03 June, 2009

Loving Lamiaceae.

The wind went away, mostly. And so did my kitchen and garden strike. But I am still playing around with mint, whether in drinks, salads, or preserves. The latest mentholated passion takes the form of ice cream.

To give this some context, different varieties of mint grow wild all over the Cevenol countryside, as in most places on the globe where people have lived. But here in the Cevennes, quite a lot of the Lamiaceae (read: mint) family is represented, from cousins rosemary, savory and oregano, to lavender, marjoram, and thyme. All you have to do is walk out into a nearby field to realize this, as in doing so you will tread upon the hardy little plants, releasing their tonic scents. But before I get carried away with the olfactory memories this invokes, let me return to my starting point: fresh mint, for dessert.

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When life gives you mint, make vanilla mint ice cream. This particular concoction has been a hit with anyone who has tasted it. Unctuous, unapologetically lavish, with that comforting vanilla baseline, it raises the eyebrow with a delicate but very present and bracing mint overlay. If you have an ice cream maker, try this out. If you don't have an ice cream maker, then this is one very compelling reason to buy one.

Technical note: I weigh, but I use American-style measuring cups as well; please use the converter in the sidebar as necessary. I use spearmint with great success but any one of the many different types of mint can be used, including chocolate mint, orange/bergamot mint, Corsican mint or apple mint. With thanks to David Lebovitz, whose version of fresh mint ice cream inspired my own variation; he also has a recipe for absinthe ice cream I'd love to try, if I could just get my hands on some absinthe. Another posting...

Glace à la Menthe Vanillée (Vanilla Mint Ice Cream)

Makes about 1 liter.

1 1/2 cups milk
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
Pinch salt
2-3 cups lightly packed fresh mint leaves
6 whole peppercorns, optional
1/2 vanilla bean
6 egg yolks

Warm the milk, sugar, 1/2 cup of the cream, and salt in a saucepan. Add the mint (and peppercorns if desired) and stir. Cover, remove from the heat, and allow to steep at room temperature for at least 1 hour, preferably half the day.

Strain the mint-infused mixture into a medium saucepan (the milk will have turned a pale green). Press or squeeze the mint leaves to extract as much of the flavor as possible, then discard the leaves. Pour the remaining 1 cup chilled heavy cream into a large bowl and set the strainer on top. Gently rewarm the mint-infused mixture. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks til they are a good shade lighter. Slowly pour some of the hot (but not too hot) mint liquid into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape that yolk mixture back into the saucepan. Now stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom thoroughly, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. Pour this custard through the strainer into the bowl of chilled cream. Stir then chill thoroughly in the refrigerator. Freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.


  1. This looks lovely! I wonder if our garden-variety mint leaves are suited to this recipe? Only one way to be certain...

    ~ Becky (Updike) Owen

  2. I think you have a pretty good chance that your garden-variety mint is actually spearmint, Becky. Let me know how it works out!


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