Frozen Assets

Peppermint Stick Ice Cream

Martian landscape...or frozen delight?

You’ll be relieved to hear that my winter hat, gloves, and a couple of scarves are still sitting out in a handy place.

Yes, I keep reminding myself that winter—or what passed for winter this year—is over. It is shorts and flip-flop season now. Part of the reluctance of putting my woolen saviors away is that I want to launder or dry clean them first. Part of my reluctance is rooted in disbelief that the calendar today says, “June.” Really? Wait. Where did the first five months go? I can find my hat and gloves, but March sped by so fast that my hat and gloves seem to be the only evidence that March actually happened.

I face the beginning of every summer with the same grim resolve: “I will sweat now. Perspiration will be my constant companion.”

Oh my. That is grim. I need some ice cream. That’ll cheer me up.

In spite of what sounds like a dread of warm weather, one tiny corner of my brain has been waiting impatiently for summer. That’s because that corner of my brain has been focused intently on a tightly wrapped bowl of crushed candy canes that I stashed in my freezer last December. They have been waiting there—a frozen asset—since they were used as decoration on a batch of Christmas cookies. A friend had requested a repeat performance of cookies dipped in white chocolate and sprinkled with the crushed candy canes.

Or course during November and December candy canes are as much a part of the holiday season landscape as Señor Claus. To decorate the cookies I bought a package of candy canes and blitzed them in the food processor. The hardest part was getting the cellophane off of each individual cane (Noted to self at the time: don’t buy individually wrapped candy canes.)

One box of candy canes makes quite a bit more crushed candy than you could imagine, leaving quite a bit left over after I finished the cookies. The fleeting thought of discarding the rest was quickly overtaken by the fleeting inspiration to make Peppermint Stick Ice Cream “next summer”. At the time “next summer” seemed like a ship on a very distant horizon, yet here it is urgently ringing my doorbell.

The good news is that if candy canes abound during December, on June 1st my freezer seems to have an exclusive distribution deal. Suddenly the bowl of crushed candy which has been in the way all these months seems like buried treasure.

Even better, I can pat myself on the back: I’ll be telling people that I knew the Facebook stock would tank, so instead  I invested in peppermint futures and they have paid off handsomely. Buy and hold? Indeed.

There is purity to my childhood memories of Peppermint Stick ice cream that is hard to match. I am assuming my memories are of Howard Johnson’s version with its little premeditated pops of peppermint candy. I was tickled to see Mad Men pay tribute to HoJo’s this season, including a poster spied over Jon Hamm’s shoulder advertising Wednesday Fish Fry, a frequent landing pad for us when the summer heat made our kitchen unbearable. The Mad Men script highlighted HoJo’s orange sherbet, an item that wasn’t on my childhood radar. But they got the pointy shape of the scoop just right.

When I was a kid I must have literally stuck my eye into the ice cream because my memories are not of a cone, a scoop, or a dish, but of a frozen, creamy, Martian-pink landscape dotted with tiny candies. It would, on occasion, rain—hail—chocolate jimmies. Yes, this POV memory is a bit disturbing, but doesn’t everyone have a food memory like this? No? Uhhh, you mean this isn’t normal?

Well, it is this sort of trippy, psychedelic sense memory that makes me think in December of making ice cream in June, and I felt a huge responsibility to my memories to get it right, to make perfect Peppermint Stick ice cream. This is not brain surgery, although after re-reading my memory above it occurs to me that a brain surgeon would likely have a field day examining mine.

Clearly this was not the time for short cuts or easy recipes; I wanted to do this right. I had never taken the time to make an honest to goodness cooked ice cream base, so this was my maiden voyage. If you can plan your ice cream making a day or two in advance this is clearly the way to go.

Cooking custard sounds like a lot of trouble, but the truth is that if you can heat a can of soup, you can make Crème Anglaise, a/k/a ice cream base. The only real tricks (I think) are patience and a candy thermometer.

Well, think about it: the recipe uses four egg yolks…anytime you throw egg yolks over some heat you do run the risk of scrambled eggs. So, the patience is because you should use a lower heat than you may be used to and will have to stand and stir for several minutes. The candy thermometer will ensure that you do not cook the custard over 180 degrees which will scramble the eggs. Other than that it’s pretty simple. For best results you’ll need to cook the custard the day before you want to make the ice cream so that it can be chilled thoroughly before freezing.

The crushed candy canes (you can substitute the little round starlight peppermint candies) don’t get added to the ice cream until the final minute or two in the ice cream machine. If you have crushed them into a powdery crumble enough of the candy will dissolve into the ice cream tinting it a blushing pink that reminds me of my grandmother’s cheeks after she applied an item she quaintly called “rouge”.

I fought the further temptation—this time—to add a ribbon of melted chocolate as the ice cream machine whirled round and round. The Italians use this technique to add chocolate to Stracciatella gelato. When the melted chocolate hits the frozen cream it hardens and then crackles into the ice cream.

The combination of chocolate and peppermint will surely be visited before the summer ends.

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Click here for my Peppermint Stick Ice Cream recipe

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“Frozen Tweetberry, please”

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