Q&A with Jeni Britton Bauer, Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams
An innovator's view on flavor, inclusions and product development
Prepared Foods talks inclusions and ice cream trends with Jeni Britton Bauer, founder and chief creative officer of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. The Columbus, Ohio, firm makes and sells more than 50 super premium ice creams at retailers, online and through 39 scoop shops in the Midwest, Southeast and select cities.
Prepared Foods: Your website talks about starting in 2002 with an “artisanal” approach. In your opinion, how has the “artisanal” movement changed since your start?
Jeni Britton Bauer: We believe any ice cream that’s built completely from scratch and made with whole, high-quality ingredients and dairy from grass-pastured cows (rather than synthetic flavorings and commodity ice cream mix), is artisanal. The company was founded on delivering this promise and we continue to do so in every ice cream we make.
PF: We love your flavor innovation! What was your first flavor and what’s one a current favorite?
Britton Bauer: One of the first experiments I did was add oil of cayenne to chocolate ice cream. It gave me everything I loved about chocolate ice cream—the creamy, soothing and rich texture—and then came the burst of flames in the back of my throat from the spiciness of the cayenne.
That experience is what made me trust my vision, that this is what I am meant to do. More recently, I’m really loving Rainbow. This is our version of rainbow sherbet—including passion fruit, raspberry and key lime. It’s every bit as good as you remember, which is better than it actually was. Our Buttermilk Frozen Yogurts always also are my favorites.
PF: How do you describe your approach to flavor creation?
Britton Bauer: One of my passions is telling stories through ice cream. I think of it as creating flavors that transport people to a specific time, place and experience.
The look of an ice cream should immediately make you imagine it’s flavor, so it being visually beautiful is important. If we closed our eyes and tasted ice cream, what colors would it bring to mind? What does it make you smell, feel, hear and remember? Just like art, our personal experiences color those things. This approach encompasses the entire experience—from the way it looks to the scents and all the way through to the last bite.
PF: What have you learned most about working with ingredient inclusions?
Britton Bauer: We’re always testing new flavors and inclusions, but I’ve learned that sometimes, flavors that seem simple are not as easy as you may think. You’ll imagine this whole flavor story in your mind that you think will be beautiful in ice cream form and it’s just not. And other times, the opposite happens. The key is getting it right.
PF: We visited a Jeni’s scoop shop in Nashville and noticed lots of varieties featuring almonds. What do you like about almonds?
Britton Bauer: I love almonds. When making ice cream, I start by double toasting them—almost to the point of being over toasted. Then I’ll grind them small, like, almost to a dusty texture. Then stir that into your hot ice cream base, let it cool and then strain. This is SO flavorful.
Later, you could add more almonds when you take it out of the machine. It’s actually an old American flavor. Ice cream history is something I’ve picked up over the last 23 years.
PF: What are a few big trends for ice cream during the remainder of 2019?
Britton Bauer: We imagine we’ll see lots of innovation and continued experimentation this year. I do look forward to seeing unique ingredients incorporated into ice creams, like yuzu for example. That said, I don’t necessarily believe crazy innovation is required or should be trendy to make great ice cream. Just focus on the ingredients—how to find the highest quality ones and what to do with them.