In my search this month of “food holidays” I learned, among other interesting facts, that today is National Chocolate Mint Day. Hooray! Who even knew we needed such a thing? The Chocolate Mint Council? The US Mint Growers? I’m baffled by how these things come to be and I spent many years in corporate advertising. I know more about promotion than the average Joe and I still can’t figure this one out. But if this means I can make chocolate mint ice cream to celebrate under the pretense of some nationally designated day, then damn straight I will. Why not? I’ll add it with National Cream Cheese Brownie Day to my list of important February days to remember. You should too. Put that into iCal right now so you don’t forget.
I think I was probably the only kid growing up who didn’t like chocolate mint ice cream. Or mint chip. Which is it? For the record, in my neck of the woods, it was never mint chip. After my gymnastic and ballet classes, there was always a steady stream of little girls in leotards running back and forth between our dance studio and the Baskin-Robbins across the street. We kept that place in business, one 99¢ cone at a time. While many of my classmates routinely ordered chocolate mint, I was all over the place, usually settling on strawberry cheesecake, pralines & cream or just plain ‘ol strawberry. Once I made an ill fated decision on Daiquiri Ice. I thought it was booze and I was being sneaky and clever. Egad. It was a decision I immediately regretted and never made again. Daiquiri Ice was not developed for the typical eight year old palate.
So Chocolate Mint Day, huh? I’ve come a long way from those Baskin-Robbins days, however, it still isn’t my go-to flavor. So I decided to make one I’d like. What I definitely don’t like is peppermint extract and bright green food coloring in my ice cream. Rather I made a legit version infused with big handfuls of fresh mint, no extract and no coloring. It’s the palest of pale greens, ok, it’s pretty white but the mint flavor is there in the most wonderfully subtle, real way. To do so, I took a standard vanilla custard and infused it with two fat packages of fresh mint. (I must remember this when the damn mint is overtaking my garden in the summer.) After a little research, I determined it was very similar to a recipe on Serious Eats and over the course of testing, decided I liked the extra egg yolk in their version so that’s what’s below. It’s delicious – rich, creamy, subtly minty and blessedly not bright green. I especially liked how they blended a little vegetable oil into the chocolate for the “chips”. The oil keeps the chocolate from hardening too firm and I’m kicking myself for not thinking of it. Bravo.
Rather than just make ice cream, and from an existing recipe at that, I opted to make ice cream sandwiches because really now, how great are ice cream sandwiches? Think back to those classic vanilla numbers of your youth with the soft chocolate cookie/cake thing, wrapped in papery foil. Boy, I still love those things but I wanted something a little richer, a little more special and worked up a thin brownie for the cookie part. For my first batch, I used my favorite brownie recipe, a dark fudgy one. All wrong. The brownies were too rich, too chewy. No. A cakey, cocoa brownie not a fudgy chocolate based one was needed here. I dug through my notebooks from my restaurant days and found a good one. It’s like the old school commercial ice cream sandwiches but better. So much better.
This is not a quick recipe, something you make on the fly but it’s not particularly difficult. I don’t mean to scare you off; if you were organized and had the ice cream canister ready to go in the freezer, you could do them in a day. Infuse the cream, make the brownies while the cream sits, pop those in the fridge, make the custard and chill. After a few hours, spin the custard then assemble the sandwiches and freeze until firm. It could work; start early and you’d have ’em by dinnertime. Or you could do it over the course of two days like I did. Why rush greatness?
