When I was small, my parents made homemade ice cream, the preferred flavor a rich, malty chocolate ice cream with chunks of Butterfinger candy bars scattered throughout. On hot summer afternoons, the kind that would flow into dinner eaten outside, burgers on the grill and watermelon and cold pasta salads, they would put the ice cream maker out on the back deck to noisily churn and whirl, making it impossible for me to put the pending consumption of ice cream out of my mind. That night, when the sky was dark and the air muggy, we would eat our ice cream fresh and not quite set, sitting together in the bright light of the kitchen, cooled by ice cream and breeze through an open door or, on very hot nights, air conditioning.
I remember, too, going to our favorite ice cream shops, those at home and those in lakeside towns we’d visit in the summer. We would get our ice cream in waffle cones, my dad and I carefully perusing all the flavors before making our decisions, my mom generally opting for mint chocolate chip and my sister for fruity sorbets and the like, which at the time I can’t say I understood.
I liked ice cream, in the way that most children like ice cream and it’s rather difficult to resist, say, a seasonal fruit crumble topped with a scoop of ice cream melting into its buttery, sugared crevices. But I think I actually preferred it like that, as an accompaniment — upstaged by a crumble or a piece of pie or a slice of birthday cake.
My real enthusiasm for ice cream began when, a little over a year ago, I discovered Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Art of the Table, one of my favorite Grand Rapids establishments. This ice cream is a revelation, the flavors creative and fresh and seasonal, the ingredients the sort I’m perfectly pleased to put (in moderation) into my body. And furthermore, they are delicious. Those pricey little tubs — of Brambleberry Crisp, Backyard Mint or Salty Caramel Ice Cream, Lime Cardamom or Lemon and Blueberry Frozen Yogurt — were perhaps my biggest splurge, but the goodness made them worth the money, and I was happy to support a business that, if you ask me, is doing it right.
And then Jeni (we’re on a first-name basis in my head) came out with a book that everyone raved about, but I had no ice cream machine. But then I got engaged, so I registered for one. It was purchased for us and sent straight to California (thanks again, Maria, Jim, Nancy and Glenn!). When we joined the ice cream machine here in the Bay Area, I bought Jeni’s book straight away and, in between the unpacking of boxes, began churning her ice creams in our new kitchen. And so began my obsession. It’s so straightforward! There are no fussy eggs! I can make what was once an extravagant treat in my own kitchen! And despite the cakes and galettes and improvised salads with which I’ve impressed myself to one degree or another in the past, when Ben and I sat down with bowls of the first batch of ice cream in our hands this past August, I said with an amount of awe I’d never before felt toward my own cooking, “I MADE this! I can’t believe I MADE this!” And with incredible ice cream in our freezer and a sense of accomplishment strong enough to pull me from most any funk, I wasn’t about to stop.
I made ice cream after ice cream from Jeni’s book: Kona Stout, Buckeye State (honeyed peanut with chocolate freckles), Roasted Pumpkin 5-Spice, a lavender ice cream of my own invention speckled with flecks of chocolate, straight-up vanilla and, of course, the legendary Salty Caramel. (I know, I know. But I meant it when I said I was obsessed!) All were fabulous.
And then I made Jeni’s Olive Oil Ice Cream with Sea Salted Pepitas, and people: it is just so good. It is a bit fruity from the olive oil, punctuated with salty bites thanks to the seeds and hopelessly smooth. The balance of flavors is simply perfect.
I hope you’re not feeling too cold to whip up a batch of this in your kitchen. But take caution: mine is an obsession easily acquired.
Today also happens to be my sweet husband’s birthday — yet another reason for ice cream! Happy day and happy year to you, my darling. As much as I enjoyed eating ice cream out of the carton, stocking-footed in my little orange kitchen late at night, I don’t want to go back. I can’t imagine eating ice cream, or living life, without you by my side.
Olive Oil Ice Cream with Pepitas
Adapted from Jeni Britton Bauer’s Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home
One cup of pepitas, called for in the original recipe, was a bit too much for my preference. I’ve given a range so that you can decide for yourself.
2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch or tapioca starch
1 1/2 ounces / 3 tablespoons cream cheese, softened
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup or tapioca syrup
1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 – 1 cup salted roasted pepitas
Twenty-four hours before you want to make ice cream, wash the canister of your ice cream machine, dry it well and place it in the coldest part of your freezer. Do not remove it until you are ready to pour the chilled ice cream base into it.
In a small bowl, mix about 2 tablespoons of the milk with the cornstarch / tapioca starch to make a smooth slurry.
In a medium bowl, whisk the cream cheese and salt until smooth.
Fill a large bowl with ice and cold water.
In a 4-quart saucepan, combine the remaining milk, the cream, the sugar and the corn / tapioca syrup. Bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat, and boil for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and gradually whisk in the cornstarch / tapioca starch slurry.
Bring the mixture 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. Add the olive oil and whisk until well blended.
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, folding in the pepitas as you go. 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, about 4 hours.
Yield: about 1 quart