Six years ago while home in Columbus, Ohio, for a family visit, I took my sister to the North Market, a bustling downtown collective of farmers, artisans, and merchants. I had been hearing good things about Jeni Britton, a young ice cream savant, so we made a final stop at her scoop shop in the market.
I remember sitting on the sun-warmed steps of the North Market, taking my first bite of Jeni's Savannah buttermint ice cream. Peppermint exploded in my mouth, followed by a seductive, buttery saltiness. The creaminess was pure — like an after-dinner mint gone to heaven, removed from chalkiness and artificiality. It melted in my mouth, and I went for another bite.
Quite a lot has happened in my life since that June morning. I moved back to Ohio, got married, took up a new career. I love the city and its rich yet unpretentious food community. And I can have Jeni's ice cream whenever I want, with a cluster of shops nearby and her pints sold at the market next door.
As delicious as Jeni's ice cream is, however, I think that what I love even more about her business and her new book is her lavish encouragement and praise of Ohio's food community. Another reviewer said that this book is as much of a love letter as cookbook. She pours out love on the dairy that provides the milk for her ice creams, and the farmers that grow the strawberries and mint. She praises the artisans who create other goodies, like Middle West and their Ohio whiskey.
For a cook and a writer who loves her city and this fertile strip of America's heartland, this book is a gift. Everyone should be so lucky as to have an impassioned, talented artisan write so sweetly about the place they love. If you have never visited Ohio in the summertime, I think you may want to after reading this book.
Maple Ice Cream with Buttered Nuts. I made this with butter-roasted hazelnuts, little pops of butter, salt, and roasted flavor in the sweet maple syrup ice cream.
Now, local matters aside, this book is about ice cream. Does it deliver? I'll cut out any mild suspense and say, yes, unsurprisingly, it does. And how so — there are over 100 recipes here that cover many of Jeni's scoop shop classics (Salty Caramel, Roasted Pistachio, Brown Butter Almond Brittle, Roasted Strawberry Buttermilk) and fresh flavors too (Toasted Rice Ice Cream with a Whiff of Coconut and Black Tea). There are familiar flavors, made even more fresh and pure (Backyard Mint) and surprising tastes too (Queen City Cayenne, dark chocolate with a fiery dash of pepper).
Lucky for me, the Savannah Buttermint recipe was included, and since it is a seasonal flavor I rarely get to try, I had to make a batch. I also tried a new flavor: Maple Syrup, studded with butter-roasted hazelnuts.
The promise of this book is that it will help home cooks create truly creamy, scoopable ice creams — even in a home machine. Home cooks often struggle with ice creams that are too icy, with harsh textures, especially after the second freezing. I have been using Jeni's recipes for several years, and I knew that her method works. She doesn't call for any eggs (the flavors aren't as pure, when eggs are involved). Instead she reduces the cream and milk to remove some of the water, and then thickens the ice cream with a bit of cornstarch, and a bit of cream cheese. (See more on her method here.) This is reliable and also, in my opinion, easier, since you don't need to worry about curdling the eggs.
The method is the same in this book, but Jeni goes more in-depth on the choices she makes in technique, ingredients, and flavors. The results, as always, are splendid. The buttermint had that same rich buttery flavor I remembered, with the singing high note of peppermint. (Its ivory yellow color comes, brilliantly, from a pinch of turmeric.) The maple syrup ice cream was a revelation, the sour sweetness of maple syrup reduced into a concentrated form, and flecked with salty hazelnuts.
This is a seriously generous book — there are recipes for nearly every ice cream flavor you could imagine, and for all the other accompaniments that make Jeni's ice creams special. She teaches you how to make butter-roasted nuts, and little meringues as mix-ins. She has sauce recipes and sundae recipes (dramatically illustrated and annotated). Happily for me she includes her recipe for macaroon cookies — chewy, perfect cookies for ice cream sandwiches. They're similar to French macarons, but a little less fussy. There are tips, resources — everything you need to create these ice creams at home. But it doesn't feel overwhelming; the recipes themselves are straightforward and simple, and a sense of playfulness pervades the pages.
The book itself is brilliantly done — there are pages of color photos, and every ice cream recipe has a photo of the ice cream on a spoon. Even the endpapers of the book are part of the picture — orange watercolor drips cascading down the page.
If you're interested in ice cream, then you should of course buy this book. If you love to cook and to work with sweet things, it would also be of inspiration to you. It's truly splendid.
• Find it: Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home, $15.05 at Amazon.
• Visit: Jeni's Ice Creams website and Twitter
• A peek inside Jeni's ice cream kitchen: Professional Kitchen Tour: Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams
Savannah Buttermint Ice Cream
And now, without further ado, here is the recipe for Savannah Buttermint. Make it, I urge you, especially if you live far from one of Jeni's ice cream shops. I hope you'll have the same experience I did, that mint and butter taste exploding in your mouth, sliding you through summer's front door.
• Buying an ice cream maker? Our review of the machine Jeni recommends
• No ice cream maker? Use this method: An easy, foolproof method for making great ice cream without a machine
Savannah Buttermint Ice Cream
A salty, buttery mint ice cream with white chocolate flecks. Turmeric adds a soft ivory yellow.
Savannah Buttermint Ice Cream was inspired by the pastel-colored white chocolate disks found in old-timey chocolate shops and those powdery, melt-in-your-mouth mint candies in the restaurants of our grandparents’ generation. It’s slightly salty, minty, and very buttery. The white chocolate flecks give it a pronounced creaminess.
There is a special ingredient in this ice cream: the butter flavor. It’s one of very few flavorings that we stock in our kitchen, but believe me, it’s the right thing here. We use one from Frontier Natural Products, and it’s potently concentrated. A bit of turmeric gives the ice cream color but no added flavor. The creamy pale yellow hue sets the mood for buttermint: Easter baskets, white gloves, and baby showers.
Makes about 1 quart
2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) cream cheese, softened
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/8 teaspoon turmeric
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
3 ounces white chocolate, chopped
8 drops natural butter flavor
3 to 4 drops pure peppermint essential oil
Pairs well with: Wedding cake. Chocolate cake or fudge brownies. Milk chocolate bunnies.
Mix about 2 tablespoons of the milk with the cornstarch in a small bowl to make a smooth slurry.
Whisk the cream cheese, salt, and turmeric in a medium bowl until smooth. Fill a large bowl with ice and water.
Combine the remaining milk, the 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 the 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 the 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.
When the ice cream is almost ready to be churned, melt the white chocolate in a double boiler; let cool slightly.
Pour the ice cream base into the frozen canister and turn on the machine. Drop the butter flavoring and peppermint through the opening in the top of the machine. Slowly drizzle in the melted chocolate; it will form into flecks in the churning cream. Continue to spin the ice cream 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.
Excerpted from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home by Jeni Britton Bauer (Artisan Books). Copyright 2011.
(Images: Faith Durand; Artisan Books)