SWEET, COLD, AND UNFORGETTABLE PLEASURE

An East Bay cone-u-copia of ice cream and other frozen treats

STORY AND PHOTOS KRISTINA M. SEPETYS

 

kidnpopsicle_1Ice cream cones, a cup of sorbet or gelato, an icy paleta: simple, delightful indulgences that make people smile. Like many grown-up children, I have fond memories of an old, battered ice cream truck rattling slowly through the neighborhood, bells clanging. The event never failed to draw cheering children from their homes, eager to wave down the passing truck to purchase a bomb pop, a Good Humor Toasted Almond bar, or a Choco-Nut Cone.

I grew up in Michigan, birthplace of Sanders, a confectionery that claimed to have invented the ice cream float. I loved it when my mother would take me to the lunch counter for a steamed hamburger, Coca-Cola in a silver cup lined with a paper cone, and, of course, a hot fudge sundae for dessert. The sundae featured their special hot fudge, still sold today. Birthdays and other occasions took our family to the orange-roofed Howard Johnson’s restaurant offering 28 ice cream flavors made from a family recipe that boasted higher levels of butterfat than its rivals of the time. During high school, I had a sweetheart who worked at a local Baskin-Robbins franchise owned by his family. The romance was short-lived, but over the course of many afternoons spent leaning against the display case, I managed to taste every single one of their 31 flavors before the flame went out.

And then there was BJ’s Cream Supreme. My brother and sister gleefully insist they remember a single day when our father took them to BJ’s not once, not twice, but three times. The fun included watching the servers generously dispense the soft-serve vanilla, chocolate, or combo swirls by pressing a lever on a large silver-barreled machine. But there was also the amusement over the suggestiveness of the name “BJ’s Cream Supreme,” coupled with the irony that real cream was not a part of the product. Made from a powder mix, it had comparatively little milkfat (or, for that matter, any other naturally occurring materials).  Pictured above: A locally based connoisseur of frozen confection samples a Naia Lindcove Ranch Pomegranate Sorbetto bar and declares it excellent.

Local Nostalgia

Regardless of where you grew up, chances are good you have happy ice cream outing memories of your own. East Bay residents love Fentons Creamery, which has served guests specialty sundaes and other fare in Oakland for more than 100 years. Waitstaff still wear ice cream parlor black and white and the sundaes come with long metal spoons. People in many East Bay locations have childhood memories of Loard’s (est. 1950), which like Tucker’s Super Creamed Ice Cream (est. 1941) in Alameda, has maintained the old-fashioned feel.

Many Berkeley natives recall with great fondness two sit-down ice cream parlors on Solano Avenue: Ortman’s (nowmccallums_1 replaced by a Starbucks) and McCallum’s, (now replaced by a Peet’s), both popular for more than 40 years. At McCallum’s, servers in tartan aprons and tams scooped up house-made fresh peach ice cream or the giant Nightmare sundae (enough to serve half a dozen people), a particular favorite for celebrating important milestone occasions. Over on Shattuck there was Edy’s, whose offerings included a Monte Cristo Sundae: toasted almond ice cream with caramel and cashews. A few may even remember that William Dreyer of Oakland, founder of the eponymous ice cream brand, claimed to have invented the popular Rocky Road combination in the 1920s. Dreyer used his wife’s sewing shears to cut up marshmallows and walnuts to mix into his chocolate ice cream and named the resulting blend “Rocky Road” to acknowledge Depression era struggles of the time.

                                                                                          McCallum’s photo Courtesy of Solano Avenue Association and Stroll 

Nostalgia continues to inspire the current generation of frozen-dessert purveyors. Take Oscar Salazar, who todayguantcomp owns two tidy and colorful shops called Guanatos Ice Cream, one in Bay Point and the other in Walnut Creek. (Pictured on the right Guanatos owner Oscar Salazar with his wife and business partner Gina Haro at their Bay Point store. Courtesy of Oscar Salazar)  Like many people with roots in Michoacán state, Salazar harbors a deep-seated love for the region’s thickly textured ice cream and for its frozen novelties, special concoctions distinguished by ingredients from the local cuisine. All over Mexico—and in many areas of the States—you will find stores, stands, and carts selling icy treats under some version of the name “Paletería/Nevería La Michoacana.”

Salazar says that when his family moved to Guadalajara, they started a business with the family ice cream recipe. “I use the same recipe today. I had to invest half a million dollars to get started and I’ve been working about 18 hours a day for the past five years since I opened. It’s a challenging business, but I love it. It’s the only thing I want to do.” And customers love his dozens of flavors, many of them seasonally made using fresh fruits or intended as riffs on sweets from Central and South America. One intriguing combination Salazar spins is a chongos zamoranos ice cream, based on a michoacano dessert traditionally made by adding rennet to milk and then flavoring the resulting curds with cinnamon and sugar. Another uses lúcuma, a Peruvian tree fruit. He also sells a variety of ice cream and icy fruit bars (paletas) in flavors like spicy mango and watermelon.

