Chocolate-Mint Ice Cream Cake

May 6, 2010 at 7:58 pm 41 comments

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Where to begin the story of this chocolate-mint ice cream cake? Sure, it technically begins with a cool carton of cream and a stack of cracked egg shells. But I think it really starts two years ago, when my mother decided she wanted to remodel our backyard.

Our yard is L shaped, wrapping around our house. One of the strips is nice, just cool green grass and evergreen trees. But the other strip of yard, the one visible from the kitchen window and the dining room, was once utterly unimpressive. It was brimming with uneven grass, moss that squished under each footstep, and unappealing patches of yellow. My mother began sketching out designs, writing down ideas, until she’d come up with an ambitious blueprint.

She wanted to remove all the grass in that section and fertilize it. Then she wanted to transform it into something stunning, a rainbow of growing, breathing plants. Lime-green creeping bugleweed, black stemmed rhododendrons, pink-throated lilies, pure white bleeding hearts in the shade… And a natural stone path weaving through it all. Maybe a birdbath in the corner.

I thought it was wishful thinking, but my dad told her, “Let’s do it.”

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We did it all ourselves that summer, and it was more work than any of us expected it to be. I imagined the process of removing grass to be a very simple, straightforward one. I didn’t realize that we’d have to lift up the sod, like heavy strips of carpet. We sifted through all of the rocks and roots by hand, which is every bit as laborious as it sounds, and turned the soil with fertilizer.

Forming the stone path felt like the bane of my existence. It needed to be nine inches deep, three feet wide, curving like a snake from one end of the yard to the other. After that, we had to smooth it out, fill it with gravel (wheelbarrowful by wheelbarrowful) and then with dirt (shovelful by shovelful.) By the time we began to fit in the rocks, I had complained enough for the whole summer.

We went to the nursery every week and drove home with a lush jungle spilling out of the car trunk; I’d sit in the back seat with silvery leaves and purple flowers brushing my cheek. We planted hummingbird-friendly flowers near the kitchen window and spindly ferns in the shade. We carried in an old stone bird bath. We even dug out a fire pit at the end of the path and built it with leftover slabs of stone.

We’d turned our backyard into something so much more than an offhand glance out the window.

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The next spring, despite an unusually freezing winter, my mother’s garden grew back like some kind of miracle. It’s even fuller, even greener, and there’s a palpable buzz, a pulse. It’s bursting with life. I remember the thrill of our first hummingbird, hovering in the air like a jewel. The first time we saw a blue jay sipping cautiously from the birdbath. The first baby green leaf in a vine we though had been choked by the cold.

We have already gotten so much from our yard, it’s easy to forget how much work went into it. We cuddle up in lawn chairs around the fire pit, setting pumpkin spice marshmallows on fire and running out for hot dogs. We look up between sips of coffee at breakfast to see the flowers shaking off dew and waking up with us. Oh, and the herb garden…

It might be my favorite spot in the whole yard now. I squat down and just rub my fingers over everything: pebbly sage leaves, then the gold-edged leaves of lemon thyme, then the thick, soft stalks of rosemary. The fragrance of fresh herbs is so comforting. It smells like handwritten recipes and golden midafternoon sunlight and “Let’s eat on the patio tonight.”

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And ever since the chocolate-mint plant has taken root, it has clung to life vivaciously. It’s spread faster than any of our other herbs, growing rounder and rounder, so that we’re forced to pick leaves and pull roots to keep it in check. It’s no surprise that ever since last summer, I’ve wanted to make mint ice cream.

I finally got the chance a couple weeks ago. One of my best friends, M-, has a thing for chocolate mint ice cream cake. What kind of friend would I be if I didn’t make one for his 18th birthday, using the freshest, sun-kissed mint I could find?

I brought it to school and we devoured it in the cafeteria. I stole a slice and a plate from the teacher’s lounge and took these photos in the courtyard. When I came back, only half of the cake was left, and by the end of the day the only evidence that it had ever existed was my camera full of photos and the lingering grin on M-’s face.

RelaxingMom and Dad two years ago, taking a break from an afternoon of yard work

Mom in the garden Mom last year, drinking tea into the twilight on the patio. Someday, you won’t even be able to see the ground – all of those green plants will spread out to the stone path winding through them.

[PS: My camera is finally fixed! I got it in the mail today and went a little crazy. It's been three weeks and I've missed it like a picked peach misses the sunshine. And I finally hit 1,000 fans on Facebook, thank you all!

PPS: Dad, I know I didn't get your permission to publish a photo with you in it, but mom said it was okay.]

