The official halfway point of summer was August 7. There are fewer raucous thunderstorms and the fireflies are dwindling. You can count the days left until school starts. But don't despair -- eat some ice cream. You'll feel better. And with Jeni Britton Bauer's Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home (Artisan, $23.95), you will have the know-how to make your own.
Bauer, whose eponymous Ohio ice creams have won over ice cream aficianados, also distributes frozen pints nationwide (available locally at Fromagination and Fresh Madison Market). Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home lets you start from scratch with over one hundred recipes.
Ice cream is the final frontier of homemade desserts -- it's tricky to perfect. I've tried many different at-home ice cream renditions: egg yolk-thickened custards; simple milk, cream, and sugar concoctions; and even infused sweetened condensed milk. Most batches tasted great right out of the ice cream machine, but a day or two in the freezer rendered them hard, icy, and nowhere near as appealing as a pint of Haagen Daz.
The problem is water -- milk is 90% water, and if it doesn't bind with other ingredients, then it forms ice crystals -- hence, the hardened dessert that lurked in my freezer the day after churning my heart out. Bauer uses a multi-tiered approach that evaporates extra water, and adds ingredients such as a little corn syrup and cornstarch to bind what's left behind. The end result is ice cream that is perfect, even after three days in the freezer (a fluke -- I went away for a weekend).
Pure foodists, don't despair at the mention of corn syrup. The book specifies not to use the high fructose type. Check your nutrition labels -- several store brands at the grocery store contained HFCS, but Karo Syrup did not. If corn syrup really turns you off, you can use tapioca syrup (although a little pricier and harder to come by).
The book is broken down by season. Ice cream is a year-round dessert here, with captivating flavors such as baked rhubarb frozen yogurt, sweet corn and black raspberry ice cream, or baked apple sorbet. Plus, Bauer includes info on everything you need to make a killer sundae, swanky ice cream cocktails and ice cream macaron sandwiches.
If you like traditional vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry, they're here (but even better than you remember). There are also some shockingly creative innovations, including an Influenza Rx sorbet that combines citrus juices, honey, cayenne, and bourbon in a cure-all dessert. Sweet basil and honeyed pine nut ice cream combines herb-steeped cream and a pine nut praline that would be a perfect end to a summer meal. And vegetables aren't left out in the cold either -- ice cream with beets and mascarpone, celery with candied fennel, and sweet potato with torched marshmallows make it easy to eat your veggies.
Bauer also gives you the tools to create your own flavors. After making her Ugandan Vanilla, Buckeye State (peanut butter, honey, chocolate), and Salty Caramel (yes, it is as good as it sounds), I made my own sour cherry with chocolate "freckles" that was divine.
It helps to have an ice cream maker -- the recipes were tested with the type that uses a pre-frozen insulated bucket ($45-$75), but you can also make do with a few bowls, a large stockpot, and a freezer. And lots of shaking action.
Anna Thomas Bates blogs at Tallgrass Kitchen.