Chocolate-Mint Ice Cream Cake
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
[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.]
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.
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
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