Jeni Britton Bauer, the founder of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, believes there has never been a golden age of ice cream. Sure, ice cream has been a staple of every summertime and breakup since day one, but for most of its existence it wasn’t really taken seriously.
“Ice cream was about a lot of things, like ornate parlors and soda jerks,” Britton Bauer says. “But it wasn’t about quality. It was about adding other things to it and how it was served.”
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Just two decades ago, ice cream was primarily a vehicle for fillers and mix-ins, like cookie dough and other chunky creations. “It was all about the chunk and less about the ice cream,” she adds. “Across America you would see mom-and-pop ice cream shops that were on the Ben & Jerry’s family tree. They had cartoony clouds, cows, bright colors, and were known for big chunks and goofy flavor combinations.”
Many ice cream companies didn’t tend to focus on using high-quality ingredients. Today, the ice cream landscape is vastly different, with makers beginning at the molecular level. But before that, someone had to show them it was possible.
Britton Bauer first encountered ice cream as a medium while studying art at The Ohio State University. “I realized that most of the experience of flavor is actually scent,” she says. “Cream is a perfect carrier of scent—from vanilla to coffee, chocolate, mint, and even strawberry, scent permeates cream and gets locked in until it’s released when it warms on your tongue.”
She was immediately hooked, and dropped out of college to pursue ice cream full-time. She tweaked her original recipes, aiming to raise the bar with quality ingredients, eventually founding her eponymous company in 2002.
“I didn’t know how long it would take, how many tries or how much money, but I had a vision to change the standard for American ice cream,” she says. “I worried a lot, and we made a ton of mistakes. But I would not go back to give myself any advantages or make anything easier.”
In fact, the challenges Jeni’s faced helped the company make a lasting impact on the ice cream industry. “My early experiences taught me how to be resilient and how to trust my gut and my vision,” she says. “If we had followed the rules of ice cream or the rules of business, then we would be a completely different company than we are.”
Seventeen years later, many ice cream companies are touting similar philosophies and experiencing success around the country, like Salt & Straw and Ample Hills. But plenty of other ice cream makers still follow antiquated standards.
“To this day, ice cream makers judge their quality by whether it’s low in air and high in butterfat,” Britton Bauer says. “I’d rather have a well-made ice cream loaded with air, but made with the best milk and ice cream. And real ingredients over flavorings. But that’s not easy to do.”
Excellent ice cream starts with transparency. “Nothing hides in ice cream,” she says. “It tastes exactly like the ingredients it was made with. If you start with beautiful elements, then it will taste beautiful. The opposite is also true.”
Britton Bauer’s first rule of making ice cream is what you start with is what you end with. The second is to keep the ice cream base at a temperature that harbors any bacterial growth, whether that’s very warm or very cold. To quickly cool down a warm base, she recommends putting it in an ice bath.
She likes to encourage amateur ice cream makers to jump right in. For a seamless process, she recommends using Cuisinart’s ICE-21 ice cream maker and following this foolproof recipe specifically developed for homemade ice cream:
Sweet Cream Ice Cream
Courtesy of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home
Yield: s 1 quart
- 2 ⅔ cups whole milk
- 1 tablespoon, plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 2 ounces (4 tablespoons) cream cheese, softened
- ⅛ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1½ cups heavy cream
- ¾ cups sugar
- ¼ cup light corn syrup
- Mix about 2 tablespoons of milk with the cornstarch in a small bowl to make a smooth slurry.
- Whisk the cream cheese and salt in a medium bowl until smooth.
- Fill a large bowl with ice and water.
- Combine the remaining milk, cream, sugar and corn syrup in a 4-quart saucepan.
- Bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat and boil for 4 minutes.
- Remove from heat and gradually whisk in the cornstarch slurry.
- Bring the mixture back to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, stirring with a heatproof spatula, until slightly thickened, about 1 minute.
- Remove from heat.
- Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese until smooth.
- Pour the mixture into a 1-gallon Ziploc freezer bag and submerge the sealed bag in the ice bath.
- Let stand, adding more ice as necessary, until cold, about 30 minutes.
- Pour the ice cream base into the frozen canister and spin until thick and creamy.
- Pack the ice cream into a storage container, press a sheet of parchment directly against the surface, and seal with an airtight lid.
- Freeze in the coldest part of your freezer until firm, at least 4 hours.
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