Jeni Britton Bauer, the namesake and creative genius behind Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams and the author of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home, shares her secrets for making delicious homemade ice cream. The key is in the balance of ingredients.
I learned very early on that my artistic leanings could take me only so far in making great ice creams. All those years I’d spent avoiding science classes in high school and college came back to haunt me when I started working with frozen confectionery. Freezing ice cream into a smooth, lickable, delicious mass is a very precise process. Math and science are required.
In recent years, I’ve had a lot of fun going around to schools and talking to kids about the importance of these subjects. An aspiring artist growing up, I couldn’t imagine when I would ever use more than basic math. My teachers never explained the importance of math and science in a way that satisfied me. When I go out and speak to kids, I am very clear: Science is everything—even to artists. And creativity is everything—even to scientists. But you can follow the recipes and make splendid ice cream without reading another word of this chapter. Or you can roll up your sleeves and learn the basic science behind the art.
Ice cream is a frozen emulsion of water, butterfat (the concentrated fat in milk), proteins (whey and casein), sugars (sucrose, glucose, lactose, and others), starch (thickener), air, and flavors. The balance of all these ingredients, on a molecular level, determines the flavor, texture, consistency, and finish of the ice cream. Other additions (fruit, chocolate, alcohol, etc.) can disrupt the balance. In addition, if the proportions of water, protein, and fat are out of balance, it can make the ice cream feel too cold or too warm on the palate. Understanding the interplay of these ingredients on a molecular level is what ice cream making is all about. The recipes in this book are relatively foolproof for an average cook, but when you branch off on your own, the scientific overview that follows might help you craft your newest flavor.
If you were staring out the window during high school chemistry, don’t worry—this won’t hurt a bit. If any component is not in balance with the water, the ice cream will be “short” (crumbly), soggy, or icy. The perfect balance of ingredients also allows the right amount of air—not too much or too little—to be whipped into the ice cream.
Water Water is either with you or against you when it comes to making ice creams. It’s with you when you have perfectly balanced ingredients that cause water molecules to bind with the proteins, starches, sugars, and fats. It’s against you when it roams “unbound” in the mix, leaving you with icy or soggy homemade ice cream.
We don’t think of water when we think of ice cream, right? We think of milk. Well, milk is almost 90 percent water. Water will bind to fats, proteins, sugars, and starches—but reluctantly. Free unbound water will become coarse, crunchy ice crystals. Any liquid you add to your ice cream contains water, from milk and honey to berry purees and beer. The goal is to bind the water to sugar, protein, fat, or starch, which will help prevent it from turning into ice crystals. Although each component will bind some water, no single ingredient will take care of all the water so we use a perfect balance of ingredients. Other than pleasing yourself and all who will eat your splendid ice cream, you have one ultimate goal: to bind those water molecules in the milk.
Butterfat Butterfat is the fat in milk. When you remove nonfat skim milk from whole milk, you get heavy cream. If you agitate heavy cream for a while, the fat will separate from the watery, protein-rich whey and you will have butter. Butter is 87 percent butterfat, and butterfat is what makes the ice cream rich and lush. In addition to providing creaminess to the ice cream, butterfat is a great carrier of flavor. It is known to absorb flavors readily—if you store butter next to an onion, the butter will begin to smell like onions. Making ice cream is essentially harnessing flavor. By flavoring butterfat with all things tasty, you lock flavor into your ice cream—which will then be released by the warmth of your tongue and explode into your nose. Unlike egg yolk fat and some other fats, butterfat melts at body temperature. (It releases flavor and scent as soon as it hits your palate.) Lower-butterfat ice creams don’t linger as long on your palate or in your nose.
Too much butterfat, and the ice cream will be cloying, and, well, too buttery. Too little, and the ice cream will be thin and weak-bodied and have a mysterious lack of flavor. The flavor of butterfat itself is creamy and lush—a perfect complement to almost any other flavor.
Protein Many ice cream recipes call for egg yolks, which thicken cream by binding water when heated (the protein binds water and coagulates into a custard). However, milk naturally contains the essential proteins necessary to bind water and fat and add body to the ice cream, and these proteins do a better job than egg proteins do.
The two main protein groups in milk are casein and whey. Heat and acid will “denature” the protein (forcing the protein to shed its protective outer coating), which makes it likely to bind with water and thicken the cream. Heating the milk evaporates some of the water, which concentrates the protein and makes the ice creams smoother.
A small lump of cream cheese, which is high in casein proteins (achieved by adding acid to the milk), helps bind the ingredients and gives the ice cream body.
Sugar Different sugars have different binding capabilities. Sucrose (table sugar) is very sweet and will bind some water. Glucose (from corn or tapioca syrup) has the most water-binding capability and is much less sweet than sucrose. Adding a bit of corn syrup (or tapioca syrup) in place of table sugar actually makes the ice cream less sweet; too much will give the ice cream a soggy texture. Lactose is sugar naturally present in small amounts in milk; it provides some sweetness to the ice cream.
Starch Cornstarch (or tapioca starch) is the insurance policy on your road to delicious ice creams and yogurts. Any water that dreams of roaming unbound and transforming into nasty, long ice crystals has no choice but to bind with the cornstarch. It is especially important when you add more water-packed ingredients to ice cream or yogurt.
Air An ice cream’s creaminess is in part determined by its air content. All ice cream contains some amount of air. Too much, and the ice cream is too fluffy. Too little, and it becomes a dense, unscoopable mass.
Sensory Components of Ice Creams
Taste I draw on all the taste sensations experienced on your tongue—sweet, sour, bitter, salty, savory, piquant (chile peppers), and cool (mint, menthol). Taste is the first tier of the four-layered ice cream experience.
Texture It’s that crunch between your teeth, that fine-grained grit between your tongue and the roof of your mouth. It’s the way viscous, protein-rich butterfat feels inside your mouth. The texture of my ice cream? As smooth and as creamy as I can possibly make it or as chunky, bumpy, and full of nuts, fruits, or handmade goodies as it can be.
Consistency Consistency refers to the “body” of the ice cream: heavy or light, chewy or weak and thin, hard- or soft-frozen. I strive for body that is dense without being heavy or cloying and just a bit chewy, with a clean, thin “meltdown.” We serve our ice cream in a hard-frozen state so that you can eat it slowly from a cone and savor it without it melting quickly.
Finish You’ve swallowed the smooth, creamy ice cream, but the pleasant aroma lingers in your nose—that’s the “finish,” the flavor the butterfat releases as it melts on your tongue and blooms into your nose.
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1/2 cup (about 4 ounces) fresh goat cheese
- 1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) cream cheese, softened
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup light corn syrup
- Roasted Cherries (see below)*
- Mix about 2 tablespoons of the milk with the cornstarch in a small bowl to make a smooth slurry. Whisk the goat cheese, cream cheese, and salt 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 rubber spatula, until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat.
- Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese mixture 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, alternating it with layers of the cherries and ending with a spoonful of cherries; do not mix.
- 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.
- 2 cups pitted fresh or frozen (not thawed) red or black cherries
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Combine the cherries, sugar, and cornstarch in a 9-inch square baking dish, tossing to mix. Roast for 30 to 45 minutes, until the juices are thickened and bubbly, stirring every 15 minutes. Let cool completely, then chill in the refrigerator.