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: THREE BACKFLIPS FULL. Ice cream sandwiches have always been a treat, a reward. After a tumbling class or chasing down the ice cream truck, it was time for an ice cream sandwich. One filled with a elegant chocolate mint ice cream, certainly one more refined than my Baskin-Robbins days, and you have a damn delight on your hands. Cut and wrap them individually and they make an easy grab-and-go treat or a fun way to serve up dessert after a dinner party. Your guests will love them. Had this version been around when I was a kid, I may have ordered it. Probably not though. I did love that strawberry cheesecake flavor. Hmmm …
Seven years ago: Khachpuri
Six years ago: Won Ton Soup
Five years ago: Chocolate Ganache Tart
Four years ago: St. John Dark Chocolate Ice Cream – the most intensely dark chocolate ice cream you’ll ever make
Three years ago: Chocolate Snack Cake
Two years ago: Chocolate Crème Filled Cupcakes
Last year: Flourless Chocolate Cookies
CHOCOLATE MINT BROWNIE ICE CREAM SANDWICHES
If you only have one ¼-sheet pan, cook the brownies in batches. The batter will sit and be just fine until you’re ready if you keep it wrapped to prevent it from drying out. If you don’t have any ¼-sheet pans, use 8”x8” or 9”x9” pans. Just know your sandwiches will be thicker and will yield less. For the mint, I use stems and leaves and all. I wash it really well and give it a good spin in a salad spinner to dry.
For the brownies:
½ cup unsalted butter, melted (1 stick)
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
½ cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
for the chocolate mint ice cream: from this recipe
Makes 1 quart
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1 large bunch fresh mint (2 ounces)
6 egg yolks
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
4 ounces dark chocolate
2 teaspoons neutral-flavored oil, such as vegetable or canola
- Steep the mint cream: In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring cream and milk to a simmer. Remove from heat, stir in mint leaves, cover, and let steep for 2 hours.
- For the brownies: Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter the edges of two ¼-sheet pans. Line with parchment paper, and lightly butter the paper. Set aside until needed. (For other pan sizes, see note above.)
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the butter and sugar, then whisk in eggs and salt.
- Sift in the flour and cocoa and mix until just smooth.
- Evenly divide the batter between the two prepared pans (I use a scale), smoothing evenly with an offset spatula. Because the brownies are so thin, this can be tricky. Hold down the paper and spread slowly, being sure to start with the edges so the batter sort of anchors to the edge of the pan.
- Bake until brownies are set and the edges pull away from edges of the pan, 8-9 minutes. They’re thin; it won’t take long so don’t walk away.
- Let cool completely, then run a paring knife along the pan edges just to loosen (it’s easier to do this before they’re chilled.) Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.
- For the ice cream: set a strainer over a bowl. You’ll need this later and the scramble to get it together while the custard is slowly curdling is just too much to deal with in my opinion.
- Remove the mint from the milk/cream. You can either pour it through the nicely set up strainer or fish it out by hand, just be sure to really press on the mint to extract as much liquid and flavor as possible. Discard the mint.
- Warm the mint infused cream over medium heat to just under a boil.
- Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together egg yolks, sugar and salt until well combined.
- When the mint cream is hot, add a ladleful to the egg yolk mixture, whisking to incorporate and slowly heat the egg yolks.
- Pour the mixture back into the saucepan, whisking to combine.
- Switch to a rubber spatula and over medium heat, cook, stirring frequently making sure to get into the pan corners, until what the professionals call nappe – when a custard forms on the back of a spoon and a finger swiped across leaves a clean line, or until the temperature reaches 170°F.
- Pour the custard through the strainer into the bowl, discarding any cooked egg bits that have accumulated.
- Stir the custard frequently to bring the temperature down then cover and chill for at least several hours though overnight is best.
- Churn the custard in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- While ice cream churns, melt the chocolate in a microwave or double boiler then stir in the oil.
- During final minutes of churning, slowly drizzle chocolate into the churning ice cream to form thin, lacy lines, pausing to break up larger chocolate chunks with a spoon, if needed.
- To assemble: Turn brownie sheets from the pans and carefully remove the parchment paper.
- Line a ¼-sheet pan with plastic wrap and place one of the brownie layers in the pan, top side up.
- Evenly spread the freshly churned ice cream on top and top with the other brownie sheet, top side down. Press gently to adhere.
- Wrap the pan tightly with plastic wrap and freeze until firm, at least 2 hours.
- Unwrap and with a sharp chef’s knife, trim off the edges to clean the sandwiches up a bit cut into 12 pieces. I find a few swipes of my knife over a gas burner heats it up just enough to make cutting easier.
- Keep frozen, wrapping tightly for longer storage.