Spiced Chocolate Ice Cream with Roasted Pepitas

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This ice cream creation stems from two of my favorite food memories and with every bite I am taken back. When I first moved to Salt Lake City over four years ago, I took a trip to Red Iguana, the authentic mexican restaurant that my sister had raved about while living in Utah a few years before. She claimed it was the best mexican restaurant she had ever been to and her Mexican husband and his family all agreed. I was sold and tried it out in the first few days I lived in Salt Lake. Red Iguana easily became my favorite restaurant.

In the midst of failing businesses and quiet motels on the less than affluent west side of town, Red Iguana stands in it's bright yellow and red glory with a crowd of people waiting outside it's doors, snow or sun. This restaurant taught me that some long and hungry waits are more than worth it. I was seated with bottomless chips and spicy salsa and, with a glass of horchata, I might have convinced myself that I was set to go. But the extensive menu said otherwise.

I began my visits by playing it safe, ordering combination plates of burritos, tacos, flautas, and enchiladas. I fell in love and found it hard to stray from these classics when they had never let me down. But I got adventurous and began ordering fajita platters, enchiladas with their own special sauces, and Red Iguana's famed moles that are packed with flavor and introduced me to chocolate as a savory ingredient.

My favorite mole and what they call the "king of moles", mole negro features ingredients like dried chiles, peanuts, raisins, and the star ingredients, chocolate. I fell hard for the spicy chocolate flavor and began seeking it out and ordering it anywhere else I could find those flavors. Mexican hot chocolate became a favorite drink in the wintertime and spicy chocolate bars were a delicacy.

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Then while out running errands with my roommate, we stumbled upon a cute little cookie shop, RubySnap. We couldn't resist stopping and stepped inside their door to find the warm comforting smells of cookies awaiting us. The friendly ladies behind the counter couldn't wait to introduce us to the eighteen creative cookie flavors featured and began handing us samples- cookie halves that filled us so well we nearly didn't order anything. But of course we had to take some home.

I ordered what became my two favorite flavors- the "Lilly" cookie, a lemon sugar cookie with lemonheads baked right into it, and the "Frida" cookie, a spicy chocolate cookie with a chile de arbol ganache center, rolled in cinnamon sugar and topped with pepitas. I could name the many other flavors that stole my heart, but I must simply encourage you to make a trip to RubySnap yourself to give it a try. Each flavor is delicious in it's own way and will completely change the way you see and taste cookies.

I returned to RubySnap again and again and once I got married, Josh and I began visiting nearly every Friday night to get a small box of cookies to sneak into the movies or bring home for dessert. We were addicts. So much so that I ended up working there a year or two later (which required me to get a gym membership to keep my health somewhat in balance).

On our last day in Salt Lake City, Josh and I visited both of these favorite eateries, filling up on Red Iguana and stocking up on bags of frozen cookie doughs (and a few freshly baked cookies for the road) from RubySnap to bring with us to Indiana.

When I began making this recipe, the initial inspiration was Mexican Hot Chocolate as the weather is getting cooler. But as I finished up the base and performed a taste test before popping it in the fridge for cooling, the cinnamon and pop of cayenne immediately brought me back to my favorite foods in Salt Lake City. Oh how I miss those foods and cannot wait to return and eat them again. But for now, I'll make this spiced chocolate ice cream to remember them by.

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Ingredients

5 large egg yolks
2/3 cup organic cane sugar, split see note
1/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa, sifted
1 cup milk
1 3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vietnamese cinnamon see note
1/4 cup roasted salted pepitas *see note

Instructions

Prepare an ice bath large enough to hold and cool a 2 quart bowl.
In a medium heatproof bowl, break up the egg yolks with a whisk, then whisk in 1/3 cup of the sugar. Set aside.
In a 2 quart saucepan, combine the cocoa, remaining sugar, and a 1/4 cup of the milk. Whisk to a thick paste, adding a little more milk as necessary to make it smooth. Add the remaining milk, cream, and salt and put over medium-high heat.
Once the cream mixture approaches a bare simmer, remove it from the heat. While whisking the eggs constantly, use a ladle to scoop out about a 1/2 cup of the hot cream mixture into the yolks. Repeat with another scoop of cream, whisking till incorporated. Use a rubber spatula to stir the cream mixture in the saucepan as you pour the egg mixture into the pan.
While stirring constantly, cook the mixture over the medium heat for about 2 minutes longer or until it coats the back of your spatula and your finger creates a clear path when you run your finger across it. Remove the base from the heat and quickly whisk in the cinnamon and cayenne pepper.
Strain the base through a mesh strainer into a 2 quart bowl. Set the bowl in your ice bath and use a clean spatula to stir the base occasionally until it is completely cooled.
Dry the outside of your container, cover the ice cream base with plastic wrap, and put a lid on your container. Refrigerate the base for at least 2 hours or overnight.
When you are ready to churn your ice cream, place an empty container into the freezer. Churn your ice cream in the ice cream machine according to the machine's instructions. When your ice cream is thick but not quite frozen, add in the roasted pepitas.
Once the ice cream is frozen and ready, transfer the ice cream to your pre-frozen container.
Cover the ice cream with plastic wrap, pressing it down so no air can get in. Put the lid on your ice cream and freezer for at least 5 hours.

Notes

*While organic cane sugar isn't necessary and plain granulated sugar can be substituted, I find that the organic cane sugar has a much deeper flavor as it is not as processed or refined as regular sugar. Regular sugar is usually ultra-refined, stripped of all molasses, and often obtained from fields that use chemicals on their plants.

*Vietnamese cinnamon is different than standard cinnamon in that it is more vibrant and strong, making it a distinct flavor in this recipe. I highly recommend you buy some as it will make all of your cinnamon flavored baked goods taste marvelous. If you are in a pinch and don't have any on hand, you may use standard cinnamon.

*Note that these are not the large white roasted pumpkin seeds you often find. You can often find roasted salted pepitas at international markets. If you can't find them, you can roast and salt your own pepitas. Roast your 1/4 cup of raw pepitas with 2 tsp. olive oil for three minutes then toss with 1 tsp. salt.