Blood Orange-Chocolate Mint Sorbet
Ever eager to play around with mints other than the oft-sold spearmint, I was thrilled to get a bunch of Chocolate Mint at the Saturday Santa Monica Farmer’s Market. It has the most euphoric mint-chocolate aroma… After I gave the bunch to Chad for a sample smell, I had a hard time prying it away from his nose and out of his hands. Like a natural Andes mint, is my best approximation. As for taste, I find it somewhere btw spearmint and peppermint in intensity, and having a very slight tinge of chocolate flavor (though I’m not entirely convinced that the aroma/psychology of it doesn’t influence this).
Although it was only a dollar, its rarity makes it far more valuable to me. So, for fun and out of curiosity, I was determined to use every last leaf, and fast — I find that keeping herbs in the fridge for too long knocks some of their vitality out; even if they don’t wilt, their aroma and flavor dissipate.
I looked around online and in my recipe books for inspiration — and sifted through all the mint recipes call for extract, oils, and/or liqueur as the mint flavoring agent.
When it comes down to it, mint leaves are probably most often used for infusions. For my experiments, I did cold and hot infusions in either dairy liquids (cream/milk) or sugar syrup. It’s not hard getting the flavor into these agents; the trickiness comes in getting the flavor just right — balanced with the other ingredients and pleasing in itself. It’s barebones in technique — all you do is drop some chopped mint leaves into liquid (I also smush them btw my fingers as I drop them to release more flavor or use my cocktail muddler on them) and leave it to infuse for as long as it takes, judging its taste along the way.
Overall, I liked the hot infusions into sugar syrups the best. They seemed to retain the cleanest mint flavor this time — not too weak (common for cold infusions) and not too vegetal (common for cream infusions). I didn’t really care for the cream infusions much at all this time. Maybe, if I do cold cream infusions again, I’ll let it infuse for even longer — up to 24 hrs, I guess.
I did see one recipe online that I’m still curious about — laying mint leaves on the bottom of a cake pan, pouring cake batter over it, and baking. I wonder how such a “cake infusion” works out.
As you can see, 4 out of 6 recipes below feature citrus. These were all purchased at the Farmer’s Market, too… and it really wasn’t until I got home that I realized that I’d picked up an array of some of mint’s best friends. I like how the mint gives a refreshing finish to the initial tang of citrus. It also reminds me how I trained myself in middle school to drink OJ with bfst before brushing my teeth… rather than experience the horrible clash of orange after mint toothpaste.
Blood Orange-Chocolate Mint Sorbet – Made a 1:1 simple syrup, and added mint once I took it off heat and let it infuse until cool. Then mixed it into freshly squeezed blood orange juice until it was at 28Brix on my refractometer. I also let it chill overnight, partly in a bid to let the flavors mellow into each other.
This was my favorite. Wonderful swirl of flavors. And the color’s downright dreamy.
Texas Ruby Red Grapefruit with Chocolate Mint Syrup – Made same syrup as for sorbet above. Segmented the grapefruit, saved any errant juice, and mixed it with some syrup. Poured syrup over fruit, chilled for 15 mins before eating, and that was it.
It tasted great, but a little too sweet and with an underlying viscosity. The sugar in the syrup could probably have been halved. As always, I really liked the texture of the grapefruit segments.
Mandarin Orange-Chocolate Mint “Jello” – Making “jello” without a mix is wonderfully easy — it’s just juice with gelatin added to it; gelatin generally just needs to be bloomed, melted, and mixed in. The argument could be made that you could just drink the juice and get just about the same flavor (or even better, if you’re not a gelatin fan), but there’s something especially fun and refreshing about jello once in a while, so why not. It also lasts longer when you eat it instead of drink it. And you can add citrus segments into the gelatin, at whatever amount you’d like.
Anyway, I juiced some mandarins with my hand citrus reamer, and threw in some chopped mint leaves to infuse overnight, chilled. I tasted it in the morning, found it to my liking, strained out the mint, and found that I had one cup of juice. In A New Way to Cook, Sally Schneider suggests using 1-1/4 tsp unflavored gelatin per cup of juice or liquid (in other words, 2 cups liquid per packet of gelatin), so I bloomed the gelatin over a 1/4 cup while I brought the rest to a boil. I combined the two, mixed them together, let them set until they reached room temp, and then chilled them.
The result is a little thicker than regular jello and not too sweet (there was no added sugar, after all, and the gelatin dulls the juice’s flavor a little). Maybe next time I’d add a little water to break up the juice’s body, and some sugar or agave nectar.
Chocolate Mint-Chocolate Chip Ice Cream – This method was mostly from Alice Medrich’s Bittersweet, which has otherwise produced great results for me. I did an overnight cold infusion of mint into cream, and then made an ice cream base (which is similar to creme anglaise) out of that cream. Let that age overnight. When I tasted it in the morning, it wasn’t as minty as I would have liked, so I finely chopped some mint leaves to add to it after it was frozen in the ice cream machine.
I also added special fudgy chips prescribed by Medrich. Instead of using regular chocolate chunks, which are uncomfortably hard when frozen (and especially annoying in creamy ice cream), she makes chips made out of a kind of water ganache, with a very high ratio of chocolate so that it’s rather firm at room temp. You can cut it into chunks, and mix it into the ice cream after it churns.
I like the chips a lot, but the mint flavor is weaker than I’d like.
When I find peppermint or another non-spear-mint, I’m going to try the method in Pierre Herme and Dorie Greenspan’s Chocolate Desserts — hot infusion of cream, reserve mint leaves, make custardy ice cream base, let cool, blend with reserved mint leaves, freeze, and then mix in finely chopped mint leaves. That should give me the cold blast of bold mint ice cream that I’ve been craving.
Mandarin Orange-Chocolate Mint Rice Pudding – I based it on this recipe, the same recipe as I used for my Lapsang Souchong Rice Pudding. I infused the milk with mandarin orange peel and mint leaves. At one point, the mint was getting too strong, so I fished it out and left the orange peel in until the flavors were balanced. Then I made the rice pudding. For some reason, though, it took FOREVER for it to cook this time. The rice was so reluctant to soften, and I had to resort to adding water so that the dairy wouldn’t congeal too much around hard rice.
I did see a recipe for rice pudding in The Sweet Life by Kate Zuckerman in which she cooks the rice and custard separately, and that seems pretty wonderful foolproof idea.
Anyway, it tastes nice. Creamy and comforting in its own way, but nothing spectacular.
Chocolate Mint Truffles – Same cold infusion of leaves into cream as for the ice cream above. Also too mellow and yet vaguely unpleasant. Part of me was wary of putting chocolate mint into a chocolate-laden recipe in the first place, for fear of overpowering the chocolate mint’s delicacy, and that’s pretty much what happened. I didn’t bother to enrobe these. Maybe I’ll make cupcakes, and transform this into an icing so that it’s not wasted.