When Jeni Britton Bauer sets out to create a new ice cream flavour, she often begins with a classic and then adds a touch of the unexpected.
Think caramelized honey and smoky, toasted cumin. The richest chocolate with spicy rye whiskey. Or tropical mango playing against salty, nutty Manchego.
The woman behind Ohio treasure Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream and the James Beard Award-winning cookbook, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams At Home (2011), has just released her second book, focused on ice cream-centric desserts. Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream Desserts tempts with ice cream layer cakes, ice cream bars and sandwiches, decadent sundaes, fruity tarts, toppings, plus more than 50 new and uniquely-Jeni ice cream and frozen yogurt recipes – everything you need to recreate the ice cream maven’s treats in your own home.
“Every flavour starts on paper,” Britton Bauer tells Cityline.ca. “It has to sound good. I have a flavour memory, because I’ve been working in ice cream for 18 years, but even before that, I worked in scent [blending essential oils into perfume]. I can draw up a scent the same way I can draw up a colour in my mind. So I put things on paper first to see if it works there, and then we try it, and perhaps try three different versions of it, and it goes from there.”
Britton Bauer says the recipes in the books are exactly what you’d get in any one of her 15 scoop shops (or the more than 1,000 retailers across the U.S. that sell Jeni’s ice creams): “That’s my goal, and I think all chefs should have that goal. If you’re making Thomas Keller’s gazpacho, it should be exactly like his gazpacho. Keeping the home kitchen in mind is important to me.”
That said, she encourages freestyling, especially when it comes to the new book. Sundaes, cakes and sandwiches can be switched up to include a huge variety of flavours. One recipe, for a classic yellow cake – the Lady Cake – is alternately left whole in a layer cake, crumbled into an ice cream base, and mixed up with beets for a version that’s a gorgeous shade of pink.
“[It’s] something like carrot cake, only with pink beets, which is a lot more interesting,” she says. “You can use the same spices, or I would use cardamom, and add walnuts in there. It’s changing one or two things but relying on the foundational recipes first.”
Britton Bauer also indicates when recipes are (or can be made) gluten-free, and there are a selection of dairy-free ice creams as well, including Salty Caramel Crème Sans Lait, a dairy-free version of the flavour that made her famous. She notes that there’s a collective feeling in the Jeni’s kitchen when a flavour works.
“It does hit you in a specific way,” she says. “We did birch and marshmallow last year. It was part of a forest collection – we did birch, maple, cedarwood and vanilla. The birch and marshmallow was familiar, and yet new. It has to be a bit of both. It was deeply familiar, sort of like the top of a root beer float – with a creaminess and fluffiness. But then it’s brand new, because it’s not root beer, it’s birch. It’s cooling and menthol. You kind of know when you’ve hit it.”
One of Britton Bauer’s favourite recipes from the past couple years, included in the new book, is Absinthe & Meringue ice cream. She created it for the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and BalletMet’s production of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring on the composition’s 100th anniversary.
“I was reading a ton of Fitzgerald and also reading about Coco Chanel, who happened to be at [the composition’s controversial debut in Paris, 1913]. It was perfect timing. So we did this partnership with the Symphony, and it was great,” she enthuses.
“The flavour was all about how the bohemian class clashed with the upper class. The bohemian class thought [the symphony] was wonderful, and the upper class thought it was horrible. So I made an absinthe ice cream to represent the free spirit, the idea of moving forward. And I added meringue kisses [to represent the upper class], which were meticulously hand-piped, and dried for several hours and baked for several hours. If it’s too humid they don’t work. There are so many rules, and you have to follow them exactly. But you add them to the absinthe ice cream and after two or three hours they’re just crushed, and they leave these little sugary voids. I thought it was a perfect way to describe it – the free spirits won.”
Ready to try your hand at one of Jeni’s flavours? Here’s her best advice for making crave-worthy frozen treats:
1. “The most common pitfall is not having the canister frozen long enough, or not letting your base get cold enough. Your base has to be at refrigerator temperature, or below, and the way of getting it below is with an ice bath, heavy on the ice.”
2. “Then, if you’re sure both are very cold, make sure you let [the ice cream churn] long enough that you can get a bit of air in it. You can let it go for quite a while. You do need to get some air in the ice cream, so that when you scoop it, you get that feathered look, which you want. You don’t want it to be too dense, otherwise it ends up tasting more like frosting.”
3. “In flavour development, I’d start with the classic vanilla and add one thing. I’ve seen it where there’s too much going on, and then it gets cluttered.”
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream Desserts is now available in stores and online.
Join the conversation