Making The Home Cook The Artisan
What would a hot summer day be without ice cream?
I’m not talking about the chocolate and vanilla swirl soft serve stuff. How about Bourbon Buttered Pecan. Or Pistachio and Honey. Or Wildberry Lavender. These outlandish ice cream flavors come from the culinary imagination of Jeni Britton Bauer, co-founder of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.
If you’re not able to visit one of her seven retail locations in Columbus, Ohio, you can find pints of her stuff at retail stores throughout the country.
Or if you’re more DIY than that, there is now a way to bring her ice cream creativity into your kitchen. Jeni’s new cookbook, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams At Home, is all about making the home cook the artisan. With fifteen years of ice cream making experience at her disposal, she went into her home kitchen armed with nothing but your basic ice cream maker and succeeded in mimicking the products she creates in her professional kitchen.
Us non-professionals will certainly benefit from her labors, “Because ice cream is different. It’s not cupcakes,” Britton Bauer. “Ice cream is a science, and you have to have everything in balance to get it right.”
Annie Corrigan: You have some flavor combinations that seem insanely out there, but they end up being delicious. What are some of your more crazy but tasty ice cream selections?
Jeni Britton Bauer: Let’s see… One of the flavors we have in the book is the Gorgonzola With Candied Walnuts. It sounds kind of strange, but it’s wonderful at the holidays with pear tarts, with honey. Even when we’re making it in the kitchen, the whole kitchen smells like Gorgonzola, which if you walked in off the street you might be thinking it was really disgusting, but in the ice cream it tastes wonderful.
Smoked ice creams. We actually use smoked tea to impart that flavor.
Of course, bacon. We’ve done bacon over the years, and lots of different meats like smoked salmon. I grew up in the North Market, which is this indoor public market full of exotic and local ingredients, so pretty much everything in that market went into ice creams at some point over the last fifteen years.
AC: I’m stuck on the idea of bacon in my ice cream. I guess you get the sweet and the salty in there.
JBB: I’ve always said that bacon is a condiment like a nut, you know. It’s not like part of the four food groups, so you could kind of treat it like a nut.
AC: My father’s favorite flavor is the Olive Oil With Sea Salted Pepitas, so before I get on with my list of questions, I have to ask about that particular flavor. How did you come up with that idea?
JBB: Actually, my friend Meredith Kurtzman which is Mario Batali’s gelato chef, turned me on to olive oil gelato. But beyond that, I got hooked up here locally with an importer called the Olive Orchard. They bring in olive oil from all over the world and they’re here in the Columbus. This olive oil is super green and it had like peppery notes so those green pepitas with the sea salt were like the perfect (match).
Photo: Courtesy Of Jeni
The Arc Of The Harvest
AC: It’s summertime, obviously, and that not only means that people are eating ice cream by the bucket-full, but there are also plenty of seasonal ingredients for you to choose from when creating flavors. Talk me through some of the seasonal foods you put into your ice creams.
JBB: We follow the arc of the summer the arc of the harvest. So, in the beginning we have rhubarb. We try to get as much rhubarb locally as we can but again, that’s a tough one to get.
Then all the berries. I’m here in Ohio, so we’ve got our strawberry ice cream which is made with almost entirely with local strawberries here. We go through tens of thousands of pounds in three weeks in our kitchen. We rinse them quickly and dry them and puree them, and we use them all summer for the ice creams. For the blueberries we do the same thing. We have a lemon yogurt that’s one of our most popular flavors, and in the summer we do it with blueberries. It’s like a sauce-jam that we make in our kitchen.
And then we go into mint, which will be early this year thanks to our friend Val who’s growing it in a different way, in a greenhouse.
Our Sweet Corn and Black Raspberry will hit in August.
We hope to do something with peaches and buttermilk, which we try to do every year, but if the peaches aren’t good, we won’t.
Beet Cake with Black Walnuts is another one we’ll do at the end of the year. We shred beets and candy them and then put them in like a cream cheese ice cream with black walnuts – amazing.
And then a new one this year, which is so good, is our Parmesan Ice Cream with Zucchini Bread. The zucchini bread is almost between and bread and a cake. It’s from the old Lazarus recipe, which was a local department store that’s gone now. This is their recipe and they’ve given us permission to use it.
AC: That sounds so good!
JBB: It is amazing. It’s the best zucchini bread we’ve ever had. In Ohio, we have so much zucchini. I’ll call people and be like, “Got any strawberries or black raspberries?” And they say, “No, we’ve got zucchini!” So, this year we’re going to play with that a little bit.
Good And Local
AC: Let’s talk about Snowville Creamery, the place where you get all your milk and cream. What is about their product that you like so much? Is it just about buying locally or is it something specific about their stuff?
JBB: Yeah, it’s much more than just buying locally. In fact, our whole philosophy is much more than buying locally. We go with what we believe is the best, and of course when you know the people who are producing it for you, often that makes the best.
If you’re an ice cream maker, the cream and milk is the foundation upon which you build flavor. You can’t begin with an over-processed, over-pasteurized milk and cream because it tastes flat. You don’t get those that round butterfat flavor in your nose that is what makes great ice cream great.
What makes it taste like that is that the cows eat grass. It’s a much fuller rounder, more voluptuous flavor when cows eat grass that they’re naturally meant to eat, because they digest the grass fully.
It’s funny because Warren our dairy guy and me have this on-going debate. He says grass-fed milk and cream is better for health. The fat in that cream and milk is packed with Omegas-3s and CLAs and he’ll go on and on. I’ll say, “Warren be quiet. It’s better because it’s more delicious.” Anyway, we sort of go back and forth like a bad beer commercial in that way, but it’s really fun.
More Than Dessert
AC: Something that struck me when I was tasting your ice creams is that some of the flavors don’t taste like dessert. Some flavors taste like they could go with a cheese plate or perhaps it could be a palate cleanser after an appetizer. If you could think of some of your flavors and then put them in various parts of the meal, how would you do that?
JBB: You’re right about that. My husband Charlie isn’t really a dessert person and he never has been, so every time I make ice cream for him, I have to think about that. He’s more into the Goat Cheese With Cognac Figs or something like that.
You can actually put our Bangkok Peanut ice cream on chicken and bake it and it can become a part of your chicken. It’s peanut butter, toasted coccnut, to coconut milk and a little bit of cayenne and then cream, and it’s delicious if you just brush it on a chicken and bake it that way.
I’ve actually marinated pork tenderloins in sorbets and it’s pretty great. If you marinate it over night, it will take on that flavor. Mango is a fantastic marinade for pork. That’s kind of strange but it’s good. Kind of a wow thing to do for a party.
Quality Over Quantity
AC: As an ice cream maker and presumably a lover of ice cream, defend the eating of ice cream to our calorie-obsessed culture.
JBB: I don’t know anybody who’s calorie-obsessed, so I must be living in different place maybe over the rainbow or something. The truth is I would rather have one amazingly dense voluptuous spoonful of amazing ice cream that melts in your throat and up your nose than a whole pint of something or a whole gallon of something that’s forgettable. By choosing the best experience, you can have less of it.