Excuse my dusty cliché, but man does time fly. It’s been more than a month since I’ve written anything here, a month of living by the beach, trying to remember where I put things in my urgency to just get unpacked already, and now it seems that summer is waning with the moon. I’m sorry for my absence; not writing here feels like not talking to your best friend for too long.
But it’s not like I haven’t been writing at all, which is why it’s been a little hard to get back into the groove. In fact, I’ve been keeping up my column for the LA Weekly’s blog, Squid Ink, with stories about lobster trap escape hatches, food stamps at farmers markets, egg safety regulations, sugar shortages, Eat-Ins and farmers market celebrations. And I’ve been cooking, just a little bit, trying to figure out my oven on the not-so-hot days, but mostly making ice cream.
I find the clicking and whirring sounds of the Cuisinart ice cream maker that Matt and Adam lent me quite comforting, a musical interlude before a delightful frozen treat, and I use it every chance I get. The recipe I’ve been working on lately was inspired by the musty, piquant Yerba Buena mint Lily had at her herb stand a few weeks ago. Standing there with Foodwoolf, my face buried in the mint taking long deep breaths, I imagined the aroma interacting with something spicy, something sultry. Chocolate. Chile. Mint.
It took a couple of tries, but the chocolate-chile-mint ice cream I envisioned that day finally came together. Neal and I are still pecking away at the first batch, where I used to crushed chile flakes. The heat in that ice cream was all front-of-the-palate, and it built so that it was a little hard to eat when you got to the bottom of the bowl. I liked the mint element, which was cooling, but there seemed to be a big hole in the middle, like donut, followed by the rich, coating quality of 85 percent Scharffenberger chocolate.
For the second batch, I searched for Fresno chiles, thinking their sweet heat might give the ice cream a rounder flavor. But then I remembered the Ibarra in my cabinet and the smoky, cinnamon-spiced heat that makes Mexican hot chocolate so intriguing. So I opted for the full-flavored ancho chile powder in my cabinet instead, added some fresh-grated Vietnamese cinnamon and toned down the bitterness on the chocolate using 70% Scharffenberger. To quote my friend Bryan, whose wife was a recipient of the first successful batch: “OMG that ice cream you made and brought is absolutely FABULOUS. Jia-Rui (his wife) woke up talking about it this morning and I just tasted it… OMG. So damn good.”
I think you’ll feel the same way. I loved it, and I don’t even like chocolate that much.
Chocolate Chile Mint Ice Cream
2 cups heavy creamy
¾ cup sugar
3 springs Yerba Buena mint (can substitute spearmint or peppermint), chopped
5 tbsp unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
3 oz chopped 70% cocoa Scharffenberger chocolate or other bittersweet, high-quality chocolate
pinch of salt
1 tsp fresh ground Vietnamese cinnamon
2 tsp ancho chile powder
1 ½ cups whole milk
Heat cream and sugar in a medium saucepan until the sugar dissolves. Add mint and let steep for 30 minutes. Re-warm and whisk in cocoa powder, trying to break up lumps. Bring mixture to a rolling boil and then remove from heat.
Slowly stir in chopped chocolate until fully melted. Add salt, cinnamon and chile powder. Stir until combined. Stir in whole milk. Pour into a storage container and chill overnight.
Strain out mint and freeze according to your ice cream maker’s instructions.