I love ice cream.
It's one of my all time favorite foods and something I could eat at every meal (if only it were as healthy as kale or broccoli). Yes, I know it's all my dad's fault, but that doesn't make me crave it any less.
And I'm from Ohio. And my name's Jennifer.
It's no surprise that when I found out about Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream from Ohio (of all places!) whose immense popularity seemed to be sweeping the press and blogosphere by waves, I decided I absolutely had to try it (I mean, seriously, how often does my beloved home state get this kind of praise from the food community?).
But then, it's not like I can ask my mom to bring me ice cream from Ohio when she visits. And I usually only go back to Ohio during the holidays, so it means waiting months before trying it. That is, until Formaggio Kitchen started carrying it in their stores.
You can guess what I did next.
At $12 a pint, Jeni's ice cream is probably the most expensive ice cream I've ever seen. Part of the high cost comes from the fact that she sources all of her cream from grass-fed cows in Snowville Creamery, a local milk producer in Ohio.
Jeni's ice cream is unusual in that she does not use any eggs. She believes in truly highlighting the flavors of the ice cream ingredients, and eggs can sometimes detract from that.
In order to get a smooth creamy texture, she uses several tricks. First, to avoid any ice crystals, she painstakingly removes some water from the ice cream "batter" by boiling the cream/milk mixture. She also adds starch for two reasons: 1) as a desiccant to remove additional residual moisture; and 2) as a thickener to make the ice cream more creamy.
For those of you who are not local to Ohio, the buckeye tree is the Ohio state tree. It produces a nut that looks very much like a chestnut. Buckeyes are also local chocolate-peanut butter candies made to resemble the buckeye nut. Jeni paid homage to Ohio by creating this ice cream filled with pulverized buckeyes.
I so wanted to love this ice cream. But alas, Bryan and I both found the ice cream to be just a bit chalky and not as lusciously creamy as we had expected. "The Buckeye State" was the chalkier one, possibly made that way by the peanut butter inside?
Bryan didn't really like the texture. And I agreed that I preferred the creamy texture of egg-based ice creams. Nevertheless, the flavors, especially the Wildberry Lavendar, were clean and pronounced, shining through with no competition from egg yolks or other strong flavors.
Despite my first experience with the ice cream, I was still intrigued at the idea of egg-less ice creams that would be smooth and creamy. Furthermore, since eggs are such a pain to deal with at home, I really was drawn to the idea of trying to make ice cream using her method.
So I finally did.
About a week ago, I noticed that my quarts of cream in the refrigerator were imminently about to expire. In order to avoid throwing them all out, I decided to make ice cream, immediately. Typically, I make a rich, custard-style ice cream with many, many egg yolks.
Alas, I had virtually run out of eggs. Intrigued by Jeni's ice cream process, I found a recipe online for Jeni's version of a simple egg-less vanilla ice cream. Thrilled that I actually had both corn starch and cream cheese at home (I virtually never have a stocked kitchen), I decided to forge ahead and see how a homemade version of Jeni's would taste like.
I must confess, I could not completely follow the recipe because of a lack of certain ingredients in my house (it was late at night too, so no chance to stopping by a grocery store). Most notably, I did not have simple white sugar and corn syrup. I took the plunge and substituted agave syrup. I've read elsewhere that Jeni specifically cautions against using other types of sugar (aside from what she recommends in the recipe), so I've put her original recipe below with notes about my modifications.
Despite all my crazy modifications, I still really enjoyed the final product! Sure, the texture was a not as creamy as I would have hoped, but how could I expect that given the changes I made? I'm pretty certain that my changes upset the delicate balance of water to other ingredients. In other words - my version had too much water, thus affecting the way the entire batch froze.
What about the Eggless Vanilla?
It tasted fantastic. I loved the clean, unadulterated fresh cream flavors of this ice cream. The vanilla really shown through, fragrant and sweet. I would totally consider using this method to make ice cream again. I'm pretty certain that if I cut down on the water content and used the right sugars (ahem - in other words, followed her tried and true recipe), it would turn out just right.
At least, what I've done is shown that even if you mess with several elements of the ice cream making process, the final product will still taste pretty darn good. Seriously, you really can't go too wrong with heavy cream and fresh vanilla beans.
2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 ½ ounces (3 tablespoons) cream cheese, softened
⅛ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 ¼ cups heavy cream
⅔ cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
In an small bowl, add cornstarch to a small amount (about 2 tablespoons) of milk and dissolve completely. Set aside. In another large bowl, whisk room temperature (important! Not straight out of the refrigerator!) cream cheese until smooth. Set aside.
In a saucepan, heat milk, heavy cream, sugar, corn syrup, and vanilla beans for about 5 minutes until the cream mixture is well infused with vanilla flavor. Remove from heat and slowly add corn starch/half & half mixture, stirring until everything is well incorporated. Return to heat and boil for 1-2 minutes until the mixture becomes thick and creamy.
Slowly add the hot cream mixture to the whisked cream cheese and stir well until mixed. Cool in an ice bath (at least 20 minutes) until cold.
Make in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Store the ice cream in airtight conditions and freeze for at least 4 hours before serving.
My Modifications & Notes
As I said, I was desperately trying to use up my cream, so in my haste I reverted to familiar ratios from the recipe I usually use, not fulling appreciating how the difference in water content could really affect the creaminess of the egg-less ice cream. To make matters worst, I had just enough corn starch, but not the extra amount I probably needed to make up for the extra liquid I was adding.
2 cups half & half + 2 cups heavy cream [admittedly too much liquid?]
½ cup agave syrup instead of sugar [yikes, even MORE liquid!]
2 vanilla beans [at least I'm upping the vanilla flavor, yikes!]
I basically followed the instructions from the recipe except that I cooled my ice cream base in the refrigerator overnight since I did not have time to make ice cream right away.
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