Jeni Britton Bauer, the founder and current Chief Creative Officer of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, is an innovator in frozen treats. Eighteen years ago, she put her plans aside to found Jeni's and spread the joy of artisan ice cream to 12 states-including Illinois. We caught up with Jeni about the past, present, and future of ice cream:
Q: What inspired you to work with ice cream?
A: While I was studying at Ohio State University, I started collecting scents and essential oils and blending my own perfumes at home. This then evolved into cooking with essential oils, then eventually using those oils in ice cream. Seeing ice cream as a carrier of scent completely opened up a new world to me. I realized that ice cream could be better and more interesting. 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. Six months later, I quit college and completely immersed myself in ice cream, tweaking and honing in on recipes.
What does your process look like for creating new ice cream flavors?
We pull inspiration from everywhere-art, pop culture, history, travel, nostalgia. When we develop new flavors, we consider the entire experience, from the way it looks, to the scents, and all the way through to the last bite. Then, we focus on great suppliers that can provide the high quality of ingredients we require in every Jeni's flavor. It takes a community to build ice cream from the ground up.
Have any flavors gained or lost popularity as a result of the pandemic? Do you anticipate any will this summer?
People have been seeking comfort in many ways this year, and ice cream is no exception. All of our flavors grew in popularity this year-and we've especially noticed a huge demand for the classic comforts of our top-selling flavors, like Brambleberry Crisp and Brown Butter Almond Brittle (my personal favorite!).
What is the most fun part of innovating in the world of ice cream?
Every day I'm surrounded by an ice cream-making crew of artists, writers, photographers, bakers, big-brain mathletes, travelers with omnivorous cultural appetites, seekers, and other world-class experience gatherers.
Making ice cream at home
Making ice cream with your family is a fun way to stay cool over the summer! Keep these tips from Jeni in mind as you begin:
- As far as essential tools, I like the Cuisinart ICE-21 model. It's inexpensive and if you use my recipe, you'll get great results each time.
- What you start with is what you end with. Find ingredients you love and make them into ice cream.
- Always keep your ice cream base very warm or very cold. I suggest cooling it down in an ice bath to go quickly and prevent any bacterial growth.
- Making ice cream at home is so fun, and I can't even think of anything that regularly goes wrong. I think everyone should jump right in!
Sundae Board Recipe
If you're looking for a fun and creative way to spice up your ice cream experience, try one of Jeni's favorites-a Sundae Board! "It's like a [cheese] board, but you swap the brie and gouda for ice cream, sub cookies for crackers, keep the nuts and jam, and maybe throw in some hot fudge or caramel sauce," she said. "It's a completely customizable, no-bake, use-whatever-you've-got-on-hand situation."
If you want a great place to start, here's what's on this sundae brunch board:
Ice creams: Lemon & Blueberries Parfait, refreshing Frosé sorbet, and my seasonal favorite, Strawberry Buttermilk (our Raspberry Rose Jelly Donut would work very well here, too)
Sauces: Extra-bitter hot fudge sauce (recipe below), strawberry sauce (from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home), wildflower honey
Toppings: Fresh fruit, mini pancakes, crepes, waffles, or mini cast-iron pancakes, nuts or granola, Jeni's salty-sweet Donut Gravel (recipe below), fresh herbs like mint, and some loose whipped cream
Remember, these are just suggestions! The whole board can truly be assembled with whatever you've got in your pantry, fridge, or freezer. But if you're looking for a few simple cooking projects that'll work great for this board, here are a few of Jeni's go-tos:
Makes 2 cups
A crunchy condiment to complement ice cream, inspired by potato donuts. Potato chips add that potato flavor, as well as subtle fried flavor that mimics those fluffy potato donuts perfectly.
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1¼ cups powdered sugar
2 ounces crushed potato chips (from about 2 cups whole chips)
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
Pinch of ground cinnamon
4 teaspoons nonfat dried milk
6 tablespoons (¾ stick) unsalted butter, melted
¼ teaspoon mixed sprinkles
Preheat the oven to 225°F.
- Combine the flour, cornstarch, 1 cup of the powdered sugar, crushed chips, salt, cinnamon, and dried milk in a small bowl. Add the melted butter and stir until large lumps have formed and all of the dry ingredients are moistened (the mixture should resemble a wet, mealy dough). Toss with the sprinkles, then pour onto a baking sheet and spread evenly.
- Bake the crumbs for 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and toss the crumbs with two bench scrapers or metal spatulas, then chop into ⅛- to ¼-inch pieces.
- Bake for 15 to 20 more minutes, or until lightly golden. Let the gravel cool, then toss with the remaining ¼ cup powdered sugar.
Jeni's Like-Magic Hot Fudge Sauce
½ cup Dutch-process cocoa
½ cup sugar
½ cup finely chopped chocolate (70% cacao)
¼ cup boiling water
Dutch-process cocoa (otherwise it won't dissolve), sugar, and finely chopped chocolate (70% cacao) in a bowl. Add boiling water, let sit for 2 minutes, then stir until combined.