Jeni Britton Bauer's first ice-cream parlor was called Scream.
That's "Scream," as in "I scream, you scream, we all scream" -- well, you know the rest.
If Scream lasted only two years, it was not for lack of a great name. Fortunately, the Columbus, Ohio, woman now regarded as the maven of all frozen desserts came back a couple of years later with her now-famous Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams shops. Along with other artisanal ice-cream makers around the country, she learned that Americans just can't get enough ice cream; smooth and rich, cold and creamy and intensely flavored.
The days are hot, the nights are warm. It's the perfect time for ice cream. There are some who would argue that any time of the year is perfect for ice cream, and who could disagree? But it is summer now, and we should strike while the sidewalk is hot.
I always thought I made some pretty good ice cream, but a recent trip to France opened my eyes: French ice cream is great. Superb. Possibly the best in the world, at least the ice cream made by the famous Berthillon ice-creamery.
Fortunately, I had signed up for a cooking class in Paris that happened to include a section on making chocolate ice cream. At the time, I wasn't terribly excited by the prospect; after all, I have made plenty of chocolate ice cream before.
But there is chocolate ice cream, and then there is chocolate ice cream. The ice cream we made in that Parisian kitchen was richer, smoother and creamier than any I had previously made.
Is the cream richer in France? Is the chocolate better? Was it just that I was enjoying it while in Paris, a simple fact that makes all foods taste better?
I decided to find out by re-creating the recipe at home.
I tilted the odds in my favor by using the best (which is to say the most expensive) milk and cream I could find, and a high-quality chocolate (but not the most expensive, because expensive chocolate can be really, really expensive).
Making a custard-style ice cream, which this is, takes a little bit of practice. I always recommend going as slowly and carefully as you can; too much heat at a critical moment can ruin the whole recipe. The trick lies in knowing how to combine hot cream with egg yolks without scrambling the eggs. Simply add the cream just a little at a time, and be sure you are constantly whisking. Erring on the side of caution will cost you only a minute of time; heating it too fast will cost you the whole dish.
The result was superb, with a deep, rich chocolate flavor. This Chocolate Ice Cream is certainly excellent, and one worth adding to your repertoire. But if I am to be fully truthful, it wasn't as good as the one we made in Paris. Maybe it was the part about being in Paris, but there is also this: The cream we used for that ice cream was thicker and creamier than any I had ever seen.
As we had done in France, we accompanied it with Honey-Pepper Tuiles, which are thin, Pringles-shaped cookies. I have been making vanilla tuiles for years, but this version was a brilliant choice to go with the ice cream: the pepper in the sweetly addictive cookies, on top of the honey, made the flavor of the chocolate seem to pop. It had an exponential flavor effect.
Sticking with the French theme, I made a Watermelon Granita -- not because granitas are French (they are Sicilian), but because I am still haunted by an amazing watermelon sorbet I had in Paris. However, I had already made a Mango Sorbet -- so rich, so smooth, so ridiculously easy -- and I wanted to try something new. I had never made a Watermelon Granita before.
A granita is basically a slushie, though dressed in its Sunday best. It doesn't even need an ice-cream maker. You simply take the juice of a fruit, in this case watermelon, add some simple syrup and a few squeezes of lemon juice.
Then comes the fun part: put it in a large, shallow pan and put the pan in the freezer. Every 30 minutes or so, you stir the freezing juice with a fork. The ice crystals break into little flakes of crunchy, icy flavor. There is no sensation quite like it in your mouth. It's soft and smooth and cold, and in this case it has the most delightful taste of pure watermelon.
In the heat of summer, it is incredibly refreshing.
I next made pistachio ice cream -- or, technically, Roasted Pistachio Gelato. It is true that I ate pistachio ice cream in Paris, too, but I believe I made this batch just because I like pistachio ice cream. I found a recipe for it that uses just three ingredients -- pistachios, sugar and milk -- so it doesn't even have as much fat as some other recipes.
I decided to boost the flavor by toasting the nuts first before grinding them, which intensified and deepened the taste. The difference in taste was definitely noticeable, a bit subtler than regular pistachio, but somehow more satisfying. And the ice cream was surprisingly creamy despite being made only with milk.
Finally, I turned back to Jeni Britton Bauer, of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams. In her always-intriguing cookbook ("Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home"), she has a recipe for Roasted Strawberry and Buttermilk Ice Cream that caught my eye. I have never been particularly happy with homemade strawberry ice cream, because it doesn't have enough flavor for me.
But roasting the strawberries first? That would intensify the taste and, like the pistachios, deepen the flavor. I simply had to try it. And it was simple to do, because the strawberries are only cooked (along with some sugar) for eight minutes.
Once they are cooked, cooled and pureed in a food processor, they are added, along with milk, cream and a little cornstarch for thickening, to Bauer's most brilliant technique, which she uses for all of her ice creams. She whisks together cream cheese and a bit of salt, which gives the ice just the right subtly tangy undertone to play off the sweetness of the other ingredients. And in this recipe, a quarter-cup of buttermilk only adds to the effect.
The result was sublime. It is so good, you want to scream.
CHOCOLATE ICE CREAM
- 2 egg yolks
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 4 ounces good-quality chocolate
- 1 cup milk
- 2/3 cup heavy cream
In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and the sugar. In a separate bowl, break up the chocolate into small pieces.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the milk and cream almost until boiling. Whisking all the time, pour the hot milk mixture very slowly into the egg mixture, a little bit at a time. You don't have to pour all of the milk, just enough to raise the temperature of the eggs until they are hot. Return the egg-milk mixture back into the pot with the milk and continue to cook over medium heat, stirring constantly (making figure-8s with your spoon works best).
