I recently went to Ohio to visit my best friend, and as soon as my flight was booked, she had plans for us to go to Jeni’s, a local ice cream joint featuring unusual flavors on par with Humphry Slocombe and Bi-Rite in San Francisco. For years, she has told me about Jeni’s and her favorite flavors: sweet basil, olive oil, gooey butter cake, lime cardamom (the list goes on).
Long story short: the ice cream more than met my expectations. More importantly to me, the owner and creator, Jeni Britton Bauer, wrote a cookbook that helps home cooks achieve over 100 of her recipes in a basic ice cream maker. She used the same Cuisinart 1.5 quart ice cream maker that I own. The Amazon reviews are glowing: it seems that everyone who orders this book is happy with it.
As soon as I got home, I ordered the cookbook ($14 on Amazon) and rolled up my sleeves. (It’s so hard to have to make ice cream, I know, but we all have our crosses to bear. Equally terrible: having to eat it.)
A couple things set this cookbook apart from regular ice cream recipes:
1. The ingredients. Jeni’s uses interesting flavors for ice cream, maybe ones unadventurous eaters would shun. Basil ice cream is probably not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s definitely mine. Other interesting ingredient combinations: beet and marscapone, sweet potato and marshmallow, cucumber, honeydew, and cayenne, and lavender and berry.
Some ingredients are also a little harder/more expensive to find: butter flavoring, food-grade lavender essential oil, dried hibiscus. However, those are outliers: most of the recipes require easy-to-find elements, but Ms. Bauer encourages the reader to use the finest and freshest possible version for the best results. This makes for ice cream that’s more expensive than something store-bought, but at least you know exactly what you’re putting into your stomach.
2. The method. To achieve ice cream that is soft and firm at the same time, most of the recipes use a mixture of corn syrup, corn starch, and cream cheese. Her method requires three bowls (one can be a small ramekin, and one is used for an ice bath), and often requires bringing ingredients to a boil once or twice*. It may seem a little fussier than your average ice cream custard, but produces beautiful results. Once you’ve done it once, it requires very little extra thought or effort the next time.
So far, I have made four ice creams from this book: a sour beer/nectarine sorbet, a goat-cheese/roasted cherry ice cream (which tastes like rich cheesecake), Bangkok Peanut (coconut milk, peanut butter, and cayenne), and the above-pictured Buckeye (honey, peanut butter, and chocolate flecks). Each came out beautifully on the first try–the only downside is the mess, but cooks more careful than I shouldn’t have a problem.
I highly recommend this book if you’re looking to upgrade your home ice cream experience and love unusual flavors. Bonus: pints of this ice cream make for excellent gifts.
* Make sure to use a pot with high sides, unless you like sticky messes all over your stove.