I’ll just have to keep making frivolous things with as much meaning and genuineness as possible.

 

Harvest Time Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

To develop this recipe, I referenced a number of sites online to get an idea of how much mint and how much chocolate to use relative to my now perfected ice cream base. It was from David Leibowitz’s site that I got the idea of melting the chocolate and adding it to churned ice cream as the best way to add the “chip” component. And from the writers at food52.com, I learned why melting chocolate first, rather than simply adding chips or chopped pieces of even the best quality chocolate bar to ice cream, is worth doing:

Melting the chocolate destroys the chocolate’s temper, lowering its melting point and diminishing its ability to harden except when chilled. This just means that the chocolate will be brittle and crunchy in cold ice cream, but will soften in the warmth of your mouth, releasing its flavor more quickly than do frozen bits of a chocolate bar.

Ah hah.

 

60 grams fresh mint leaves (about 2⅔ packed cups) (see Note)

2 cups whole milk

2 cups heavy cream

¾ cup (5⅓ ounces/150 grams) plus 2 tablespoons sugar

Healthy pinch of coarse sea salt

6 large egg yolks

 

For the “chips”:

6 ounces dark chocolate (70 to 75% cacao), chopped

 

  1. Put the mint leaves in heavy bottom saucepan along with the milk, cream, 2 tablespoons of the sugar, and salt. Bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat, then remove the pan from the heat, cover, and let infuse for 1 hour.
  2. Pour the steeped milk and cream mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean heavy bottom saucepan. Press against the mint leaves to extract any remaining liquid. Discard the mint leaves.
  3. Return the infused milk and cream mixture to medium heat and heat until steam is rolling off the surface and bubbles are forming around the edge of the pan.
  4. Meanwhile, in a heatproof mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the remaining ¾ cup of sugar until lightened and pale-colored and you reach ribbon stage, 2 to 3 minutes.
  5. Whisking constantly, gradually add, ladleful by ladleful, half of the hot milk-cream mixture into the yolk-sugar mixture to temper the eggs.
  6. Add the tempered yolk-sugar mixture to the saucepan with the remaining milk and cream mixture and whisk to blend.
  7. Return the pan to medium-low heat and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spatula in a figure eight motion, until it reaches 170°F. At this point the cream will coat the back of the spoon and be noticeably thickened. (To sterilize the egg yolk, keep it at 170°F for 1 minute.) When stirring the custard, be sure to get the spoon into the bottom corners of the pan as that is where the egg will coagulate first. Do not let it come to a boil; if the mixture is heated to 180°F it will curdle.
  8. Strain the custard through a fine-mesh strainer and set in a bowl over ice water. Stir until cooled, then refrigerate for at least 8 hours to chill thoroughly.
  9. Process in an ice cream maker, following the manufacturer’s instructions.
  10. While the ice cream is churning, melt the chocolate either in a double boiler or in the microwave (see below).
  11. Once the ice cream is churned, scoop about one-third of it into a freezer-safe container and drizzle about one-third of the melted chocolate on top of the ice cream. Immediately stir in the chocolate, breaking it up into random-sized pieces. Repeat twice more.
  12. Place in the freezer to set up for 4 hours. Allow to soften for 5 or 10 minutes before serving. Makes 1 quart

 

Note: The heirloom mint I used, Kentucky Colonel, has a lovely, potent mint aroma and flavor. If the mint you’re using has a retiring flavor, use an extra 20 to 30 grams of it. To get 60 grams mint leaves you will need about 3½ ounces (100 g) mint sprigs, or two to three bunches mint, depending on their size. Better to have more than not enough; you can always use any extra mint to make a pretty garnish of candied mint leaves for the ice cream (see the photo below). To make candied mint leaves, whisk an egg white until foamy, lightly brush both sides of the mint leaves with the egg white, then sprinkle both sides with sugar. Place the sugar-coated leaves on a parchment paper–lined tray to dry, 3 to 6 hours. Store leftover candied mint in an airtight container, with a paper towel to absorb moisture, on the container for up to 3 days.

 

How to Melt Chocolate Using a Microwave:

Place the chocolate in microwave-safe bowl that ideally does not get hot to the touch. A thick-walled Pyrex bowl or liquid measuring cup is ideal. Heat on low power in 20- to 30-second intervals, stirring gently with a rubber spatula between intervals, for about 2 minutes total (exact time will vary; watch carefully). If your microwave does not have a spinning turntable, turn the bowl manually between heating intervals. Heat until the chocolate is nearly all melted, then remove the bowl and stir continuously until the chocolate is smooth, shiny and completely melted.

 

How to Melt Chocolate Using a Double Boiler (or a heatproof bowl fitted snugly over a saucepan):

Make sure to the bowl of your double boiler fits very snugly on top of the pan holding the water. If any steam escapes around the edges and gets into the chocolate, it will seize up. Make sure the water level is below the bottom of the bowl. Bring the water to a simmer, then put the chocolate in the bowl. Pull the pan off the heat and allow the steam to melt the chocolate. When nearly all the chocolate is melted, remove the bowl from the pan and set it on the counter; stir continuously until the chocolate is smooth, shiny and completely melted.

 


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