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Basil-Mint Chip Ice Cream

That's a "come hither" stare if ever I saw one

After the last post, wherein I introduced you to a few of the wonderfully aromatic plants to be found in our fields and forests, and then relentlessly warned you about the dangers of enjoying said plants, I feel like I owe you some ice cream. Just to prove that I am truly contrite, the aromatic herbs used here likely grow in your garden or on your porch, or can be found at your local farmer's market or supermarket, but will remind you of those seen out on the trail.

Basil-Mint Chip Ice Cream

The pastry department is not where ingredients go to die, but, rather, to be saved. It's standard practice in any kitchen for the pastry chef to be handed things that need rescuing in one way or another: bushels of rapidly-softening berries, gallons of whey from cheese-making, a batch of candied pecans that somehow aren't quite right. In this case, we had large containers full of beautiful basil and mint from a local farmer, and they needed to be used SOON. Using both herbs to give a classic ice cream flavor an air of intrigue was one of my better ideas, and I make this ice cream at least once a summer when my own basil and mint plants need serious pruning.

This recipe is adapted from the Backyard Mint Ice Cream found in in Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home. Her method uses cream cheese and cornstarch for thickening rather than egg yolks, which can obscure delicate flavors like those in fresh herbs. You'll find that the basil and mint flavors really shine, and egg-free ice creams are a good option to keep in mind any time you're looking to make an ice cream that celebrates the flavor of summer produce.

Milk 56g (3/4 Cup) Cornstarch 11g (1 Tbs + 1 tsp) Cream Cheese 43g (3 Tbs) Salt 2g (1/8 tsp) Milk 425g (1 3/4 Cups) Cream 284g (1 1/4 Cups) Sugar 133g (2/3 Cups) Corn Syrup 28g (2 Tbs) Mint, torn or coarsely chopped 25g (about 1 Cup whole leaves) Basil, torn or coarsely chopped 15g (about 3/4 Cup whole leaves) Chopped Chocolate* 170g (1 Cup)

In a small bowl, combine the first amount of milk with the cornstarch to make a slurry. You may need to give this a stir periodically, as the cornstarch tends to settle at the bottom of the bowl and make life difficult later. Place the cream cheese and salt together in a large bowl, and place a fine strainer over the bowl. You're going to strain the ice cream base into this bowl, and it's best to ready.

Bring the second amount of milk, cream, sugar, and corn syrup to a boil in a medium pot, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. As soon as the mixture boils, turn the heat down, and allow it to simmer gently for 4-5 minutes. Again, stir or whisk occasionally to avoid a layer of scorched dairy and sugar on the bottom of your pot. Add your cornstarch slurry, which will pour out easily if you've remembered to stir it, and might have to be pried out if you have not. Whisk thoroughly, and allow everything to simmer for one additional minute.

Pour the ice cream base through the strainer, into the bowl with the cream cheese and salt. Give this a good and serious whisking to make sure the cream cheese is really mixed in.

Stir in the basil and mint, and chill the ice cream base. You have two options for chilling your base. Jeni recommends a method that I love, but one that can be somewhat cumbersome: Transfer the hot, finished ice cream base to a gallon-size zipper-topped plastic bag, seal it, and set it in a large bowl of ice water (mostly ice). Allow the base to rest in the ice bath until it is cool to the touch, giving it a squeeze every 10-15 minutes to move the base around to help it chill evenly.

You can, alternatively, set the bowl with the ice cream base in it into a larger bowl filled with ice water, and whisk it every 10-15 minutes until it has cooled. This method works best if the ice cream base is in a metal bowl. In both cases, make sure there is always a good amount of ice in the ice bath.

Transfer the cooled base to the refrigerator in whatever vessel you have chosen. If using a bowl, be sure to cover the bowl. Allow the base to steep for 4-12 hours. A longer steep will yield more flavor, but you might not have that sort of time on your hands, and I respect that your need for ice cream might be urgent.

Strain the mint and basil out of the ice cream base, giving them a good squeeze with your (very clean or gloved) hands, or by pressing down with a spatula to get all the herby goodness out.

Process the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's directions, folding in the chocolate just before you pop it all in the freezer to set.

*Regarding the chocolate for this recipe: My favorite ice cream "chips" are tiny shards of the scraps I have left over from making tempered chocolate decor for the restaurant. Since I do not ever make chocolate decor at home, I use finely chopped, bittersweet chocolate (70% cocoa content) in this ice cream. However, there's no shame in opening up a bag of mini chocolate chips, especially if that's what you like.