for your next kentucky derby party.

I bought an ice cream maker at a yard sale last year. It was a serendipitous find, as I had been seriously considering buying that exact make and model from Amazon. Guys, I had almost gone retail. Within a week, I had tried it out, using the most basic of chocolate ice cream recipes in the manual. It was delicious, and I concluded that my $10 had been well-spent.

And then my ice cream machine sat in my pantry, untouched for a year or so. It might have cried from loneliness every time I took down the food processor, though it consoled itself that at least it got more use than the wok.

The reason that I wanted an ice cream machine in the first place was because I'd seen recipes for really interesting homemade ice cream. Every summer, food blogs begin posting the ice cream recipes. My experience with homemade ice cream has been limited to Fourth of July parties, where old Southern ladies pull out their ancient wooden ice cream makers from the basement and make vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry ice cream for their neighbors. To be fair to those lovely old ladies, that ice cream is delicious. But it was really more like flavored snow cream than ice cream. I love snow cream, too, but I have no urge to buy one of those giant snow-makers that you see on ski mountains. They don't even sell those on Amazon.

One night, I got to thinking about my poor lonely ice cream machine and how excited I was to buy it. I decided that I need to make more ice cream. Maybe I should even do it once a month or so. Anything more would be excess. Delicious, creamy excess.

For some unknown reason, the recipe I decided to try first was Mint Julep ice cream. Why? I'm not even sure. I've had a Mint Julep once, and I didn't like it. I love mint, but not bourbon. Josh likes bourbon, but any dessert without chocolate in it is a waste of calories to him. The best answer I can give is that I was intrigued. There were a lot of homemade ice cream recipes out there, and a lot of them sounded awesome, and a lot of them sounded pretty weird unusual. This one seemed to be at the intersection of awesome and unusual, which happens to be the place where I try to live most of the time. So, Mint Julep it is.

I bought all the ingredients, including a handful of fresh mint and a fifth of Jim Beam. The cashier probably thought I was throwing a Kentucky Derby party.

I will say that I had a sort of cooking epiphany while I was making this recipe. I periodically have these, and sometimes I write about them. They're always the same realization, basically some variation on the theme that I don't suck at cooking anymore, hooray for me. This time, I had my realization when I was mixing the custard into the cream, which was sitting in an ice bath. I was holding a pot with one hand, whisking with another, and holding the pot in the ice bath with the power of my belly button.

Dude, this is kind of a complicated recipe.

Somehow, I did not realize this until I was holding a pot steady with my stomach muscles. I read the recipe before I made it, like I always do. I read the list of ingredients to determine if they are easy to find and not too expensive, and then I read the instructions to see if it's manageable and how long the whole thing will take. I had read the whole thing, and at no point did I decide that this recipe was beyond my ability. In fact, it didn't even occur to me that the list of instructions was in any way complicated. It was very strange, because at one point, the idea of an ice bath or of beating fresh herbs with a spoon might have given me pause.

I don't suck at cooking, hooray for me.

After all the herb-beating and abdominal pot-steadying, it's a little anti-climatic to put the cream into the machine and press start. Twenty minutes later, ice cream. I'm glad the machine is so efficient, but it sort of belies that amount of work I put in before, which I didn't realize was a lot of work at the time but seemed like it afterwards.

Folks, this is amazing ice cream. The bourbon taste is very subtle. The mint is the real star. If the first epiphany was during the preparation, the second was in the eating. I don't think I have ever fully appreciated mint before, and I say this as a big fan. I thought I knew mint. After all, it is everywhere, as a flavor friend with chocolate or in a multitude of breath-freshening products. I realize now that most mint that you taste is just like any other kind of artificial flavor. Grape Jolly Ranchers and strawberry Pop-Tart have little in common with their actual vegetal inspirations. And so it is with mint. This is not the flavor in your Wrigley's or your Listerine or your Andes. This is mint. It is fresh mint that I beat with a spoon and then steeped in cream.

I don't expect any of you to make this recipe. It is manageable, but complicated, and I live the kind of privileged existence where I have the time and money to spend on making gourmet ice cream. Mostly I want to let you know that there are some fantastic food experiences out there in the world, at the intersection of awesome and unusual. You should try some.

Mint Julep Ice Cream.


Sandra Dena said...

Yay! This is Sarah's friend and probably the only other Sandra under the age of 40 living in the Triangle. I'm always glad to sample some icecream should you want to use that thing more frequently.

Sandra said...

Hey! I'm glad you left a message. I meant to come talk to you at the Pinhook a while back, but by the time the music had stopped, you'd already left. It's so hard to talk to anyone during a concert. Those musicians should really be more considerate about that kind of thing. 8)