Back in November, I was browsing through David Lebovitz’s blog & stumbled upon a recipe for Milk Chocolate & Black Pepper ice cream that he swore would make sense on your taste buds, even if the initial thought of pairing the two sounded a bit odd. I was intrigued, so on a walk-by of Heather’s Heat & Flavor during Thanksgiving in Cleveland, I stuck my nose into no less than eight jars of peppercorns, trying to sniff out which one could possibly have undetectable chocolate notes to complement chocolate ice cream.
Failing this, I asked advice of the shop’s proprietors, & although they thought I was more than a little crazy to even consider peppering chocolate, they happily sold me three different kinds of pepper, in addition to two different kinds of cinnamon & one pouch of cocoa (you can never have too much cinnamon or cocoa, really).
I smuggled the drugs through airport security, no problem, & recently found myself back at my stovetop in Boston with a saucepan-full of hot & beautiful chocolate custard & freshly ground Grains of Paradise pepper in a small bowl, which I almost couldn’t bear to toss in. Even as I gave the grinds a final sniff, revealing an earthy scent & a mellow but present zing, I was hesitant. But never fear. Even if this combo originated from a clumsy cook elbowing a jar of pepper into chocolate, the result was a very happy accident. You’ll love it.
Pepper is one of those things that I always use, but never give much thought to - what does its fruit look like, where does it come from, & most importantly for my ancient-looking jar, how long does it take for it to spoil? It’s time I started paying as much attention to it as I do my salt (yes, I do pay salt lots of attention). Starting now, with the diva-licious Grains of Paradise.
Grains of Paradise are pepper-y, but technically, these Africa-natives are members of the zingiberaceae family & I hardly think there could be a more appropriate name. Zing? Absolutely. This is the same family that gives us ginger, cardamom & turmeric, & its members are typically known for their medicinal properties, zippy flavors & warming sensations.
Through the years, Grains of Paradise has been used for its antimicrobial & antifungal properties to treat everything from measles to leprosy to heartburn to bad breath (quite the repertoire), but it was most commonly used to flavor Hippocras, a spiced wine that was very much enjoyed during the Middle Ages & was a favorite drink of Louis XIV. Today, in a reincarnation of this tradition, Grains of Paradise makes a yearly appearance in Samuel Adams Summer Ale. Following tradition of course, perhaps we should consider using the seasonal ale as a mouthwash?
Now, after all this Paradise talk, I suppose I should let you know that any high-quality pepper will give this ice cream a contemporary edge. As long as it’s fresh, grind it up, throw it in, & see what kind of flavors it brings out. I used my [clean] coffee grinder to make sure the pepper was ground up enough so that there weren’t whole peppercorns to accidentally crunch down on, but not so much that it was powdered & the texture was completely lost.
Also, the original recipe called for milk chocolate, & sure, maybe that tastes good too, but I’m a bittersweet gal through & through - just ask Mr. A - & while the milk chocolate-pepper combo might allow more of the pepper flavor to come through, I was more interested in adding a little something special to an already fabulous dark chocolate ice cream, rather than the other way around.
The result is a pepper-studded cream that warms your throat as you swallow, even though it might still give you a brain freeze moment if you’re not careful. It’s a more mellow version of the popular chili-chocolate friendship & it just adds a little extra something to your standard chocolate ice cream.
Thanks to Living the Sweet Life in Paris for this brilliance.
Chocolate & Black Pepper Ice Cream
- 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate in chip or chopped form
- 3 cups Half & Half
- 3/4 cups granulated sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 4 egg yolks
- 2 teaspoons Cognac
- 1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper
Place chocolate in a large bowl, with a strainer over it, & set it aside.
In a saucepan, heat Half & Half, sugar, & salt over medium heat till it starts to steam. Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks together in a medium sized bowl. Once you see the milk steaming, pour it, little by little, into the yolks, whisking with each addition.
After most of the milk is added, pour it all back into the saucepan & continue to heat until the mixture thickens. (Running your finger along the back of the spoon with leave a solid trail that does not run).
Pour the custard through the strainer over the chocolate, then stir the chocolate till it melts. Add in the Cognac & pepper.
Let it cool down in the refrigerator for at least a couple hours before freezing in your ice cream maker. Yes, YOUR ice cream maker. It really isn’t as big of an investment as you might think…
Eat & Enjoy!