But when Bauer starts to talk, it’s not about new flavors or ice cream as art. It’s about milk proteins, the temperatures at which various fats melt and how water acts like kryptonite, zapping the frozen treat of its creaminess. After more than a decade in the business, Bauer knows it takes more than artistry to make great ice cream.
That is the lesson she has set out to teach in her new cookbook, “Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home” (Artisan). It is, she claims, the end of the goopy, soupy, eggy, grainy and, yes, icy ice creams that she thinks most recipes produce with a countertop maker. And it’s this simple: Leave out the egg yolks that most recipes call for. Heat the milk, cream and sugar at a rolling boil for exactly four minutes. Add some cornstarch and a nub of cream cheese, and a quart of creamy, rich, scoopable ice cream — a $20 value! — is yours.
Simplicity, though, took time. Bauer didn’t even know what a milk protein was on the night in college when she made her first batch of “hot chocolate,” dark chocolate ice cream mixed with cayenne essential oil. “I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I thought I invented it,” she remembers. That is, until she went to the library and discovered the Mayans had developed the combination thousands of years ago. But the flavor was such a hit among her friends that Bauer began to think seriously about a career making ice cream. Her first serious experimentation had begun.
In 1996, Bauer opened Scream in North Market, Columbus’s culinary hub. A 22-year-old art student with bright pink hair, Bauer made all the ice creams in a two-gallon machine and worked the counter. She bought ingredients from other North Market merchants, partly because she was curious about them and partly because she was too small to order from any serious supplier.
Scream’s opening menu served up a couple of Jeni’s now-signature flavors: salty caramel, inspired by a French pastry chef in a suburban shop where she had worked as a teenager, and Thai chili, a blend of peanut butter ice cream, toasted coconut and chili, now called Bangkok peanut.