One of the things I love about hotels--good hotels--is that, if you ask nicely, you can usually get just about anything you want. It was with this in mind that I sat crosslegged on a hotel bed about a year and a half ago, room service menu in left hand and telephone receiver in the right. We wanted ice cream, but it wasn't on the menu.
"How could they not have ice cream?!" There was chocolate cake, cheesecake, creme brulee, and some kind of fruit cup situation, but no ice cream.
I refused to accept this and dialed room service.
"Good evening, Mrs. X," the man on the other line said, referring to me by the last name of the person who was registered in the room.
"Not Mrs. And also not X," I said with a bit of a laugh. Mr. X rolled his eyes at me from the floor where he sat packing his suitcase. "Great," he muttered. "Now the hotel staff thinks I'm having an affair..."
I shushed him so I could concentrate on my mission. On the other end, Room Service man seemed a bit flustered by my correction and was apologizing profusely. "No worries," I replied. "But you can make it up to me..."
Eager to please, he asked how he could help.
"I want ice cream, but it's not on your menu. Are you sure you don't have ice cream anywhere in this hotel?"
"Well..." he hesitated. "Let me see what I can find. I'll call you in a moment."
A few minutes later the phone rang. "Hello Mrs...er...Miss. I found some ice cream in the restaurant. They are not really available for room service, but we are happy to make an exception. Would you like to hear the flavors?"
I agreed excitedly and told him to go ahead. He listed them slowly, giving me time to repeat them for Mr. X. "Vanilla, Coffee, Chocolate, Pink Peppercorn, and Strawberry." He gave me a moment to decide and I looked up at Mr. X excitedly.
"No," he said, even before I had the chance to voice my request. "We're not getting Pink Peppercorn."
"Please?" I begged, doing my best attempt at a pout.
"No. No weird flavors."
I ordered the coffee and vanilla, relenting only because I knew it was his last night in town. The dessert arrived quickly, elegant quenelles arranged with a sprinking of berries and fresh whipped cream. I remember enjoying the coffee, which was creamy and seemed to melt quickly on the plate, but in the back of my mind I still longed to try the pepper flavor. That night I vowed to do so as soon as possible.
As soon as possible turned out to be couple week ago when I found myself with a gallon of milk that absolutely had to be used, but not much in the way of flavorings. I considered an old-fashioned milk ice cream but then my eyes fell on a bottle of peppermint extract that had somehow disappeared among the spices. My brain instantly popped into action, remembering the bundle of soon-to-be-wilted mint leftover in the fridge after the previous weekend's mojitos. I pushed aside the extract and instead pulled down a bottle of whole black peppercorns.
"Pepper Mint!" I shouted to my empty kithcen as I quickly set to work, crushing and simmering and stirring and straining. I started with a custard base that quickly took on a lovely creamy beige hue. Once the mixture was cool and ready to freeze, I went to pull out the ice cream maker base when I noticed the long narrow box of Michel Cluizel single origin chocolate squares I'd recently received as a gift from the aforementioned Mr. X.
"Full circle!" I shouted once again, pulling out four or five of the little squares. I crushed these into rough chips and tossed them into the ice cream maker about five minutes before the end.
The result was breathtaking. The coolness of the fresh mint hits first, followed quickly by the creamy sweetness. It's not until a second or two later that the flavor truly blooms with a spicy tickly that seems to flow all the way down the throat.
I served this for friends who were actually quite surprised by it. One friend literally changed her opinion of the ice cream from one second to the next as it transformed in her mouth. It's absolutely an acquired taste; I think it's delicious, but one of my friends could not hide the look of horror on her face. "I like the first part," she said. An observation that I actually found quite fantastic as it gives evidence to the fact that this ice cream really does feel like 2 or 3 different kinds in one.
Pepper Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
This pairs quite nicely with a light chocolate cake as you'll probably want something to tame the flavors. It's a strong ice cream and can stand up quite well to rich winter meals.
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2.5 tablespoons whole black or pink peppercorns, crushed with a mortar or bottom of a heavy skillet
2 cups fresh mint, roughly ripped apart
8 egg yolks
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips or 1 chopped dark chocolate bar (the best you can find--don't even *think* about using Hershey's)
1. Heat the cream, milk, sugar, mint, and roughly crushed peppercorns over medium heat. Simmer gently, taking care not to let boil for about 20 minutes.
2.Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks in a medium bowl and set aside.
3. Temper the hot mixture into the eggs by slowly pouring about 1/2 cup of the cream at a time in a delicate stream while whisking constantly into the eggs. Once the egg mixture has been brought up in temperature, strain back into the saucepan and return to medium-low heat stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the custard thickens.
4. Let the custard cool, and then chill in the fridge four about 2 hours until completely cold. (You can speed this up by placing the custard in a bowl over an ice bath and stirring constantly.)
5. Freeze the custard in an ice cream maker, according to the manufacturer’s directions. About five minutes before the end, toss in the chocolate and finish processing.
6. Place the finished ice cream in an air-tight container and freeze for at least a couple hours to harden.