Yesterday (Sunday), I made fresh mint ice cream with pieces of an extra-dark Scharffen Berger chocolate bar mixed in. It was a total success.
I have temporary access to a rather dazzling cookbook library, and from that library I borrowed the Chez Panisse Desserts cookbook because I love the ice cream recipes in there. The basic ice cream recipe is nearly flawless (ok, I think actually flawless, but I'd like to leave a little aspirational room, since I also borrowed a few other ice cream cookbooks and need the motivation to try recipes from elsewhere) and the ice cream flavors range from classic to unusual and even dabble in exotic and/or bizarre. I'm talking angelica, black currant tea, bourbon, elderberry, and late-harvest Riesling.
The one requirement in the ice cream recipes I'm trying is that it must have eggs in it (I still have two dozen eggs to use before they expire), and there are a surprising number of ice cream recipes that don't have eggs in them.
But not fresh mint ice cream. For it, I used the Chez Panisse vanilla ice cream recipe (on page 6 of the cookbook, total basic repertoire territory), omitted the vanilla bean, and then after I strained it (to catch any not-smooth eggy bits), I added a handful of crushed (Bruised? Hand-muddled? Or as Minty Marchmont of Posh Nosh would say, "lightly aggravated" or maybe "punished blithely") fresh mint leaves to steep.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. My natural tendency with breads and custards is to undermix. I'm not sure why, maybe it's to make up for my other natural tendency, which is to overcook meat. In both these cases, I'm trying to shake the bonds of habit or instinct or whatever it is that is standing between me and the best possible food.
So, the recipe says to "cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the custard coats the spoon (when you draw a finger across the custard coating the back of the spoon, your finger should leave a clear trail)." This instruction is deceptive. It seems really specific, right? That is, until you start the process and realize that dairy coats everything, even when it's not thickened. Especially when said dairy is heavy cream and half-and-half.
But I resisted the temptation to take it off of heat too soon, and after a few minutes witnessed an incredible thickening that made it a true custard. If only patience were always rewarded so lavishly.
Now for the only problem with steeping fresh mint leaves in a thick custard. When it came time to make the ice cream, I was supposed to turn the machine on and then pour the custard into the gap in the maker, I think it's called the ingredient hole or something silly like that. But I couldn't pour it directly in because I needed to get the mint out first. So I took a strainer, put it over the (ingredient) hole, and started scooping the custard towards the spinning bowl. But the mint kept deflecting the custard, channeling it to the side of the ice cream maker cover where it wouldn't reach the bowl, and thus wouldn't fulfill its destiny as that thing that I savor.
This wouldn't do.
So I turned off the ice cream maker, took off the plastic guard, and placed the strainer directly over the bowl. This way, I was able to get maximum custard into the bowl, and squeeze all the extra goodness (I was a little worried about pressing down on the leaves because I wasn't sure if fresh mint, like tea leaves, impart a bitterness if you squeeze them after they've steeped. But it wasn't a problem) from between the mint leaves.
I did all of this because I was too lazy to take the extra step of using a separate bowl in which to strain the custard before adding it to the machine. Even though it worked out, in the future I won't skip this step because I learned that the reason the ice cream maker directions tell you to turn on the ice cream maker before you put the cream-to-be-iced in the machine is because it freezes to the bottom if you scoop it in when it's not moving. And even though it worked itself out after a bit, during the first few minutes it sounded like the churning handle was driving over a bumpy road as it tried to navigate the cream that was frozen to the bottom.
O learning the hard way.
But it was not really so hard, because it came out perfectly (in part two of exercising patience, I did not decide the ice cream was done when it reached the consistency of soft-serve, but waited a few more minutes for it to turn into real ice cream) and we ate it sitting in the backyard under the umbrella after enjoying grilled chicken tacos with Kathryn and Nathan, who stopped by on their way to go camping.
Next up: More ice cream. Maybe salted caramel, maybe something from one of the new borrowed cookbooks.