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On Shattuck in Berkeley are Almare Gelato Italiano and Gelateria Naia, both makers of rich, flavorful gelatos and sorbets inspired by family histories or personal travels in Italy. Alberto Malvestio, proprietor of Almare Gelato, arrived in Berkeley from his hometown of Treviso with memories of summers spent on the warm, sunny Adriatic coast eating lots of shiny cups of smooth gelato. Wanting to share this same quality gelato with the East Bay, Alberto called on his great uncle Dino in Italy and convinced him to share his ricette segrete (secret recipes). Dino made gelato for over 60 years in Reggio Emilia, offering four flavors out of a cart on the front of his bicycle. Malvestio has expanded to include many other flavors like stracciatella and Sicilian pistachio at Almare, which means “seaside” in Italian.

Intense, Flavorful Goodness

All this nostalgia proves that traditions for enjoying our frozen desserts have not changed very much. The production tools and the content of these treats have certainly evolved, however.   (Pictured above: Patrons at Fentons Creamery in Oakland are sure to be rewarded with an experience of delicious excess when they order a traditional ice cream sundae.)

During the last decades of the 20th century, it was common in the United States for popular flavors to be manufactured in chemistry labs as imitations of real ingredients. Fortunately, the tide has turned, and people once again expect their delicious frozen confections to be made from real foods, locally sourced, farm-fresh, and seasonal.

Preparing those ingredients is often a labor-intensive process. “It takes a lot of time and effort to clean and chop strawberries and other fresh ingredients that go into the ice creams and sorbets,” says Salazar of Guanatos. For ice creams flavored with spices and other aromatics, an infusion is used to draw out the flavor. Herbs or spices may be left to steep in the dairy base and then strained out—or not.

Ice cream and gelato are built on a creamy dairy base. U.S. federal regulations require products labeled “ice cream” to contain at least 10 percent milkfat (the fatty portion of milk, also known as butterfat). Most better-quality ice creams contain at least 12 percent. Some confectioners make up the base themselves using their own combinations of milk, cream, eggs, and sugar (or sometimes other sweeteners). The milk-to-cream balance is important. Too much fat can overwhelm the other flavors in the mix, an important consideration for artisans using delicate seasonal fruits and spices.

Many local crafters source milk and cream from Straus Family Creamery or simplify their production process by using the Straus Organic Ice Cream Base, which is made of cream, milk, egg yolks, and cane sugar, and contains 14 percent butterfat. Straus manages a small herd of Holstein and Jersey cows that graze on organic pastures in the hillsides above Tomales Bay in Marin County. The high cream content of Jersey milk makes it particularly good for use in ice cream production.

Local Artisan and Farmer Collaborations

Christopher Blue, owner of Chocolatier Bleu, offers colorful and alluring high-quality chocolates and ice creams for sale chocolatierthaicoconut_1at his Berkeley stores on 4th Street and University Avenue. The ice creams and sorbets are the creations of pastry chef Danyelle Forte, a graduate of the California School of Culinary Arts in Pasadena, with experience at several Michelin starred restaurants. She uses Straus organic milk and cream and free-range eggs from Willamette Egg Farms for the ice creams. The mixes may be sweetened with granulated cane sugar and glucose, dark brown sugar, molasses, or malt syrup. Forte looks to Berkeley farmers’ markets for inspiration. “I go at least once a week to find local and organic fruits, herbs, and vegetables to use in my creations. I recently made cherry vanilla ice cream with Kashiwase Farms cherries; a pu-erh tea and Kashiwase Arctic Star nectarine ice cream; a sorbet with Flavorella pluots from Frog Hollow Farms; and lemon basil eucalyptus ice cream with basil from Happy Boy Farms. Flavors are constantly changing.” And if these flavors aren’t seductive enough on their own, Forte goes the extra mile and offers paired house-made toppings, all included in the scoop price. “The Salted Caramel is served with sesame brittle, and the Dark Chocolate sorbet with arbequina olive oil and fleur de sel.” You can also choose from cacao nibs, caramel sauce, and a variety of other tempting pairings.

Tara Esperanza, owner of Tara’s Organic Ice Cream on College Avenue, began her ice cream adventure in New Mexico and moved to California so that she could source organic ingredients locally. Her recipes call for less sugar than one finds in similar products, and combine the Straus base with fresh, whole foods that offer bold flavors. Patrons love her creative, certified-organic flavors, which include Orange Cardamom, Sage, Chinese Five Spice, Lemongrass, Black Sesame, and Blueberry Mint. iScream also offers organic, seasonal flavors, such as Pumpkin and Blueberry, served up at a cozy little storefront on Solano Avenue near where Ortman’s and McCallum’s once reigned.

                                                                     Above: A Thai Coconut Sundae at Chocolatier Bleu.

