The only chocolate concoction I can’t resist is ice cream. There’s magic in the marriage of chocolate and cream, and with the added element of icy-cold melting slowly on the tongue during a hot Savannah summer, why, it’s just plain irresistible.
Though the South can’t take credit for inventing this bit of magic, it gives my heart a lift to know that a Southerner may have been the first American to provide a recipe for it.
When Mary Randolph’s The Virginia House-wife was published in 1824, it was not only one of the first Southern cookbooks, it contained one of the first comprehensive treatments of ice cream in an American book, and her recipe for chocolate ice cream is widely believed to be one of the oldest in print.
Ever since it was introduced to Europe in the sixteenth century, chocolate had been popular among the wealthy as a beverage, but by Mrs. Randolph’s day it was also turning up in sweet creams and custards. Freezing such creams was an old idea, and certainly not original with her, but we can still thank her for setting down the formula for posterity.
Mary Randolph’s Chocolate Ice Cream
Makes about 1½ quarts, serving 6
(I’ve made one change to Mrs. Randolph’s recipe. Since her whole milk would have been richer than ours, I’ve used a blend of both milk and cream.)
¼ pound (four 1-ounce squares) unsweetened chocolate
2 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream (minimum 36% milk fat)
1 whole vanilla bean (see notes on other flavors below)
1 cup sugar
6 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
Finely grate the chocolate onto a sheet of wax paper. Prepare the bottom of a double boiler with simmering water. In the top pot, over direct heat, bring the milk, cream, and vanilla bean almost to a boil, stirring it constantly. Add the sugar and a tiny pinch of salt, stirring until it dissolves, and then put it over the simmering water.
Take up the wax paper, fold two edges together to make a funnel, and pour the chocolate slowly into the hot milk, stirring constantly. Keep stirring until it has completely melted.
Beat a cup of hot liquid into the egg yolks and stir them into the remaining hot liquid. Cook, stirring it constantly, until it’s lightly thickened and coats the back of the spoon. Remove from the heat and stir it until slightly cooled, about 5 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean (it can be rinsed, dried, and reused). Let cool completely, cover, and chill for at least 4 hours or overnight.
Prepare an ice cream freezer according to the manufacturer’s directions and freeze the cream until it is almost set—a little stiffer than soft-serve ice cream.
To serve the ice cream as Mrs. Randolph would have done pack it into a mold; otherwise, use any freezer-proof container. Freeze until set. If molded, dip the mold in a basin of hot water or wrap it with a towel heated in a clothes dryer. Invert over a serving plate and lift off the mold. If it won’t come off, dip the mold again or re-warm the towel and wrap it for a minute or so more. If not molded, scoop it as you would any other ice cream.
Damon Lee Fowler is a culinary historian and author of six cookbooks, including Classical Southern Cooking, Damon Lee Fowler’s New Southern Baking, and The Savannah Cookbook. His work has also appeared in Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, and Relish. He lives and eats in Savannah, Georgia.
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