I was the lucky recipient of an ice cream maker attachment for my KitchenAid stand mixer in summer 2008, and yet said attachment sat in the unopened box until just a few months ago. Unlike 98% percent of humans, I did not come with the ice-cream-loving chip preinstalled, and left a fine dessert-making machine in a box all that time. I only really want frozen desserts when it's hot outside, and given that I live somewhere that tops out at an infuriating 61 degrees in AUGUST, that's not often. Even growing up in Los Angeles, where the summer weather stretches wide over the calendar, I remember picking the rainbow sherbet just so I could furiously stir it into a gray puddle. But my husband had wanted homemade ice cream, so for his birthday party I decided to do an ice cream sundae bar with homemade ice cream and toppings. Great idea, right?
Let's just say that nowhere did I read the most important tip of all for the overly ambitious ice cream virgin: You cannot freeze/churn back-to-back batches of ice cream in most home ice cream makers. (For those of you familiar with physics, or common sense, which apparently I am not, this should be met with a resounding "DUH.") The freezer bowl can be used for one batch, then needs to come to room temperature to be cleaned, and then goes back into the freezer for 15 hours before it can freeze another batch. I didn't do the math on this, and ended up having needing extra store-bought ice cream, as well as having extra batches leftover to freeze long after the guests were gone.
Making ice cream is very easy, and homemade ice cream has such pure flavor and soft, pillowy texture, especially when freshly made, that everyone should try it at least once. It's dead easy and perfect for dinner parties. It is not worth it for a big party, especially when it's hot, unless you have a self-freezing machine. Ice cream sundae bars are still a great idea for a party - just don't be a hero. Buy good ice cream at the store, and dress it up with homemade toppings like chocolate sauce, caramelized almonds, buttered pecans, or even candied peanuts. These toppings are so easy to make in advance and store in jars until the party, that the bang you get for your effort is huge.
For my first ice cream jaunt, I read The Perfect Scoop, David Lebovitz' highly digestible book on all things ice cream, from cover to cover and decided to make vanilla (both custard-style and Philadelphia-style), chocolate, and chocolate peanut butter ice creams, vanilla frozen yogurt and nectarine apricot sorbet. Making so many batches, I discovered how quickly the custard-based ice creams would go from underdone to overdone, so it's best to have everything laid out before you start, like this:
The smoothest, richest ice creams begin with a custard, usually milk and cream are heated with egg yolks until thickened, then combined with more cream and chilled. David likes to infuse the milk mixture with flavor at the beginning, letting warm milk and cream steep with a fresh vanilla bean to infuse the finished vanilla ice cream with flavor that commands your attention. Yet it was the use of the same technique in his recipe for Fresh Mint Ice Cream that most intrigued me, especially as I have a rampant spearmint patch outside my back door.
This is miles away from mint extract, my friends. Head, shoulders, knees and toes better than store-bought mint ice cream.
Now that you have your flavor base, onto the custard. Most of the time, if people have problems with custards (be it for lemon curd, pudding, or ice cream), they are using too much heat too quickly, and overcooking it. You do not want the custard to boil, but you may see a few bubbles. You are looking for the mixture to coat the back of the spoon (shown).
Elise has an excellent series of step-by step photos of this process over at Simply Recipes (Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream), but the custard is done when you can run a finger through what's coating the back of the spoon, leaving a distinct trail. But don't be too concerned about overcooking it. I have had slightly overcooked custard bases turn into delicious ice cream. Just get it off the heat immediately when it coats the spoon, and over the strainer into your prepared bowl with cream (which should be nestled into a larger bowl with an ice bath).
The strainer will catch any overcooked bits, or chalazae that might have come along with the yolks. The batch above was vanilla, and the strainer has also caught bits of the vanilla bean pod that had broken off. Stir the ice cream base over the ice bath until cool and then pour into a container to chill.
The mixture goes into the fridge for a thorough chill (preferably overnight). If you plan to make the ice cream the next day, I recommend turning your freezer to the coldest setting so that the freezer bowl is as cold as possible, especially in hot weather. Once you have a cold freezer bowl, you are home free.
Back to this mint chip ice cream. My adjective maker is on the fritz, so I hope the point will come across when I quote David Lebovitz, who came up with this recipe: "I could barely stop myself from taking copious samples as I was folding in the melted chocolate to make the crunchy little chocolate chips." The fresh mint is mellow, soft and round in all that emulsified cream, and the contrast between its creamy cool and the crunchy toasty of the bittersweet chocolate (a la Stracciatella gelato) is nothing short of addictive. I forced myself to finish layering the melted chocolate drizzles and mint ice cream and get the container in the freezer ASAP so I could share.
