When I worked at the Inn at Little Washington, the amazing pastry chef Maggie would make big batches of fresh mint ice-cream once a week. She would walk out to our garden and return with a huge armful of fragrant cuttings. After a quick rinse, she would drop them into scalded cream to steep, mashing the plants down into the liquid with a wooden spoon. After a while, the cream would turn a lovely pastel green. After straining out the spent leaves, she would use this cream to make the custard base which would be spun into ice cream.
The process is so basic and simple– leaves in cream; the plant itself giving you all the color and flavor you need. And yet it produced an ice cream that was some of the best that I’ve ever tasted.
Using my go-to ice cream custard recipe as my base, I ransacked the mint patch and steeped as much of it as I could in the hot cream. I almost didn’t believe it would turn out the way I remembered it from the Inn. But it came out gorgeous. The color of the base was a pale creamy green that I can’t begin to do justice to in a photo.
The resulting ice cream was intensely minty and creamy. But it was a fresh mint taste– a warm mint taste as opposed to a cool one… Instead the bracing ping of menthol, you get a smooth, sweet, utterly Minty richness that makes you feel like you’re rolling in a patch of sun-soaked mint leaves. There is really nothing like it, and it is difficult to describe without veering into pseudo-poetic pretension (as I realize I have already done). Ah well.
Mint Ice Cream
2 cups half-n-half
1 or 2 gigantic armful(s) of freshly-picked mint
5 egg yolks
9 T sugar
(1 small, tiny, minuscule drop of peppermint oil, if desired)
Slowly bring the half-n-half almost up to a boil. (This is called “scalding.” Not to be confused with "scorching;“ you do not want to do that.)
Gather the biggest bunch of fresh mint you can wrap your arms around and wash it off. Plunge the entire thing into the hot milk. Keep the pot over very low heat while you push the leaves down with a wooden spoon, crushing them against each other and the pan. You want to release as much flavor and color as possible. Once the milk simmers again, turn it off and allow to steep. If it does not taste minty after 30 minutes, get more mint and repeat.
Beat the yolks and sugar until fluffy and light.
Strain the mint/cream mixture into a bowl. Pour the hot cream gradually into the yolk mixture, whisking furiously. Return to pan (preferably a double boiler) and cook, stirring, until custard is thickened. It is ready when it coats the back of a spoon.
Strain the base into a bowl and cool to room temp. Then chill completely. Taste it after it is cold– if it lacks a little tingle, add the smallest drop of peppermint oil, just to balance it out a bit. You do not want it to taste like doublemint gum.
Spin the base in ice-cream machine, according to machine’s specs.