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I found David Lebovitz‘s recipe for mint ice cream, which uses the same base as the incredible vanilla bean ice cream I made a few months ago. It’s so thick and creamy, but it’s smooth, too, and it scoops like butter straight from the freezer. I used our chocolate-mint, a type of mint that has a distinct chocolate scent and a more delicate flavor. It came out the palest green. When M- cut the cake, he was surprised that the ice cream was nearly white in the sunshine, but the flavor is clear with the first bite. It doesn’t just taste like mint, it’s saturated with the fragrance of it, and it fills your mouth with every spoonful.

I found a cake recipe that sounded perfect for an ice cream cake: it’s moist, easy to work with, has good chocolate flavor and stands up to freezing and refreezing. I wanted to make a small cake, so I used little 6″ pans, and just sort of guessed as I went. I’m giving the recipes below as I originally found them, so they don’t quite mesh together, but you can alter how much cake/ice cream you make to make it work.

The method of making an ice cream cake is still the same. You line your pans with plastic wrap and spread softened ice cream in them. Then you freeze until the ice cream is completely solid, remove them, and use those pans to bake the cake. Then you stack them one on top of the other and freeze until cold enough to frost. I frosted the cake with a cocoa whipped cream frosting. A word of warning, this frosting isn’t sweet. I wanted to balance the sugar in the ice cream and cake, and this frosting isn’t sweet on its own. But with everything else, it’s perfect.

Chocolate-Mint Ice Cream
From David Lebovitz via Orangette
Makes 1 Quart

1 cup whole milk
¾ cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
Pinch of salt
2 cups lightly packed fresh mint leaves [I used chocolate-mint]
5 large egg yolks

Heat the milk, sugar, salt, and 1 cup of the cream over medium heat. Stir occasionally until it begins to steam. Then stir in the mint leaves so that they’re covered in liquid. Cover the pot, remove from the heat, and let steep at room temperature for one hour.

Strain the mixture into a medium saucepan, squeezing on the mint leaves to get out as much juice as possible. Discard the mint leaves. Pour the remaining 1 cup cream into a large bowl and set aside.

Rewarm the mint-infused mixture over medium heat until it begins to steam. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm mint liquid into the egg yolks, whisking constantly; then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.

Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. Pour the custard through a strainer into the large bowl containing the cream. Stir until cool over an ice bath.

Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Printer-Friendly Version – Chocolate-Mint Ice Cream

Chocolate Cake
From Baking Bites
Makes a 10″ by 15″ Cake

2 cups sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup hot water

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 10×15-inch jelly roll-type pan with cooking spray and line with parchment paper. Leave some paper overhanging the edges of the pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, buttermilk, vegetable oil and vanilla extract. Pour into flour mixture and stir until just combined.

Pour hot water (not quite boiling) over batter and stir until smooth. Pour into prepared pan.
Bake for about 25 minutes, until cake springs back when lightly pressed and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Let cake cool in pan for 15 minutes, then use the parchment paper to transfer cake to a wire rack to cool completely. Do not remove parchment paper.

Cocoa Whipped Cream Frosting

2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 tablespoons powdered sugar

Whip the cream and vanilla extract with an electric mixer on medium speed. Slowly add the cocoa powder and powdered sugar (I suggest you sift these first) and increase the speed to high. Beat until stiff peaks form. Frost the cake immediately.

Assembling the cake: I didn’t give recipes that mesh with each other, but here’s what I suggest for a 9″ round cake. Line a 9″ pan with plastic wrap and spread a layer of ice cream in it. Freeze until solid, then lift out the ice cream and return to the freezer. Use two 9″ pans to bake the cake. Use the cake recipe as written, and divide it between the two 9″ round pans. I’m not sure what the baking time will be, so just check frequently and bake until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes, then turn out onto wire racks and cool completely.

Take a layer of cake and top it with the layer of frozen ice cream, then the second layer of cake. Return to the freezer and chill until solid. Meanwhile, make the frosting. Spread it all over the cake and chill. Remove 20 minutes prior to serving.

Printer-Friendly Version – Chocolate Cake, Cocoa Whipped Cream Frosting, and Assembly Instructions

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Buttermilk Pound Cake Jam Tart

41 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mara  |  May 6, 2010 at 8:27 pm

    That sounds absolutely delicious! You’ve inspired me to hunt out chocolate mint for my herb garden now…

    Reply
  • 2. Bakingmonster  |  May 6, 2010 at 10:21 pm

    I have been wanting to change up my backyards for years now, this post has inspired me to get started this summer. and what a great friend you are, this cake looks great and perfect for summer.

    Reply
  • 3. Elissa's Dad  |  May 6, 2010 at 10:32 pm

    I have finally become more than just a hand model…woohoo, I am somebody!

    Note The depth of the path was 9″: 4″ of gravel, 2″ of sand and 3″ deep to accommodate the 3″ thick flagstones to bring the path to grade. It is also 38″ wide (34″ for the path plus 2″ on each side for gravel and a support frame to keep the stones from shifting).

