When you are making ice cream at home, water is your enemy

Jeni Britton Bauer of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams doesn't make ho-hum ice cream. Instead, she does sweet corn and black raspberry, Savannah buttermint and goat cheese ice cream with roasted cherries. Critics say her ice creams are up there with some of the best in the U.S.

"Water is your enemy in ice cream," Britton Bauer says. "That's what turns into ice." The author of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home shares her tips for fighting the enemy when making ice cream at home.

Lynne Rossetto Kasper: You open this book with the most curious statement for someone who is going to tell us how to make homemade ice cream. You say you really don't like homemade ice cream.

Jeni Britton Bauer
Jeni Britton Bauer (Photo: Stacy Newgent)

Jeni Britton Bauer: I've never liked homemade ice cream. Sorry, grandma. I didn't like the ice cream that was made at home on the deck or on the porch because we had a Haagen-Dazs down the street, and I just wanted to go there. The texture of the American scoopshop ice cream, where they rolled it into a ball and put it on a cone, was perfect. I loved that hard ice cream, and licking it off a cone.

LRK: What was wrong with the homemade ice cream?

JBB: It was always a little bit icy. It had to be served soft. Then when you froze it hard, it would get crumbly and it would fall off my cone.

LRK: The thing about your flavors is that they sing; they really are distinctive. There are a couple of things in your recipes I've not seen in other ice cream recipes. Every recipe has cream cheese, a little bit of corn syrup and a cornstarch slurry (cornstarch mixed with liquid). Every recipe has the same balance of 2 cups of milk to 1 1/4 cups heavy cream. Why always this formula for your ice creams? What does this have to do with texture?

JBB: Everything you add to ice cream plays a role in the final texture. When I created this recipe, I was trying to mimic the exact texture and the body of the ice cream that I get in my professional kitchen with professional equipment, with pasteurizers, homogenizers, really expensive gelato machines from Italy and very, very cold freezers. At home that's very difficult because you have limitations in your home kitchen; you don't have a pasteurizer or homogenizer.

I started from the texture and consistency that I wanted and worked backward. The cream cheese adds a little bit of body. It's an ingredient that I added at the last minute to give it a little scoopability.

LRK: Intense protein, also.

JBB: It is protein, and it's a different kind of protein than the other protein that we work with in the ice cream mix. When we boil the milk, cream and the two sugars (sucrose, which is table sugar, and glucose in the form of corn syrup or tapioca syrup), both those sugars function differently in the overall base and they hold water in different ways.

Water is your enemy in ice cream. That's what turns into ice. Everything that you add to ice cream, almost everything, has water in it; milk is 87 percent water. Water turns into ice crystals in the final product. You have to bind water to something else: protein, fat, sugar or starch.

LRK: You have these incredible combinations: the sweet basil with the honey pine nut and the cucumber and melon. How do you get really intense flavor in ice cream?

JBB: For fruits that are high in water, a lot of times I will roast them with some sugar to bind some of the water to sugar, and also to evaporate some of that water and concentrate the flavors.

We steep a lot of ingredients right in the cream. So either you go with the hot steep, which is for barky ingredients like cinnamon or leather ingredients like vanilla, or you go with a cold steep for the green leaves, like anything that grows in your backyard and is fresh -- basil, mint, chamomile.

LRK: How long did it take for you to put all these pieces together?

Lemon Frozen Yogurt
Britton Bauer's recipe: Lemon Frozen Yogurt

JBB: It took months. With ice cream -- and I'm sure, with a lot of other things too -- you have to think about what the home cook has to use. We built a whole test kitchen, just a home kitchen, in the back of my office.

LRK: You used a $45 ice cream maker.

JBB: I have about 30 of them. All paid for by me, by the way, no sponsorships.

Featured recipe

Top Recipes

Featured recipe