Our evenings settle into a routine: I drive The Child home from school, and we review her assignments together. She settles in to work on the sofa, where she cannot start goofing off under my watchful eye. She discovers that lists are helpful, crossing things off is satisfying, and that being organized can be glamorous when you do it in an elegant Kate Spade organizer.
I offer her leftovers and encouragement, and when it isn’t raining too hard, walk either the Red Dog or the Foster Dog, who has been with us far too long. He spends his nights on her bed, quietly looking out her window and smelling the night air through the screen, and she is quieter too, and seems more rested in the mornings, when we start the routine all over again.
Every few days, I make a treat: Blondies to snack on, or a simple cake, and when I am feeling especially inspired, some ice cream.
I found this simple recipe in a review copy I received of Yossy Arrefi’s cookbook Sweeter off the Vine, a pretty book dedicated to using seasonal fruit and herbs to best advantage. I’d planned to try out his recipe for Spiced Rhubarb Compote, but my rhubarb doesn’t seem inclined to offer me any usable quantities yet.
I don’t have any herbs in my garden yet, either, but the idea of mint ice cream with chocolate chips was enticing, comforting. Some of my early memories of my grandfather involve family trips to the Baskin-Robbins store in our little Wisconsin downtown, then walking home with him and a bright green scoop atop a cone. I don’t recall when those visits stopped, or know quite the moment when we stopped walking downtown, but ever since then, a trip to Baskin-Robbins is a trip down memory lane, paved in bright green bricks.
This ice cream isn’t bright green, though even Arrefi concedes that it’s okay if you put a little green food coloring in, if it makes you happy. I was happy enough to leave it out.
My past efforts with mint have been somewhat disastrous; probably my most memorable failure – memorable in the sense that twenty years after the attempt, I still shudder at the taste – were some homemade oreos with mint filling. They were, in a word, revolting, with so much mint that they upset my stomach for days. I probably did something wrong, but it doesn’t matter – I’ve had an aversion to mint extract ever since.
But mint leaves are another matter, just simple leaves with a pleasing, not overbearing scent. The ice cream uses quite a lot of them – a full cup – but the proportions are perfect when the leaves are steeped a few hours in the cooling custard. The resulting mint taste is light and fresh, with a surprising grassiness that takes a moment to get used to, but then becomes a welcome addition to the fresh, creamy taste.
Arrefi adds creme fraiche to his recipe, but I didn’t have any, so I skipped it, and though I could see it adding a nice tang and a bit more complexity, sometimes simple is nice too (especially where childhood memories are concerned). He also uses cacao nibs, but since I had a giant bar of chocolate from Trader Joe’s, I chopped up a chunk of it instead. I doubled the amount of chocolate from the original recipe, mostly because I chopped up too much chocolate, but it felt like the exact right amount so I wouldn’t change it. Finally, Arrefi’s recipe said to add salt, but didn’t specify a quantity, so I added a half teaspoon and it felt about right.
The Child loved this, and suggested that although I fancy myself a good jam-maker, I should probably consider going into the ice cream business. It’s because she liked it so much that my photo is so lousy: I had to stop her from eating the last bit in the freezer so that I could get any picture at all.
- 1 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves, coarsely chopped
- 4 egg yolks
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 cup whole milk
- ⅔ cup sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ cup finely chopped dark chocolate, or mini chocolate chips, as you prefer
- Whisk together the egg yolks in a small bowl, and set aside.
- Combine the cream, milk, sugar, and salt, in a medium saucepan. Heat over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until the liquid is hot and small bubbles appear on the edges. Pour about a cup of the hot milk into the egg yolks in a thin stream, whisking constantly, Pour the hot egg yolk mixture back into the cream in the pan, again, whisking constantly.
- Cook the mixture over medium heat, whisking and being careful not to let it boil, until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and stir in the mint leaves, then let the leaves steep in the mixture as it comes to room temperature. Cover the pan and place the cooled mixture in the refrigerator to chill, for at least four hours.
- When you are ready to churn the ice cream, pour the custard through a sieve or strainer to remove the mint leaves, pressing on them to extract all the liquid. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's directions, adding the finely chopped chocolate in the last few minutes of churning.