Sort of along the lines of “What do you get a girl that has everything?” is the perhaps not-asked-as-oft question:

“What do you get a girl that positively swoons over scoops of ice cream?”

Of course anything less than ‘ice cream’ or something ice cream related just won’t cut it – lest you wish risking to see her little heart deflate upon showing up with a piece of cake, a slice of pie, or even a perfect petit four.

And if said friend is my adorable friend Courtney, and said ice cream is of the coffee/chocolate/salted caramel persuasion – well, then, you just know you’re going to hit the proverbial ball out of the park.

So last week, when we met up for a Monday afternoon lunch date to celebrate the advent of little Miss Court’s birthday (ahem….our carefree twenties?…your days are numbered), I knew I had an opportunity for something other than just a midday-midweek glass of wine on my hands.

(Of course there was wine!  But you all knew that by now.)

After hemming and hawwing and lots of discussion, I decided against making the sweet corn ice cream recipe I’d been eyeing up for the better part of five years (ever since Mario Batali introduced me to sweet corn gelato at Otto), and went with something I knew to be a bit more right up her alley.

It was her birthday, after all, and there’s still plenty of time this Summer for ice-cream hijinks.

I settled on a full-bodied cappuccino flavored ice cream, with small flecks of good dark chocolate stirred in along with a sprinkle of delicate and flakey sea salt.  The coffee flavored base was made richer with the addition of unsweetened cocoa powder and rounder with a tipple of savory cinnamon. Without the addition of the chocolate flecks the ice cream churned up to be delightfully reminiscent of a steaming (but frozen) cup of bakery cappuccino, but with the added texture and crunch of the chocolate it was stepped up to an entirely different level.

Coffee and chocolate are natural partners in crime, and encountering little crunchy bits of good dark chocolate that were accented by the lightest salty edge made this coffee flavored ice cream into something really quite special.

I transported it to our lunch date forty-five minutes away in Denver, buried deep in ice that I had hurriedly scooped into an old Lululemon bag (one which, after getting half-way there on the hundred degree day I realized most definitely was not waterproof, as evidenced by a growing wet spot in the passenger seat footwell….oopsie!). We sat down to eat, four girls and two baby boys, and had a lovely time chatting the afternoon away, sipping our naughty Monday afternoon adult beverages, and toasting our little friend-family of Colorado transplants.

As our meal dwindled to a close, the waitress was sweet enough to bring us a dessert on the house – a little caramel pudding, nestled into a martini glass and garnished with delicate chocolate curls. For a moment, I was worried that my red tupperware container of rustic homemade ice cream might be overshadowed by something decidedly more chic, but the second the container was set in front of us with four spoons – I knew I had one happy birthday girl on my hands.

What do you give a girl that really Ice cream – of course! And so we sat there, all four of us silent, digging into a tupperware container full of creamy cool cappuccino ice cream, only pausing for a moment to let our waitress dig a spoon in for a taste. We finished off the whole darn thing, and knowing my friends enjoyed every last bite was a gift in itself to me.

Cappuccino Ice Cream with Dark Chocolate and Sea Salt
Makes ~1 quart
Inspired by and adapted from McConnell’s, via Scoop

Though there are specific directions below for how to temper the eggs – that is, bring them up to a higher temperature before adding them to the hot ice cream base – do not be intimidated. Once you get the hang of it it is a very easy process, and if any of your eggs do happen to scramble, simply strain the custard base to remove the scrambled bits before adding it into the ice cream maker. No biggie!

You could easily brew your own coffee – just make sure that it is dark and it is strong.  I grabbed a cup at a local coffee shop, Ozo, as I love the taste of their brew, and know they have a super dark variety tee’d up that I normally wouldn’t make at home.  (And let’s face it, any time I have an excuse for an extra cup of java I won’t turn it down!)

This makes a lovely coffee-forward chocolate ice cream, that would be great drizzled with some Bailey’s or served over a fudge brownie with whipped cream.

1 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup whole milk
3/4 cup strong brewed coffee
1/2 cup granulated sugar, divided
1/4 cup good quality cocoa powder (unsweetened) – I like Ghirardelli
1/4 nonfat dry milk powder
1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp kosher salt
4 large egg yolks

1.5 oz highest quality dark chocolate, finely chopped
1 tsp flaky sea salt, such as Maldon

tools: an ice cream maker, wooden spoon (preferably an angled one)

Combine the cream, milk, coffee, 1/4 cup of the sugar, cocoa powder, milk powder, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and salt in a medium saucepan, and stir well to dissolve the powder milk and cocoa powder. Bring the mixture just to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally.

While the milk and cream mixture comes to a simmer, beat the yolks and the remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a medium sized mixing bowl until the yolks are thick and light yellow in color. Very slowly, beat about 1/3 of the hot milk and cream mixture into the yolk and sugar mixture, so that you are gradually warming up the yolk mixture (if you go to fast, you risk scrambling the eggs). When about a third of the hot milk and cream has been added, SLOWLY pour the yolk mixture back into the simmering pot of milk and cream, stirring constantly as you do so.

Turn the heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches about 170F on an instant read thermometer.   Be sure that you reach all corners and parts of the pan, to ensure that the mixture does not scald or burn in spots (I like to use an angled wooden spoon for this, as seen in the photo).  When it hits 170F, it will begin to emit steam and thicken considerably; it should coat the back of a wooden spoon, and leave a clear trail when you drag your finger across the spoon. It should take 3-6 minutes to reach 170F over medium low heat — do not allow the mixture to boil, or the eggs will scramble.

Transfer the hot liquid to a gallon sized Ziplock bag, and then place the sealed bag into a large bowl filled with ice and cold water. This will help the mixture to cool quickly, allowing it to be cool enough that you can churn it in just 30 minutes or so. (Alternately, you can allow the mixture to cool in the fridge in a sealed container, but this process will take considerably longer.) Once the mixture is very cold (it must not be above 40F or it will not freeze right/you risk it becoming icy), pour it into the canister of an ice cream maker and churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

When the ice cream has stopped churning, it will be soft enough to stir – almost like the consistancy of soft serve. Stir in the flaky sea salt and the finely chopped chocolate, being sure to evenly distribute it throughout the cappuccino flavored base, and then transfer the ice cream into a freeze-safe container. Freeze the ice cream in the coldest part of your freezer until it has firmed up, about 3-4 hours.

Allow the ice cream to sit at room temperature for 10 minutes or so before serving if it is frozen solid.