“When the mint plant grows enough leaves.” That was the mark we gave ourselves, our timeline for making mint chocolate chip ice cream from scratch. We needed two cups of packed mint leaves, and it was only a matter of time before our quart-sized mint plant would realize it’s latent strength and push out lush green leaves, Jack-and-the-Beanstock style. We repotted the mint into a planter box and watered it occasionally (neglected it more often). Still, the mint leaves grew.
When we could harvest 2 cups of mint leaves without entirely disrobing the plant of its life-giving leaves, we set out to make our long-awaited mint chocolate chip ice cream. I should tell you now that for the past year Sam’s and my favorite ice cream has been mint chocolate chip—Strauss Family Creamery Mint Chocolate Chip to be exact. It’s a dangerous thing to try to replicate something one prizes; disappointment is almost certain to rear its head in one form or another. Nonetheless, we like mint chocolate chip ice cream so that is what we set out to make.
I used David Lebovitz’ Mint Chip Ice Cream recipe, which is unique because it uses mint leaves instead of mint extract. After harvesting 2 cups of packed mint leaves, I boiled them in a mixture of milk and sugar and let it steep for an hour. The mint leaves imparted their bright green color to the milk, but it was not to remain: the mint-milk became a muted, dull green when I whisked in the hot, yellow egg yolk-and-cream mixture. Neither crisp white nor bright green, I began to suspect that this ice cream would not taste like our favorite Strauss ice cream; no, this was an ice cream all its own.
After chilling the ice cream base overnight, I poured it into our Donvier hand-crank ice cream maker. I confess I was a little disappointed to sample the ice cream and discover how much it tasted like mint leaves. Of course. All commercial ice creams use mint extract to make their ice creams, not mint leaves. C’est la vie.
When the ice cream had frozen sufficiently in the maker, it was time to prepare the stracciatella-style chocolate chips. Melting a few bars of Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Lover’s bar, I took a spoon, scooped up some melted chocolate and drizzled it on the bottom of a bowl. Next came a layer of mint ice cream, then another drizzle of chocolate. The chocolate froze upon contact with the ice cream base, creating strands of chocolate throughout the ice cream. Every few layers I stirred the ice cream to incorporate the chocolate strands. Then I tucked the bowl into the freezer to fully harden.
This homemade mint chip ice cream wasn’t Strauss ice cream, and it got mixed reviews. In the words of my dad, it tasted like chlorophyll. To my mom, however, it tasted like real mint, not like toothpaste. Sam really didn’t care for it; but once I got over the fact that comparing this ice cream to Strauss was like comparing apples and oranges, I grew to like the fresh mint flavor and prefer the stracciatella-style crunch of the chocolate even more than the Strauss mini chips. I probably won’t make this recipe again—harvesting the mint leaves and making the mint tea was a lot of work—but I’m glad to have tried it. I learned how to make delicious stracciatella-style chocolate chips and that in ice cream, I prefer the flavor of mint extract to real mint leaves. For me, cooking is all about learning and trying new things, and on that score, I’d say this recipe was a success.