Tuesday, December 23, 2008

'Tis the season...of peppermint!

I love making candy. To me, it's part of the holiday season! Another part is peppermint. Candy canes, peppermint bark, and, my favorite, mint chocolate chip ice cream...I'll expound on the latter today. My parents, for a variety of complicated reasons, had two ice cream machines and gave one to me and my husband several years ago. We are therefore lucky enough to have a stand-alone machine with built-in refrigeration and a wonderful Italian name (the Il Gelataio Magnum, sadly not imported into the US anymore), though every ice cream recipe can be made with the standard chill-in-the-freezer-for-eight-hours units.

What did the advent of the ice cream machine into our lives mean to me? Delicious would be one way to describe my feelings. Time-consuming would be another (only in that I have made ever so many batches over the years). Life-altering would be yet another.

Pretty much the only thing I can ever think of making for dessert when we have people over for dinner is ice cream. Occasionally I make a new recipe for tart or cake that I'm curious about, or whip out an old faithful, but more often I think of the kind of ice cream that I want to make and then try to match dessert to that! The only store-bought ice cream that I think matches my home-made variety is from Bi-rite Creamery in the Mission district of San Francisco (think salted caramel or honey lavender).

Because of my addiction to ice cream, we often have several different kinds in the freezer at once (sadly, missteps like avocado last longer than cinnamon or chocolate or mint chocolate chip). I have tried a number of recipes for mint chocolate chip over the years, and the one I've settled on below is easy-peasy and perfect for the holidays (though, really, very refreshing in July as well). In the past, I've tried all manner of iterations: the boiling of fresh spearmint in the milk/cream mixture (grassy and pea-soup-green), the increasing of the proportion of peppermint extract (breath-of-icy-New-England-air), among others, and the tried-and-true recipe follows. It's creamy, white, chocolate-and-peppermint-flecked, and difficult to limit to just one scoop!

A not-so-quick word about ice cream custard: I have come across some lovely recipes for frozen yogurt, and I do love granita, but to make a truly deliciously smooth ice cream or gelato, you really need to make custard. The recipe below is pretty standard, but this variation originates with my father, who found the recipe at the Palo Alto Public Library in the late 60s while making ice cream with a girlfriend who (horrors!) is not now my mother. For detailed instructions, David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop has, in addition to many delicious recipes, an excellent introduction to the process. Heating the egg mixture to 170 is crucial to allow the custard to set slightly, and to avoid that pesky problem of Salmonella, but heating it higher than that will cause the eggs to scramble. By-the-bye, I have found no way to use up all the egg whites generated during the process. I just don't like angel food cake as much as ice cream, but egg whites will keep in a sealed jar in the fridge for a week or two.

Basic Vanilla Ice Cream Custard
Makes 1 quart
Time: 30 minutes active, 3 hours total

1 1/2 c. heavy cream
1/2 c. milk
2/3 c. sugar
1/2 t. salt
4 egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla extract or 1 vanilla bean

In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over moderate heat, mix together the cream, milk, sugar, salt, and, if using, vanilla bean seeds and vanilla bean pod until scalded (cream mixture will boil up vigorously). While the mixture is heating, place the egg yolks in a heatproof bowl. Pour into the bowl with the egg yolks, whisking constantly so that the yolks don't scramble. Pour entire mixture back into the original saucepan. Stirring constantly, heat cream-yolk mixture to 170 degrees on a candy thermometer. Press mixture through strainer into medium-sized bowl. If not using vanilla bean, add vanilla extract at this point. Cover and place in refrigerator for at least 1 hour and up to 48 hours.

Freeze in ice cream machine according to manufacturer's instructions. Ice cream consistency generally improves with additional freezing for several hours.

Peppermint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Variation: Follow the recipe above exactly. When adding vanilla extract, also add 3/4 tsp. peppermint extract. Then, when ice cream machine is almost done churning, sprinkle 3 oz. finely chopped semi-sweet chocolate along with 6 crushed peppermint candies. Enjoy!

1 comment:

  1. Who says you have to use the egg whites for something sweet? Why not counteract the heaviness of the custard by making a savory egg-white omelette with fresh vegetables and herbs?

    By the way, I also heart peppermint anything, and loved your peppermint chocolate chip ice cream recipe.