Monday, October 10, 2011

Interview with Jeni of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams

When my friend Pam lived in Ohio, I told her about Denise's Ice Cream (now closed), that had moved from Somerville, MA to Columbus, Ohio. I had loved Denise's and was so sad when they left us to move "west". When I told Pam about it, she said she had never been because she lived on the same block as Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams. I'd never heard of it, but clearly she thought it trumped even "thinking" about other Columbus ice cream, so it was something I had to look into.

Years later, Pam now lives in New England, and though I have never had the opportunity to visit a Jeni's, I have made a few of her fabulous recipes from her new book, and I too am now a fan, and Tina and I were so honored to have Jeni herself grant us an interview.

In the next week or so I head to visit Pam and her new(ish) baby girl, so in honor of that occasion and the person who first told me about Jeni's, here's the wonderful interview we conducted over email. And do read all the way through -- not only is the interview great, but she has so graciously supplied us with one of their recipes. Thanks Jeni! (Oh, and thanks Pam, for making the "introduction"!)

Getting Started...

Scoopalicious: Before you started making your own ice cream, what was your go to ice cream?

Jeni: Haagen-Dazs.

Scoopalicious: How did you make the leap from home churner to selling your ice cream?

Jeni: In the mid ‘90s I was experimenting for a few months at home—always with the intention to start a business, but for a party one evening I blended cayenne essential oil with store-bought milk chocolate ice cream and my guests went crazy—“It’s hot! It’s cold!” That flavor, made today of course with our ice cream base, is Queen City Cayenne, a nod to Cincinnati and it’s spicy chili (made with a touch of chocolate and pepper).

Scoopalicious: What equipment did you need to buy to make the leap?

Jeni: A really awesome stainless steel ice cream machine from Italy, some ice cream cabinets, and freezers.

Scoopalicious: Did you still make your ice creams out of your home or then move to a commercial space?

Jeni: When I opened Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams in 2002 in the North Market, a public market city market that’s a ready-made, entry level commercial space, I made and sold everything there pretty much by myself. Great time, very long days.

Design and Ice Cream (our two favorite things!)

Scoopalicious: Your book is gorgeous. We read you went to art school—did you design it?

Jeni: Thank you very much. I studied art for a bit at the Ohio State University but dropped out. I would say that I art directed the book. I had a pretty well-formed idea of what I wanted it to look like and I worked with our in-house designer at the time, Casey Carmell, freelance photographer Stacy Newgent, and our publisher, Artisan Books, to pull it off. We did a lot of sample layouts here in our office, and the end papers. Artisan has an awesome design team, so we worked with them closely. I also styled the photos in the book on our office’s conference table with Stacy Newgent.

The flavors...

Scoopalicious: How did you decide which recipes to put into your book?

Jeni: Most are just my favorites from over the years. You’ll notice that fall and winter have the most flavors; it’s because those are my favorite flavor seasons.

Scoopalicious: Your flavors are not run-of -the-mill. Do you find kids to be turned off by the flavors? Are there any flavors that kids really love?

Jeni: Kids are a lot more open-minded than people give them credit for. People assume kids won’t like certain flavors all the time. It’s ice cream. Kids like it. I never treat kids as kids. I treat them as thinkers. Allow them to explore the same way grown-ups do. Many kids love bitterness—many people don’t realize that—but they do. They love stout, coffee, grapefruit, and, like grown-ups they like anything with bright colors or chocolate.

Scoopalicious: Do you create all the flavors yourself or do you have help?

Jeni: I create them all, but I’m not opposed to anyone’s ideas. Of course, I have a kick-ass team who helps bring it all to life. We tweak and taste together, but we are very secretive during the process so there are only about 7 people working on new collections at any given time. One artist, two ice cream makers, one writer, one project director, and myself. The first batches start with me in my test kitchen, which is upstairs from my office. Then I work with my other ice cream makers and we taste together. When it’s almost perfect, we invite the rest of the team in for tasting. Then the process of design begins and eventually we will train the kitchen team to make the flavors and our shop keepers how to serve. We operate under a very strict schedule and deadlines or we won’t make the three month flavor drops. We don’t think everything has to be perfect or appeal to everyone. We see every collection as temporary, experimental. When it’s gone—poof! It’s gone, probably forever unless I can’t live without it.

Scoopalicious: How often do you introduce new flavors?

Jeni: We release six new flavors every three months. Our next collection will be available Nov. 2011 through Jan. 2012, followed by a collection Feb-April, May-July, and Aug.-Oct.

Scoopalicious: How often do you rotate flavors?

Jeni: See collections answer above. Signature Flavors are around all year, but something isn’t selling or if I decide it’s time to go, it’s time to go.

Scoopalicious: Are all your signature flavors constants on the menu in your shops?

Jeni: Every single day. We never run out. Which isn’t exactly easy, but we are committed to making sure those flavors are always available to anyone who walks into a shop and orders online.

Scoopalicious: How do you decide which are your "signature" flavors?

Jeni: Whatever is the most crave-able has made the list. Some have always been Signature (Salty Caramel), others made the list through demand (Brambleberry Crisp, which initially was introduced as a seasonal flavor).

Scoopalicious: Do you ever take flavor suggestions from your customers?