The recipe for Mint Chip Ice Cream appears below, but if you are interested in making ice cream, I highly recommend you get your hands on a copy of David Lebovitz' The Perfect Scoop. Clearly, I used his book as a bible. You will find all the recipes I used for my sundae bar, and many more besides, including recipes for homemade cones, which I am dying to make. Does anyone else out there have favorite recipes from A Perfect Scoop or elsewehere?
David also has generously made a lot of ice cream recipes and advice available online:
No ice cream maker? Read this --> How to Make Ice Cream Without a Machine
Other Ice Cream Links:
Mint Chip Ice Cream
Makes just over 1 quart (1l)
Bittersweet chocolate works well here against the grassy clean flavor of mint. David advises to weigh the mint leaves, which I did, and found well over 3 cups of leaves made 80 grams. I happen to have an uncontrolled section of mint in my backyard (a softly flavored spearmint variety). If you need to buy yours, I recommend you buy your mint at a farmers' market where you will be able to get a large enough bunch to flavor your batch of ice cream, rather than having to purchase 2-3 of the pricey plastic packages sold in the fresh herb section of the supermarket. I think spearmint has a softer, less medicinal flavor than peppermint, and is the perfect counterpoint to the bittersweet chocolate bits.
For the mint ice cream:
- 1 cup (250 ml) whole milk
- 3/4 cup (150 g) granulated sugar
- 1 pint (16oz/500 ml) heavy whipping cream
- 1/4 tsp. salt (I use fine sea salt)
- 3 cups packed (~80 gr) fresh mint leaves
- 5 large egg yolks
For the chocolate chips:
- 5 ounces (140 gr) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (I recommend 70-72% cacao)
1. Have an ice bath ready, as well as two bowls and a fine-mesh strainer. Once the custard base is finished cooking, you want to be able to strain it and cool it down (to stop the cooking) in an ice bath immediately.
2. In a medium saucepan on low to medium heat, warm the milk, sugar, 1 cup (250 ml) of the cream, salt, and mint leaves.
3. Once the mixture is hot and steaming (you may see some very small bubbles around the edge of the pan), immediately remove from heat, cover, and let stand for an hour to steep the mixture in mint flavor.
4. Set a fine-mesh sieve (or colander) over a large bowl, and strain the warm mixture and leaves into the bowl, pressing the mint leaves to extract as much mint flavor and color as possible (you may only get a very faint yellow-green; this is fine). Discard the mint, and pour the infused milk back into the saucepan.
5. Pour the remaining 1 cup (250 ml) heavy cream into the same large bowl (from Step #4) and set the strainer over the top.
6. Rewarm the infused milk on low to medium heat. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, then very slowly pour some of the infused milk mixture into the yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed yolks into the saucepan.
7. Cook the custard over medium heat, stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula (or wooden spoon), until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. If using an instant read thermometer, it should read around 170ºF (77ºC). If you don't have a thermometer, the custard is done when you can run your finger across the custard coating the spatula, and your finger leaves a distinct trail. This process takes only a few minutes, so pay close attention.
8. Immediately strain the warm mixture into the cream, then set the mixture over an ice bath, stirring occassionally until cool.
9. Chill the mixture thoroughly, at least 6 hours but preferably overnight, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.
10. While the ice cream is churning, melt the chopped chocolate in a small bowl over a pot of barely simmering water, or in a microwave (in 15-second bursts), stirring until smooth and glossy. Place your ice cream container in the freezer.
9. When the ice cream in the machine is ready (time varies by machine and room temperature), scribble some of the melted chocolate into the container in a very thin stream, then add a layer of the just-churned ice cream to the container. Scribble more chocolate over the top of the ice cream, then quickly stir it in to break up the pieces of chocolate into uneven "chips". Continue layering the ice cream and melted chocolate, stirring as you go to break up the shards of chocolate.
When finished, cover and freeze until firm. The ice cream will be soft on the day it's made, but after that, you should set it on the kitchen counter for 30 minutes to soften. If for some reason this ice cream doesn't dissapear within a few days, you may want to press plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the ice cream to prevent freezer burn.