Thursday, September 29, 2011

Testing the Recipe for Jeni's Salty Caramel Ice Cream

Posted By on Thu, Sep 29, 2011 at 5:47 AM

After raving about the Jeni’s Ice Cream shop that opened a few blocks from my house, I was happy to receive plenty of Jeni’s gift cards for my birthday, as well as Jeni’s cookbook, Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home, which was released this summer.

I sat down one Sunday afternoon and read the whole damn thing, front to back. If there was anything gleaned from the gorgeous pages of the book, other than the generous amount of (what should probably be secret) recipes, it was that this ice cream isn’t typical for a lot of reasons.

For one thing, Jeni waxes poetically on the importance of local, sustainable ingredients (some of which she is now sourcing from Tennessee as well). But I was surprised at the obvious chemistry that was calculated in these recipes — which is similar to what I expect from a complicated baking recipe, as opposed to the many ice cream recipes I have made in the past.

The upside to the work of making any of her recipes — besides the payoff of delicious ice cream — is that you can save up to $10 a pint, as you are likely to already have a lot of these ingredients on hand. The only thing I had to buy for her famous Salty Caramel ice cream was whole milk and heavy cream. And while the process is pretty daunting — it took about 1 1/2 hours to make, including chilling time and ice cream maker time, plus four recommended hours of freezer time (and whether you can wait that long says more about your personality than I would like to admit) — the product is much closer to the original than I expected.

Jeni tries, politely, to break down the instructions into easy steps, and to show how many of the ice cream bases are created in the exact same way. As easy as she tries to make it look, these recipes are not for amateurs, or for cooks who like to use their hands/eyes over measuring spoons. These are specific and scientifically proven to make wonderful ice cream.

Therefore, do not venture into this half-assed. Show Jeni some respect and make it right. She was nice enough to put in the work developing these treasured recipes for years, and then simply handed them off to us bozos. DO NOT FUCK THIS UP! Don’t try to be cute and use low-fat cream cheese. Do not try to "jazz it up" with some fucking Heath Bar crumbles (although you do have my permission to scoop it over a brownie or smother with homemade Magic Shell with Olive & Sinclair chocolate, à la Hot & Cold). Just keep it simple. Trust me, it will be worth it to you.

My notes would include using a larger than 4-quart pot, as you can’t turn away from the stove for a minute without running the risk of it boiling over (but that may be good so that you don’t burn the milk). I would definitely, without hesitation, prepare 100 percent of your components mise en place, as things move very quickly once you start on the stove with the caramel. In addition, I would honestly recommend buying this book for not only the recipes, but also for Jeni’s impressive first chapter where she shares her history, tips and information about her favorite ingredients.

An excerpt from the book about Jeni’s most popular flavor:

"It was at a French bakery where I worked throughout high school and college that I first heard of salted caramel, called 'salty' caramel by a chef in his thick French accent. For years it has been the most popular flavor of ice cream in our stores, accounting for more than 20 percent of sales, and we still make it the way we always have, one batch at a time, the sugar hand-stirred in a pan over a hot burner. The reward: no better flavor in the world."

Salty Caramel Ice Cream
Makes about 1 quart

2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) cream cheese, softened
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
2/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Danger! This is the dry-burn technique. I don't add water to the sugar before putting it on the heat, as some chefs do. Caramelizing sugar dry means it goes faster, but you have to watch it more closely and be ready with your cream. Here is an overview of what you are going to do:

Stand over the pan of sugar with a heatproof spatula ready, but do not touch the sugar until there is a full layer of melted and browning liquid sugar on the bottom with a smaller layer of unmelted white sugar on the top. When the edges of the melted sugar begin to darken, use the spatula to bring them into the center to help melt the unmelted sugar. Continue stirring and pushing the sugar around until it is all melted and evenly amber in color — like an old penny. When little bubbles begin to explode with dark smoke, give the sugar another moment and then remove from the heat. Immediately but slowly pour about 1/4 cup of the cream and corn syrup mixture into the burning-hot sugar. Be careful! It will pop and spit! Stir until it is incorporated, then add a bit more cream and stir, then continue until it is all in.

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.

Mix the cream with the corn syrup in a measuring cup with a spout.

Fill a large bowl with ice and water.

Heat the sugar in a 4-quart saucepan over medium heat until it is melted and golden amber in color (see note above). Remove from the heat and, stirring constantly, slowly add a bit of the cream and corn syrup mixture to the caramel: It will fizzle, pop, and spurt. Stir until well combined, then add a little more and stir. Keep adding the cream a little at a time until all of it is incorporated.

Return the pan to medium-high heat and add the milk. Bring to a rolling boil and boil for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and gradually whisk in the cornstarch slurry.

Bring back to a boil over medium-high and cook, stirring with a heatproof spatula, until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat. If any caramel flecks remain, pour the mixture through a sieve.

Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese until smooth. Add the vanilla and whisk. 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 into frozen canister 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.

Source: Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home by Jeni Britton Bauer. (Artisan Books). Copyright 2011.

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