Mint chocolate chip ice cream is the feature flavour in week #5 of the Ice Cream of the Week series.
Mint chocolate chip ice cream was my favourite flavour when I was a kid. For me, it kind of ranks up there with mac’n’cheese and grilled cheese sandwiches on the list of comfort foods.
You can’t get too fancy with it. I don’t want lobster and raclette in my macaroni and cheese, and I certainly don’t want gorgonzola in my grilled cheese sammich. Or fancy bread. If there is one place where squeezy white bread and plastic wrapped slices of processed cheese come into their own, it’s in a grilled cheese sandwich. I feel the same way about mint chocolate chip ice cream.
While I’m a big proponent for natural ingredients, this is one place where I prefer bottled extract over the real thing.
I’ve made “proper” recipes for mint chocolate ice cream that involve not just egg yolk french-style custard bases, but also steeping fresh mint in the warm custard, then straining it out. I’ve tried overnight cold immersion methods where you soak the fresh mint leaves in the cream over night. It’s just not the same. The flavour of fresh mint isn’t as intense as bottled extract and real mint doesn’t make the ice cream green.
This ice cream has to be green; the green of McDonald’s Shamrock Shakes and Laura Secord French Mints. (The “may contain peanuts” warning that was brutally slapped on Laura Secord French Mint packages thereby barring me forever was one of the great culinary tragedies of my youth.) A green that looks like it must have been created by crossing Palmolive dishwashing liquid with shaving foam. The kind of green that can only come from a bottle of food colouring. Skip it if you must be pure. It won’t affect the flavour, but it just won’t be the same.
Light Hand with the Mint Extract
Warning – go really easy on the mint extract. This is a recipe that I’ve experimented with a fair bit. A few drops of mint extract brings back the fresh nostalgia of youth and the garden fresh scent of breath mints rattling in a plastic container. Too much mint extract and you have a frozen bowl of medicine. I’ve made this recipe numerous times, reducing the mint extract by 1/4 tsp each time until I found what I believe is the peak of breath mint perfection, which is 1 tsp mint extract to 3 cups of dairy product. My notes tell me that 1 1/2 tsp will still be ok, but by 2 tsp you are in the medicine aisle.
Warning #2 – if you want to experiment with fresh garden mint, and you’re an idiot like me, you may decide to grow the mint to put in the ice cream. I sometimes like to try to grow my meals, although in this case I have concluded that bottled mint extract is superior to the real thing. However, if you are going to go this route, I beg you to plant your mint in a pot and keep the planter far away from your garden. Mint is crazy invasive. It’s like the demon zombies in those Walking Dead graphic novels that my daughter loves. It just won’t stop coming and coming and coming. I had mint in a plastic planter on the stone tiles. The roots were so strong they broke through the plastic, crept under the garden paving stones and got into the garden. It took a couple of years to eradicate the mint zombies from my tomato patch.
Fudgy chocolate chips
Making yummy, fudgy chocolate chips that melted on the tongue was another learning process. I was very disappointed the first few times I made an ice cream recipe that called for chocolate chips. The vast majority of ice cream recipes just ask you to toss in some chocolate chips in the last few minutes of churning. Some suggest you chunk up a high quality chocolate bar for bigger chunks. Neither satisfied me. The chocolate chips were hard, waxy and tasteless. I tried different brands. I switched to mini chips. Nothing helped.
Then I started to read about tempering chocolate.
Tempering the Beast
Chocolate is a delicate and complex beast from a chemical perspective. Tempering is a process that is used to make chocolate products glossy and smooth at room temperature. If you’re going to learn how to make hand-dipped chocolate truffles, you need to learn how to temper chocolate, which involves warming and cooling the chocolate to very precisely controlled temperatures.
It turns out that the tempering process that makes chocolate so beautiful at room temperature is counter-productive in frozen products because the chocolate surface is so hard that it won’t melt easily in your mouth, particularly when chilled. The chocolate chips in commercial ice cream don’t have this problem because they have been manufactured specifically for use in ice cream to include extra coconut oil, which has a lower melting point.
To use normal chocolate chips from the grocery store in ice cream, you need to break the temper. This is code for: “melt them”. Once they are melted, they can’t harden again as easily or as thoroughly except when frozen, and they will melt a lot more easily on the palate to give you that wonderful fudgy sensation.
Most of the formal methods for this involve a double boiler or a water bath. Seriously? Nuke them in the microwave. It’s fine. Just remember that all microwaves are different, and my instructions are for my microwave which could double as a flamethrower.
Then just pour the melted chocolate onto a sheet of waxed paper and put the paper into the fridge for a couple of minutes while the ice cream is churning in the ice cream machine. It only takes a few minutes to stiffen up. You will notice that it will be solid but sort of bendable coming out of the fridge (it will be harder coming out of the freezer).
Right there is the key difference. The temper of the chocolate has been broken so it doesn’t harden up as much any more. Now just break it up into chunks by smushing the wax paper together between your hands, or chop it with a knife if you want more precise little pieces. You can make the chocolate chunks as big or small as you prefer. Easy peasy lemon squeezy, all done while the ice cream itself was churning. Just make sure the chocolate has cooled before you chuck it into the ice cream machine for the last 2 minutes of churning.
Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
- 2 cups 5% cream
- 1 cup 3% milk
- 1/2 cup instant dissolving sugar
- 1 tsp mint extract
- 3 – 5 drops green food colouring (optional. But not optional if you want to be my friend.)
- 1 tbsp vodka or creme de menthe
- 3/4 cup chocolate chips
Whir all the ingredients other than the chocolate chips in a blender. Pour them into the ice cream machine and freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions.
Put the chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl while the ice cream is churning. Microwave on high for 1 minute. Stir. Put in microwave for additional 30 seconds increments, stirring after each, until melted. Honestly, if your microwave can work at a lower power, I would suggest doing this at 30% power and taking a little more time over it to avoid the risk of scorching the chocolate, but the low power settings don’t work on my microwave anymore.
Spread some wax paper on a baking sheet and pour the melted chocolate on. Pop it in the freezer or fridge until firm. This should only take 10 or 15 minutes. Remove from freezer and break into shards. Add in handfuls to the ice cream for the last minute or two of churning.
If this is your first time making ice cream, check out my basic hints for ice cream making here.
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