It’s the beginning of summer. Things just… change. Pig meets smoke, drinks go taller, fruitier and icier. And new hats seek high ground somewhere between Sunburn and Big Pimpin.
This is my favorite time of year. It always has been. It’s as if a window creaks open, and for that fleeting moment in and around Memorial Day, life is malleable. There is a thick, pent-up energy to daily life, as everyone scrambles to redo their routines and make endless promises before the torpor of July envelops us. We extend invitations, buy extra glasses, make lists. It’s the one time of year where you can see a magazine article about building a hovercraft and literally sprint to the hardware store for a leaf blower. There is almost a dream-like quality to those couple of weeks, where it’s tough to avoid feeling intoxicated by possibility.
This year, I find myself ready.
Most of my tax refund went into my savings. But I splurged. This is the Whynter ICM 15LS , and, so far, it’s met every challenge. While the off-brand ice cream machine I bought in 1999 has served me well these last years, its little motor finally gave out and I had to upgrade. Glad I did. The Whynter has a self-contained freezing unit, a 1.6 quart capacity, top freezing temperature of -31F and it’s smart enough to shut itself off when the target mixture is frozen solid.
And there are a couple of design features I really like. My old machine would sometimes have a layer of chiseled cream against the edge with a floating pool of warmer goo toward the center. This, however, has a taller, rather than wider, freezing chamber, which makes it easier for the mixture to freeze evenly. And the sturdy plastic churning insert does a superb job of actually redirecting the cream.
I’m sure you can imagine how easy it is to improvise. Lemonade becomes sorbetto, or, candidly, a vehicle for worshiping the agave. Leftover coffee? A little sugar and cream… instant frappuccino without the dribbling or the shame. And don’t even get me started on smoothies and rum.
There is, however, a difficult lesson to be learned. While a compressor machine makes it easier to experiment with frozen treats, and VERY easy to prepare larger quantities therof… this will not… NOT improve the quality of your ice cream.
Think of Sun Tzu, and warfare: battles are won before they are fought. Ice cream is made before it is frozen.
I cite the following recipe as evidence.
I’ve posted about ice cream before, and my favorite flavor is still a Vanilla Custard-Base spiked with Grand Marnier. There is something dizzying about that bright, rounded flavor that pairs so well against the faint, floral richness of the vanilla cream. But this mint chocolate chip has become a close second.
The picture below contains NO artificial color. All of that verdant green color is soley the result of steeping the mint leaves in the cream. The longer you steep, the deeper the color, but I’ve found that more than a couple of hours can cause the cream base to take on a woody bitterness.
I’m not sure I have the words here: the mint is… minty. It’s not a cloying, resinous flavor, the kind might expect from an extract. Rather, it’s gently herbal while being totally at home in a sweet dessert. It just tastes like mint.
Otherwise, this is a very straightforward custard-based ice cream. Make sure the mixture is down to about 45 degrees before you subject it to the ministrations of your ice-cream maker.
Note: Use a thermometer. For me.
8 egg yolks
3 Cups Half and Half
1 Cup Heavy Cream
2 t vanilla extract (skippable)
Big Handful fresh Mint Leaves
about 20 Andes Mints, roughly chopped – somewhere between “Lentil” and “Dime”
In a medium saucepan, bring the milk and the cream to 175 degrees, stirring steadily as the temperature rises. Do not allow the mixture to boil.
Remove the pan from the heat, add the mint leaves, stir a few times. Cover the pan, and allow the mixture to steep for 90 minutes. You can go shorter or longer, but, like over-extracted tea, you risk bitterness.
Just before straining the mint out of the dairy, prepare the eggs/sugar: Whisk the yolks thoroughly until they lighten in color. Slowly add the sugar while whisking.
Note: Yes, go slowly. I find that if you whisk the sugar in too quickly, it will not combine well.
Anyway, continue whisking until the mixture until the action of the custard hitting the bowl resembles thin ribbons. You’ll know it when you see it. Just takes a minute or so.
Temper the yolk-sugar mixture by introducing, slooowlly, a bit of the hot dairy. Quarter cup or so at a time, say, until the egg mix is quite warm. Return the egg mixture to the dairy, and slowly heat your custard until it thickens. About 180 degrees or so.
There’s one good cue your mixture is about to thicken: you will notice, as you approach the critical point at which you need to stop cooking, that you will start to feel resistance at the bottom of the pan.
But, as I said, the cream will thicken significantly just before it boils. Remove the pot from the heat.
Do “the spoon test.” – If you dunk a spoon into the mix, and wipe the back of it with your (clean) finger, the custard will stay in place without running.
This is the most important step. Allow the mixture to come to room temperature, and then either refrigerate overnight, or prepare some kind of ice bath. DO NOT. I reapeat… NOT chill the mixture in the ice cream freezer until the cream is at about 45 degrees. DO NOT. It will be “foamy,” rather than “Creamy,” and it’ll have a gritty taste, rather than the smooth richness you need.
Then, of course, ice cream maker. Dump the mint pieces in toward the end. You’ll need to put the ice cream back in the freezer for a few hours (or put it in a cooler with dry ice around it – before you take it to a lovely and debauched cookout…
… one in which fellow food blogging guests join you in celebration of all things piggy and summery.
Two things, in the interest of full disclosure.
1. I think I make pretty damn good ice cream. But I’m sitting here eating just a bit of Dojo Gelato’s Sea-Salt Caramel Gelato, which I picked up this morning at Findlay Market. I will never… EVER make anything this good. And I’m okay with that.
2. Yes, it’s no longer the beginning of summer anymore. Sorry it’s been a while.
Here’s to summer.