    The path opens to a 14 foot wide circular seating area with a fire pit in the center and is situated between a triangle of 3 Ponderosa pine trees that are over 100 feet tall. A project full of sweat and the occasional, why did we do this?!, but well worth the effort.

    Glad to have my daily photos back again!

    Love the shot of the mint!

    Reply
  • 4. Melissa  |  May 6, 2010 at 11:42 pm

    Dear Elissa,

    Thank you so much for your blog. It has been such an inspiration for me. You have no idea how much I get out of your posts, your pictures especially.
    I made the buttermilk-pound cake the other day. It was so good, it was worh waiting for!
    I’m 12 and I don’t think I ever heard such encouraging things as I do from your blog in my life.
    Again, thanks so much!

    Love,
    Melissa

    Reply
  • 5. Warm Vanilla Sugar  |  May 7, 2010 at 4:59 am

    The story of your garden is beautiful. It sounds like very hard work, but well worth it. Growing fresh chocolate mint is such a great iea!! And then making cake with it?? I am SO making this recipe.

    Reply
  • 6. Laura  |  May 7, 2010 at 5:47 am

    Hi Elissa, I recently discovered your blog and have absolutely loved reading through it. If it weren’t chilly and raining here today, I would definitely be making a cake like this. Thanks for all the wonderful ideas!

    Reply
  • 7. Jennifer  |  May 7, 2010 at 7:46 am

    Oh gosh, this whole post described my life right now. The minute I arrived home from my first year of college, my family was continuing the step of turning over the land and pulling out roots, rock, branches, etc. Yesterday they went to see if they could find fertilizer. Mom dreams of a no-brown garden; just one with grass and some tomatoes on the side :)

    And the cake looks delicious! It’s a combo of all of my favorite things, so I’ll have to try it out sometime!

    Reply
  • 8. Tia  |  May 7, 2010 at 9:10 am

    MMM must the name “chocolate mint” is beautiful. You sound like you have a beautiful family and a great relationship with your parents. The cake looks awesome too!

    Reply
  • 9. Alex Erynn  |  May 7, 2010 at 1:23 pm

    That looks fantastic. I love the flavour fresh mint has. Infusing all of your senses. Looks delicious.

    Reply
  • 10. Katy  |  May 7, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    This looks amaaazing. I asked for an ice cream maker for my birthday, and if I get one, I’m going to be so happy and this will definitely be on the list of things I’m making with it. :)

    And congrats on the 1,000 fans! Yippee! :)

    Reply
  • 11. jessie  |  May 7, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    i just wanted to say that

    “It smells like handwritten recipes and golden midafternoon sunlight”

    is possibly the best metaphor you’ve ever written. it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

    Reply
  • 12. Georgia @ The Comfort of Cooking  |  May 7, 2010 at 6:29 pm

    Wow, Elissa! That cake is a beauty. Ice cream cake is my husband’s idea of heaven on earth, and you’ve certainly made me a believer!

    Reply
  • 13. hannah @ thepastrykook  |  May 7, 2010 at 8:43 pm

    elissa, i wish i had a dad as cool and fun as yours. Mine’s the most un-fun dad on earth. sigh.
    in any case, that is one awesome-looking ice cream cake! and thanks for the frosting recipe. A lightly sweeten one is what i’ve always been looking for (:

    Reply
  • 14. lavienouveau  |  May 8, 2010 at 5:19 am

    Not only are all of your photos always fabulous, but I love your writing too – never ever stop girl!

    Reply
  • 15. gateauxbellehelene  |  May 8, 2010 at 9:06 am

    Your garden sounds beautiful and you must really appreciate it after all the hard work you and your mum + dad put in. I love mint chocolate chip ice cream but don’t like mint in savoury food……so I loke the look of this cake. You are a great friend to have made that, I’m glad everyone enjoyed it.

    Reply
  • 16. Cousin Sharon  |  May 8, 2010 at 10:26 am

    Another wonderful story, and another fabulous looking cake. You never cease to amaze me. Thank your mom for giving you permission to post the photo of her and your dad. I enjoyed it. So glad the camera is back where it belongs.

    Reply
  • 17. pearl Joy  |  May 8, 2010 at 3:20 pm

    That sounds so pretty, and wonderful!! The mint ice cream looks really good!!!

    Reply
  • 18. Maria  |  May 8, 2010 at 8:11 pm

    Sounds like your yard is fabulous, worth all of the hard work. The cake looks amazing. Your friend is very lucky:)

    Reply
  • 19. Ben  |  May 9, 2010 at 5:49 am

    Hi Elissa,

    This sounds awesome. A quick question though. When you bake the cake do you find that it domes while cooking and that you have to cut of some of the top to level it out? Or is this just my bad baking skills? :p

    Keep up the good work, look forward to more magical recipes.