Continue cooking until you can draw your finger across the back of the spoon and leave a clean trail. Add the chocolate and stir to incorporate fully. Let cool before freezing it in a machine according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Yield: 6 servings
-- Olivier Berte
- 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 1/2 teaspoon Szechuan peppercorns (see cook's note)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3-1/2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon honey
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 5 tablespoons flour
Cook's note: If you can't find Szechuan peppercorns, use another 1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns.
Crush the peppercorns with a mortar and pestle or the side of a heavy skillet or heavy knife. Put them in a small bowl with the salt.
Melt the butter in a small pan, stir in the honey and remove from the heat. Add the sugar, flour and the pepper mixture and set aside for two hours.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Meanwhile, spray a couple of rounded surfaces such as rolling pins with nonstick spray.
Line one baking sheet with a silicone liner or parchment paper. Place about 2 teaspoons of the paste on the liner or paper and spread it into as thin a circle as you can make (it will be easier if you use your impeccably clean fingers). Repeat with as many circles as you can fit, leaving plenty of space between them (six will fit on a standard baking sheet). Because timing is critical, make only one baking sheet at a time.
Bake about six minutes, until the edges turn golden brown. Remove from oven and let rest 1 minute.
Gently lift the cookies from the sheet with a spatula -- they will be very soft -- and lay over the sprayed, rounded surface. They will harden in a few minutes, and can be removed then. Serve with Chocolate Ice Cream or store in an airtight container.
Yield: 12-15 cookies
-- Olivier Berte
ROASTED STRAWBERRY AND BUTTERMILK ICE CREAM
- 1 pint strawberries, hulled and sliced 1/2-inch thick
- 1 cup sugar, divided
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1-1/2 cups whole milk
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 ounces (4 tablespoons) cream cheese, softened
- 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1-1/4 cups heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
- 1/4 cup buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Combine the strawberries with 1/3 cup of the sugar in an 8-inch-square glass or ceramic baking dish, stirring gently to mix well. Roast for 8 minutes or until just soft. Let cool slightly.
Puree the berries in a food processor with the lemon juice. Measure 3/4 cup of the pureed berries; refrigerate the rest of the puree for another use.
Mix about 2 tablespoons of the 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, the cream, the remaining 2/3 cup sugar and the 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 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. Add the reserved 3/4 cup strawberry puree and the buttermilk and blend well. Pour the mixture into a 1-gallon resealable freezer bag and submerge the bag in the ice bath. Let stand, adding more ice as necessary, until cold, about 30 minutes.
Pour the ice-cream base into an ice-cream maker 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.
Yield: About 1 quart
-- Adapted from "Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home," by Jeni Britton Bauer
ROASTED PISTACHIO GELATO
- 1 cup (6 ounces) shelled pistachios (about 12 ounces in the shell)
- 3 cups whole milk
- 3/4 cup sugar
Preheat oven or (preferably) toaster oven to 350 degrees. Spread the pistachios out on a small baking sheet and toast until fragrant and just starting to darken in color, 9-12 minutes. Keep a close watch to make sure they do not burn. Allow to cool.
In a food processor or coffee grinder, grind the pistachios to a fine powder.
In a medium saucepan, combine the milk and sugar. Cook over medium heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved and bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Remove from heat, add the pistachios, cover and refrigerate overnight.
Strain the milk mixture through a fine-meshed sieve, pressing on the nuts with the back of a large spoon to get as much liquid from the nuts as possible. Transfer to an ice-cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Yield: 1 quart
-- Adapted from "Gelato!" by Pamela Sheldon Johns
- 3-4 large ripe mangoes
- 6 tablespoons sugar
- 1/4 cup light corn syrup
Using a small, sharp knife, make 4 lengthwise slits through the skin of the mango, cutting the skin into quarters. Peel off the skin and discard. Then slice the flesh from both sides of the large, flat pit, as well as from around its edges.
Place the mango flesh in a food processor; puree until smooth. Measure the puree; you should have 1-2/3 cups. Return the puree to the processor or blender. Add the sugar and corn syrup and process to mix well. Pour the puree into a bowl and refrigerate until cold, about 1 hour.
Transfer the sorbet mixture to an ice-cream maker and process according to the manufacturer's instructions. Transfer the sorbet to a container; cover and freeze until firm, at least 4 hours or up to 3 days.
Yield: About 2-1/2 cups, 3-4 servings
-- Adapted from "Ice Creams & Sorbets," by Sarah Tenaglia
- 1/2 watermelon, approximately 4 pounds
- 1 cup water
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Remove the rind and seeds from the watermelon. Slice the melon into 1-inch cubes and mash it with a knife, or puree coarsely in a blender or food processor. Refrigerate.
Heat the water and sugar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Simmer for 5 minutes; remove from the heat and cool.
Combine the watermelon puree, sugar syrup and lemon juice. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Pour into shallow pans (a 13- by 9-inch baking pan is perfect) and place in freezer. After 30 minutes, remove the pan and thoroughly stir the freezing liquid with a fork; be sure to get all of it, including the parts on the sides. Return to the freezer and repeat every 30 minutes until it reaches the desired consistency, 2-3 hours. Pack into a freezer-safe air-tight container.
Yield: 1 quart
-- Adapted from "Ice Cream & Ices," by Nancy Arum