I'm one of those people who loves the feeling of minty freshness. I love minty chewing gums, mojitos, candies, and I even brush my teeth a few extra times a day just to get a minty fresh feeling at a moment's notice. My minty obsession is a little strange though, because it's very situational. I love mint when it's adding a little brightness to a dish or drink, and I love it when it makes me feel fresh and bright, but when it's paired with chocolate in the form of Andes chocolate bar, I get a little hesitant. It doesn't make very much sense, because I love just about anything paired with chocolate, but for some reason, the mint-chocolate combination has never been a favorite of mine. I'll eat it, but it just doesn't do very much for me. This includes classic mint-chocolate chip ice cream, which is also strange, because I love just about everything about ice cream in general.
I think my main problem with mint-flavored treats is that they come off as artificial, and you can really taste the difference. The fact that most minty treats come in bright shades of green also bothers me, because that's just not a natural color by any means. I have issues with eating foods that have been dyed in really bright, outlandish colors that aren't natural (I'll make exceptions for some frostings and red velvet cake), and I really prefer when foods are the colors that reflect the ingredients that make them up. I'm going to blame the bright green color and really artificial taste for my dislike of most mint treats. Regardless, I was willing to give mint ice cream one more shot.
I turned to Jeni once again to see if her version of a minty ice cream could convince me that mint is a flavor I should love in ice cream. I wasn't surprised at all when I ended up loving her recipe for what she calls, "Backyard Mint Ice Cream." This ice cream also uses her slightly unusual cream cheese/cornstarch/corn syrup ice cream base (although with ice cream this creamy and magnificent, I can see this method becoming the standard in my kitchen). Once the base is prepared, a large handful of freshly torn mint leaves is added and allowed to steep in the creamy ice cream base for several hours. Once the mint flavor has infused into the ice cream base, it is discarded, and the white (not green!) ice cream is ready for churning and freezing. What happens next is pure ice cream bliss!
When I set out to make this ice cream, I really wanted to add a little bit of chocolate as the ice cream was churning to make "chocolate freckles," as Jeni calls them. The freckles are very simple to make; all you have to do is slowly drizzle melted chocolate into the ice cream maker during the last two minutes of churning. The chocolate freezes on impact and is broken up and distributed as the ice cream spins in the machine. Super simple, right? You'll notice, however, that my Backyard Mint Ice Cream is lacking any sort of chocolate freckle action, and that's completely my own fault. I was all ready to make the chocolate freckles; I had a bowl of melted chocolate cooling next to my ice cream maker, ready to be drizzled in at the correct moment. Unfortunately, I got distracted by something (I don't even remember what it was), and by the time I remembered that I still needed to drizzle in the chocolate, my ice cream had finished churning, and was no longer spinning in the machine. I'd have to save those freckles for another time! While I was a little annoyed at myself for being careless and not paying attention (I really wanted those chocolate freckles!), upon tasting the ice cream, I realized that those freckles weren't really all that necessary. This mint ice cream on its own was really, really good.
When I was making this ice cream, I was expecting to be left with an ice cream that was overwhelmingly minty. I felt that I was using a lot of mint, and I was actually a little nervous that I was letting the mint steep in the ice cream base for 12 hours. I was convinced that the ice cream would be a little intense, but I was pleasantly surprised when I realized how wrong I was. This ice cream is anything but overwhelming, and is rather completely refreshing. The mint flavor comes through, but it's subtle. It has a very "fresh" taste, if that makes sense, and the taste reminds me of the experience of smelling fresh mint. I don't know if that makes very much sense, but that's how I can describe this ice cream best. It's perfect on its own; it's bright, simple, and refreshing. I also think the ice cream works fantastically with a thick drizzle of hot fudge, which is how I chose to first enjoy it (I had to try out the chocolate-mint combo!). This minty ice cream has completely changed my perspective on mint. As long as the mint flavor tastes fresh and real, it's a winner in my book. Enjoy this ice cream on its own on a hot summer day, or top off a rich chocolate brownie for a perfectly balanced indulgence. Enjoy!
Backyard Mint Ice Cream
recipe from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home
2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 1/2 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
large handful of fresh mint, washed
4 ounces chocolate, coarsely chopped (optional)
In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons of the milk with the cornstarch. Whisk together to make a smooth slurry, and set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together the cream cheese and salt until smooth.
In a large saucepan set over medium-high heat, combine the remaining milk, heavy cream, sugar, and corn syrup, and bring to a rolling boil. Boil for 4 minutes, then take the mixture off the heat. Slowly whisk in the cornstarch slurry. Bring the mixture back to a boil, and cook, stirring with a rubber spatula, until the mixture has thickened, about 1 minute.
Slowly whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese, whisking until smooth. Add in the mint. Pour the mixture into a 1-gallon Ziploc bag and submerge the bag in an ice bath. Let the mixture stand in the ice bath until very cold, about 30 minutes. Refrigerate the mixture for 4-12 hours, to allow the mint to steep into the cream.
After steeping, strain out the mint. Pour the ice cream base into your ice cream maker, and begin to freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions. If making the chocolate freckles, melt the chocolate in a double boiler or a microwave while the ice cream is churning. Let the chocolate cool until it's just tepid, but still fluid. When the ice cream is thick and creamy and just about finished churning, drizzle the melted chocolate slowly through the opening of the ice cream maker. Allow the chocolate to solidify and break up in the ice cream for about 2 minutes.
Pack the ice cream into a freezer-safe storage container, and press a sheet of parchment paper directly against the surface, sealing with an airtight lid. Freeze the ice cream until solid, about 4 hours. Enjoy!
Makes about 1 quart