Peppermint Bark Ice Cream

Ice cream is one of my favorite desserts to make. It’s usually just me and my husband at the table, so I rarely make cakes, pies or other large-scale desserts because we don’t want all those leftovers in the house. But ice cream. Now that’s a treat that we can enjoy over a week or two, and for the holidays this year, I wanted to do a Christmas-y flavor. I had considered doing an ice cream with My Dad’s Irish Creme, which I made last week for sipping by the chiminea, though it has been unseasonably warm in North Carolina so we have only done that once. I’ll need to give that one some thought, because so much of the flavor comes from a hefty amount of Irish whiskey and that will hinder the freezing. I also considered eggnog ice cream, which can be made with less alcohol, but I could not find a commercial eggnog that wasn’t made with high fructose corn syrup (bleh). Maybe next year, with more careful planning.

You can only find this flavor during the holidays, and this week, it will probably be on sale!

This peppermint-and-chocolate combination won me over after my husband tasted one of these little peppermint bark candies. Mint is not a favorite of his, but combined with the chocolate, he declared it a winner. I wanted to include these candies in the finished ice cream, and I also wanted the ice cream base to have a minty flavor.

My inspiration for that part came from a post shared recently by one of my blog pals, Chef Mimi, who presented a gorgeous peppermint chocolate cocktail made with vodka that had been infused with candy canes. I thought, “well, why wouldn’t that kind of infusion also work in a base for ice cream?” And, as you can see, it does!

Unlike most of my ice creams, which begin with a cooked egg custard base, this one gets its rich texture from sweetened condensed milk. The base peppermint flavor and pretty pink color are the result of having dissolved a couple of candy canes into the milk portion of the ice cream, and I added chopped up chocolate peppermint bark squares at the end for a fun candy surprise.

An ice cream machine is recommended for this recipe, which will yield 1 1/2 quarts.

This was a fun way to capture the flavors of the season in an ice cream!

Ingredients

1 cup whole milk

2 regular size candy canes (if you have mini candy canes, I recommend using about 4 of them)

14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk* (see notes)

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1/2 tsp. peppermint extract oil

1/2 tsp. real vanilla extract

9 Ghirardelli dark chocolate peppermint bark squares, chopped

1 oz. good vodka*

Your favorite hot fudge sauce (optional, but yum!) for serving


*Notes

Sweetened condensed milk is great for ice creams that do not have a custard base, especially when you want to have a brighter “white” base color. I used the whole milk version of Eagle brand, but I expect you could also use a reduced-fat or even fat-free version of condensed milk; if you choose a lower fat option, expect a slightly “icier” texture in the finished ice cream.

A small glug of vodka, mixed in for the final minute of freezing, ensures that the ice cream will scoop easily straight from the freezer. If you prefer not to add alcohol (or, certainly, if you intend to share the ice cream with children or non-drinkers), you can skip this ingredient. Simply take the ice cream from the freezer about 10 minutes before scooping.


Instructions


Heat whole milk and candy canes in a small saucepan, over medium-low heat. As the milk warms, the candy canes will melt into it, creating a pretty color and a delicately sweet minty base. As I think of it, I imagine that this milk could also be used to make a minty version of hot cocoa. Maybe next Christmas!

When candy canes are fully dissolved, remove milk from heat and cool then chill in the refrigerator.

In a large bowl or mixing pitcher, blend together the sweetened condensed milk and heavy cream. Whisk in the peppermint milk. Stir in the peppermint and vanilla extracts. Cover and chill for several hours (maybe even overnight) until the mixture is very cold.

Put the chopped chocolate-peppermint bark in the freezer while you freeze the ice cream mixture.

Prepare your ice cream machine, following manufacturer’s recommendations for freezing the ice cream mixture. When the ice cream reaches the fully churned stage, add in the chopped peppermint bark pieces and churn an additional two minutes to evenly incorporate the candy pieces.

Finally, add the vodka and churn until the liquid has disappeared. This trick will improve the texture of the ice cream for very easy scooping straight from the freezer. The vodka is indiscernible in the ice cream, but if you (or someone you are feeding) avoids alcohol, it can easily be omitted.

Transfer the finished ice cream to an insulated freezer container and place it in the freezer for several hours, or preferably overnight. Serve it with warmed hot fudge topping for an extra special holiday treat!




Mint Julep Sorbet

The quintessential cocktail of the Kentucky Derby, the mint julep, is a mashup of bourbon, mint and sugar. A typical recipe for making one begins “muddle the mint leaves and sugar in the bottom of the glass,” but then the muddled mess never leaves the drink. I like the flavor of mint, but not the idea of mint shards floating around in my cup. And if it should get stuck on my teeth? No thanks!

We are ending our Kentucky Derby party (preview though it is) with the taste of mint julep on our lips, with an ultra-refreshing sorbet, made of nothing more than mint, thin simple syrup (sugar and water) and bourbon. Yep, just four simple ingredients, and you can make this as much as a week ahead and enjoy it on your schedule.

Note that the simple syrup is a 2:1 ratio, different from the syrup we used in the cocktails. If you don’t have an ice cream maker, don’t despair—I’ve included an alternate method that requires only a freezer-safe container and a fork.

This “dessert” is really more of a palate cleanser, just a small sweet bit of lightly boozy refreshment after the rich foods of the day. Recipe will yield about 6 servings. Enjoy!


Ingredients

Handful of organic fresh mint (about 1 oz.)
2 cups filtered water
1 cup cane sugar
1/2 cup bourbon
Up to 1 cup unflavored seltzer water (or a subtle flavor such as lemon)*
Additional fresh mint for garnish

Gently rinse the fresh mint in cool water, remove heavy stems and set aside on paper towel.


Instructions

Place a small saucepan over medium heat and add the bourbon. As you know, alcohol doesn’t freeze completely, so we are going to evaporate some of the alcohol out of the bourbon, thereby concentrating its flavor. Allow it to come to a very slight boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer until it’s reduced by half. You can check this by pouring the reduced bourbon into a glass measuring cup—you should end with 1/4 cup or slightly less. Pour into a large glass jar and cool completely, then put it into the fridge.

Rinse the saucepan and combine water and sugar over medium heat. Bring it to a light boil, then turn off the heat. Add the mint leaves and steep for a couple of hours until completely cooled. Strain and discard mint, add syrup to the jar of reduced bourbon and refrigerate.

To freeze the sorbet in an ice cream machine, combine syrup and seltzer, then add the mixture all at once and freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions, which is probably about 20 minutes. Transfer to a freezer-safe covered container and freeze several hours or overnight. It will still be pretty soft when you finish the blending, but the deep freeze will firm it up a bit more.

No ice cream machine? No problem—combine the syrup and seltzer in a freezer-safe container (something wide and shallow works best), cover and freeze about 2 hours. Use a fork to scrape through it and “fluff” it up, then freeze another 2 hours (repeat again as needed until it’s as slushy as you like. Or, wait until it’s fully frozen, scoop mixture into a blender or processor and blend until smooth, then re-freeze until ready to serve. This will allow you to incorporate some air into the sorbet.

*This is a very sweet sorbet recipe. If you prefer a lighter essence, combine frozen sorbet with up to a cup of very cold seltzer water in a food processor and return to the freezer. The bubbles in the seltzer will help incorporate air into the sorbet for even freezing.

To serve, scoop sorbet into a small glass dish or shallow cocktail glass, and garnish with a fresh sprig of mint.

This refreshing treat is best enjoyed whilst wearing a fancy hat.

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