    Ben

    Reply
    • 20. Elissa  |  May 9, 2010 at 10:18 am

      Ben – Nothing to do with baking skills (I hope)! It happens to me all the time. I just level out the tops with a serrated knife or with a cake leveler, which you can buy for under $5. You can also buy these magic cake strips, which you wrap around the pan before baking and they make your cake bake flat. http://www.meijer.com/s/wilton-bake-even-cake-strips/_/R-142342?cmpid=goobase&CAWELAID=429098450 Here’s an example of that. I haven’t yet tried them myself, but they have good reviews.

  • 21. Swee  |  May 9, 2010 at 10:17 am

    You mean there’s actually a mint plant that is chocolate mint? Wow it must smell really really really good!! I hope I can find them here in Malaysia :(

    Reply
  • 22. Nisrine  |  May 9, 2010 at 3:13 pm

    What a gorgeous ice cream cake!

    Reply
  • 23. Making my Mark  |  May 10, 2010 at 8:38 am

    It’s beautiful although I don’t like the taste of mint. Gorgeous photos!

    Reply
  • 24. Taysa (Water, Butter and Wine)  |  May 10, 2010 at 10:00 am

    Such beautiful photography and amazing looking food! I’m very happy to have found your blog and look forward to all your wonderful posts to come! (Plus, I always love finding other Seattlites–I don’t live there anymore but it will always be home.)

    Reply
  • 25. jlcommeree  |  May 11, 2010 at 5:58 am

    Your blog is always a balm for my heart and soul – and an inspiration for my mind and palate. Thanks!

    Reply
  • 26. Trucking Factoring  |  May 11, 2010 at 11:35 am

    Thanks for the inspirational ice cream cake recipe.

    Reply
  • 27. Emily  |  May 11, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    The cake looks delicious! I’m inspired to try to make my own! :)

    Reply
  • 28. heather  |  May 11, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    we made DL’s mint custard two days ago — so incredibly delicious, right?! the first night we chopped up a couple dark chocolate chips for the top. last night it was perfect plain. a good summer dessert for the backyard!

    cheers,

    *heather*

    Reply
  • 29. TripleScoop  |  May 11, 2010 at 3:59 pm

    Very cool story. I love David’s L. ice cream they are so rich and creamy! Your mint ice cream looks delicious and the cake is pretty cool too.

    Reply
  • 30. Gfron1  |  May 11, 2010 at 6:28 pm

    very nice looking cake, and I’m at your blog for the first time and enjoyed it very much. Cheers.

    Reply
  • 31. Kate  |  May 12, 2010 at 2:32 pm

    Oh geeze – I’m heading to the gym right now but now I’m thinking about getting ice cream after! Can’t wait to try this one!

    Reply
  • 32. red | hongyi  |  May 13, 2010 at 6:05 am

    oh YUMMY! that’s a beautiful cake! ur parents must be so proud of u; u’re just so talented!

    Reply
  • 33. Jenny  |  May 13, 2010 at 11:10 pm

    Love the frosting on this cake – so simple, I’ll have to try it soon.

    And my Dad doesn’t like to be photographed either, much less published!

    …the garden sounds so inviting.

    Reply
  • 34. Rosa  |  May 14, 2010 at 1:26 pm

    Wow, that cake looks fantastic! What a delicious treat!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

    Reply
  • 35. wearsgoo  |  June 1, 2010 at 3:52 am

    the picture of the mint leaves in the measuring cup is just gorgeous. It’s like 3:51 and I can’t sleep. ugg just woke up to make some oatmeal raisin cookies and catch up on your blog!

    Reply
  • 36. Lori  |  June 3, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    THis sounds so good. I would love to have a big piece of it. You do such a fabulous job.

    Reply
  • 37. bel  |  June 4, 2010 at 10:55 am

    please come to ireland and make it for me!

    Reply
  • 38. Sandy  |  June 16, 2010 at 8:30 am

    where o where did you find a chocolate mint plant??

    Reply
  • 40. damian  |  December 4, 2010 at 5:34 am

    awesome, i have choc mint just taking off immensely. Out of all the herbs I put in at the same time, this wouldve been the last one I wouldve said would come up so brilliantly. So heres the thing, we have our sons 1st bday coming up nxt Saturday and I have to convince my wife to try this recipe with me, and in the shape of a Monkey. My sons in the cheekee Monkey year.
    Thanks again
    Aussie Dame

    Reply
  • 41. Nur Era  |  August 17, 2011 at 6:40 am

    heyy.. u r good baker.. i like it!! im impressed! thx for sharing wif’ us though.. :))

    Reply

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Elissa Bernstein



I'm Elissa: a 17 (now 21) year old baker in Seattle Boston juggling creative nonfiction workshops, subway maps, and my passions for writing, baking, and photography. Photo above © Michelle Moore

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