The number of things that can be mixed into ice cream is nigh without limit. (I once saw a lady at a Cold Stone add Gummi bears, cherries, peanut butter, and caramel sauce.) The sheer volume of possibilities makes me feel doubly sorrowful over the things that should be delicious ice cream mix-ins, if not for their tendency to lose structural integrity when dunked, like my ice cream-making white whale: Pop Rocks.
Pop Rocks are one of the most fun candies. I don't know that there's a food in the world that can't be improved by exploding just a tiny bit. But they fall flat, literally, as an ice cream addition because the ice cream makes them start snapping before they get to a mouth.
All is not lost, however, as it turns out a thin coat of chocolate can protect the Pop Rock (or other mix-ins that fall apart or get soggy in ice cream) from the liquid around it, allowing it to stay a pristine, unpopped crystal until it meets someone's mouth.
Even that isn't without trouble, though, as Pop Rocks will also explode in melted chocolate. The trick, therefore, is to get the chocolate soft enough to mix with the Pop Rocks while remaining cool enough that it doesn't activate them.
I decided to test the theory by making strawberry ice cream filled with white chocolate-covered Pop Rocks, which resulted in an effervescent, summery delight. And the best thing about this technique is that it can successfully be applied to pretty much any ice cream. Anyone up for a scoop of exploding mint chip?
Strawberry Ice Cream with White Chocolate-Coated Pop Rocks
For the chocolate-covered Pop Rocks:
3/4 cup white chocolate, chopped or in chunks, cold and divided
20 grams (2 packets) Pop Rocks
For the ice cream:
2 cups half-and-half (or one cup whole milk and one cup heavy cream)
1 vanilla bean, split
1/2 cup sugar, divided
3 egg yolks
1 pound fresh strawberries, hulled and roughly chopped
For the chocolate-covered Pop Rocks
In a double-boiler, melt half a cup of the white chocolate over medium heat, stirring with a spatula until the chocolate is completely melted. Remove from the heat and pour the melted chocolate into a bowl.
A few pieces at a time, add the remaining cold white chocolate chunks to the melted white chocolate while stirring. Allow the chocolate chunks to thoroughly incorporate into the melted chocolate before adding more. Continue adding the cold white chocolate while stirring until the mixture has a paste-like consistency and is cold enough that the cold chunks do not readily melt.
Test the white chocolate by sprinkling a few Pop Rocks on it. If they start to pop, the chocolate is still too hot. Add some more cold chunks to bring the temperature down.
When the chocolate is cool enough that the Pop Rocks do not pop on it, add the rest of the Pop Rocks and gently mix them into the white chocolate.
Spread the mixture onto a baking sheet or plate lined with parchment paper and refrigerate several hours until hard.
Break or dice the bark into small pieces, and either use immediately or return to the fridge until the ice cream is ready.
For the ice cream
In a medium saucepan, combine the half-and-half, vanilla bean, and half the sugar, and bring to a simmer over medium heat while stirring.
Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks and the remaining quarter cup of sugar together until pale and thick.
When the half-and-half mixture comes to a simmer, remove it from the heat and add half a cup of the hot mixture to the egg yolk mixture while whisking to raise the temperature of the eggs. While continuing to whisk the mixture, slowly add the hot half-and-half mixture to the egg yolks, working a cup at a time so the eggs do not curdle. Return the mixture to the saucepan and stir over low heat until the mixture has thickened enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon.
Strain the mixture into a bowl and allow it to come to room temperature. Add the strawberries, then cover and refrigerate the mixture overnight.
Churn the mixture in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer's instructions. Five minutes from the end of the cycle, slowly add the white chocolate-covered Pop Rocks and allow the churning to complete.
When tasted, the Pop Rocks should start to fizz as the white chocolate melts in your mouth.
What's your favorite, craziest ice cream mix-in?
More on the ice cream process: How To Make Ice Cream at Home
(Images: Elizabeth Licata)