Jeni: My inbox is loaded with them. But the truth is I have a backlog of flavor ideas that will last years. I’ve got to get through all those first. That’s why I wrote the book and shared the recipe for a great base: so anyone can make the ice cream of their dreams.

Scoopalicious: What is your favorite flavor among your creations?

Jeni: Meyer Lemon Yogurt. I never get sick of it, probably because it’s so uncomplicated.

The "Business of Ice Cream"...

Scoopalicious: What part of Jeni's are you involved in on a day to day?

Jeni: Almost every part. Once I develop new flavor collection, I work with our creative team to do photography, artwork, and copy. Then we train the kitchen and our shop ambassadors how to make it and talk about it. And then the process repeats.

What I don’t do is worry about something like how to get Ugandan vanilla beans through customs/homeland security, or manage ice cream distribution, our 401k program, etc. That’s what we hired CEO, John Lowe who does that stuff and so much more.

Scoopalicious: Is your current role at Jeni's what you want to be doing? I mean, are you now wrapped up in the business when you'd rather still be doing the creative, etc?

Jeni: I’m right where I want to be.

Scoopalicious: How many people work in your kitchen helping with the creations and the production?

Jeni: About 40.

Advice from a Pro...

Scoopalicious: How do you keep from eating all of your ice cream all the time?!

Jeni: I eat ice cream all the time. I do not try to prevent it. I love it very much.

Scoopalicious: Any ice cream-making advice for our readers?

Jeni: All you need is the perfect base. Mine from the book is scoopable, and super creamy even on home machines. Then you can adapt the recipes in the book to make any flavor you can dream up.

Looking forward...

Scoopalicious: Do you have plans to expand retail stores outside of Ohio (like, um, Boston and Providence!)?

Jeni: Hell, yes. Can’t wait! But, we are not in a hurry to open another shop and we’re definitely not going to franchise. We own all 10 of our shops and manage them.

Scoopalicious: We cannot wait for you to come our way! Your 10th anniversary is coming up at the end of the year. Any big plans to celebrate?

Jeni: No plans yet, but we will have to think of something! I’m thinking we ought to throw a concert. Can you hook us up with Foreigner, the Civil Wars, Glen Campbell, Van Halen, what’s left of Queen, and Burt Reynolds to emcee?

Scoopalicious: Seriously, wish we had the connections so maybe we could bargain some free ice cream out of the hook up!

In case we forgot to ask...

Scoopalicious: Anything we haven't covered that you want to add?

Jeni: Not that I can think of! Thanks for the interview!

Thank you, Jeni! And thanks for the recipe! By the way I love the black raspberry part. My parents have tons of black raspberries growing on their property, but while you find many recipes for raspberries or blackberries, there are relatively few for the sweet black gems of a black raspberry -- which are truly my favorite.

Oh, and one other thing I forgot to mention...the forum on Jeni's site is AWESOME. It's full of great advice for people using her book. What a great ancillary to the book -- I wish more cookbooks came with something like it! Check it out if you have any questions or concerns with the recipes in the book!

Sweet Corn & Black Raspberry Ice Cream

A sublime summer match—initial hits of milky sweet corn give way to the floral nose of sweet black raspberry.

Ohio sweet corn is milky-tasting and shockingly sweet. I like to eat it raw straight off the truck. We add sea salt and fresh cream and milk to make a delightful peak-harvest ice cream, then swirl it with black raspberry sauce. This is the taste of summertime in Ohio, especially in Columbus, where this flavor has had a loyal following since I first made it over ten years ago.

Sweet corn ice cream is delicious on its own. My initial reason for adding black raspberries was visual, but black raspberries offer a perfect sweet-tart perfume to the flavor (complementary colors often make complementary flavors). If you can’t find good black raspberries for the sauce (some years they are all seeds—don’t bother), use half blackberries and half red raspberries, so the color is still a deep purple to complement the yellow corn.

Makes a generous 1 quart

1 ear sweet corn, husked
2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
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
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
Black Raspberry Sauce (see below)

Pairs well with: Blue corn cakes with lots of powdered sugar and Queen City Cayenne Ice Cream. Bumbleberry crumble. Honey Butterscotch Sauce

Slice the kernels from the corn cob, then “milk” the cob by scraping it with the back of your knife to extract the liquid; reserve the kernels and liquid.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, sugar, corn and juices, 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 force the mixture through a sieve into a bowl, leaving the corn “cases” behind. Return the mixture to the saucepan and gradually whisk in the cornstarch slurry. Bring 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.

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 black raspberry sauce and ending with a spoonful of sauce; 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.

Black Raspberry Sauce
This sauce will not freeze fully when it’s frozen, so it’s perfect to swirl through any ice cream. Makes about 1 1/4 cups.

2 cups black raspberries
1 cup sugar

Combine the berries and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Continue boiling, stirring occasionally, until it reaches 220°F (5 to 8 minutes). Let cool slightly, then force through a sieve to remove the seeds. (Or leave a few seeds in there just to prove you made it.) Refrigerate until cold before using.

Excerpted from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home by Jeni Britton Bauer (Artisan Books). © 2011

1 comment:

lyndsay said...

Awesome! I've been following Jeni now for a few years through her blog and through her success! So wonderful and inspiring! Thanks for the interview! ^__^


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