In the East Bay, we have dozens of local gelaterias and sorbet makers turning out luscious, deeply flavorful combinations of fruits, herbs, and spices. Federico Murtagh proprietor of Lush Gelato, uses such ingredients as Riverdog Farm rosemary, Bee Healthy honey, Happy Boy Farms mint, and Yerena Farms strawberries to create flavors that ring true to the whole foods they’re made from. Inspired by the helado, a gelato-like treat served in his native Argentina, Murtagh has even created traditional sabores (flavors) like Dulce de Leche, Yerba Mate (a holly-like tree the leaves of which are used to brew drinks), or Fernet (a bitter, aromatic spirit).  He serves from two locations, one on Oakland’s Piedmont Avenue, the other in Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto.

Scream Sorbet in the Temescal district of Oakland is another standout. Inspired by fruit and produce from local farmers’ markets (where they sell their products), former computer software programmer Nathan Kurz and his partners have scream2_1developed a rich, flavorful sorbet like nothing you’ve ever eaten. The texture is as full-bodied and smooth as ice cream or gelato, but the mix contains no dairy. In fact, there are very few ingredients besides the items in the names: Pistachio, Strawberry Lemon, or Lime Mint, for example. There are also more intriguing flavors, like Coconut Kale, made with dinosaur kale from Happy Boy Farms in Watsonville. “Kale?” one cannot help but ask. “It was a suggestion from a Happy Boy employee,” Kurz explains. “She promised it would be delicious. We were doubtful, but made a test batch when a group of Happy Boy employees came over to tour our kitchen. Turned out she was right, and we’ve made it several more times. Not a popular flavor exactly, but a beautiful, verdant green and a real hit with a small subset of kale-craving customers.”

Tasting bar at Scream Sorbet (photos by Bryan Black)

“We buy from a lot of different farms as the seasons change,” says Kurz. He might buy nectarines from Sunrise Farms in Orosi, blood oranges from Hamada Farm in Kingsburg, strawberries from Dirty Girl Farm, or hazelnuts from Inzana Ranch in Hughson. His secret is nuts, combined with the most farm-fresh produce he can find, and spun into a creamy purée using a Pacojet, a pricey ($4k) specialty tool you’re probably not buying for home use anytime soon, but which chefs are using to “micro-purée” small batches of frozen ingredients. Kurz says the tool creates such intense flavor that he finds himself reducing the sweetener.

“We use mostly C&H cane sugar because it’s non-GMO, guaranteed vegan, and doesn’t contain bone char,” Kurz explains. “We need a fully refined sugar for flavor: All the organic sugars available in the U.S. are semi-refined and have a slight caramel taste. This can be pleasant on its own, but mars the purity and intensity of the fruit flavors. In Europe, organic refined white beet sugar is available, but due to the U.S. sugar tariffs, it’s impossible to buy here. We do some flavors with maple syrup, agave, honey, and palm sugar instead, but it has to match the flavor we are making. No corn syrups, dextrose, fructose, maltodextrin, or things with really long names.”

Kurz sources chocolate and vanilla from Oakland-based Madécasse Chocolate. “We use Madécasse primarily because they have delicious chocolate and also because we appreciate that rather than just exporting raw materials from Africa, they’re working closely with their partners in Madagascar to export finished high-quality products. This is great both for product quality and economic development,” says Kurz.

cinco_2¡Viva México (and Philadelphia)! 

Oaklanders with a hankering for Mexican-style ice cream head for Nieves Cinco de Mayo. At this well-loved shop, located in the Public Market across from the Fruitvale BART station, they create delicious flavors like Spearmint, Tamarindo, and Cinnamon. They also follow the Mexican penchant for making ice cream and sorbets from foods normally associated with savory dishes, such as cheese, garlic, or avocado. Their Garlic and Elote (sweet corn on the cob) flavors usually run out early in the day. Many rave about their coffee flavors, which are made from Blue Bottle Coffee. It’s also a great place to get special regional treats like raspados, a Mexican snow cone, or a “diablito,” which is a concoction of shaved ice with mango purée, chamoy sauce (a sweet and sour condiment), chili powder, and lime juice.

Another Fruitvale find is Flavor Brigade, where Braedon Galloway serves up Philadelphia-style Italian Water Ice, a frozen dessert made with concentrated syrup flavorings or fruit purées. He also offers a number of organic ice creams, including the enticing Blueberry Honey Graham Cracker.

From the Freezer Casekmsicecreambirthday07-65_1

Many of the local scoop shop favorites are available by the pint and sold in area stores and farmers’ markets. Some local brands not mentioned previously in this article but worth looking out for if you’re shopping at places like Monterey Market, Berkeley Bowl, Whole Foods, or Andronico’s are Three Twins, produced in Petaluma by Neal Gottlieb, and the Oakland-based Mr. Dewie’s brand owned by Ari Cohen, who produces a rich and creamy dairy-free frozen concoction that relies on almonds from local California farms as a base. Mr. Dewie’s Salted Pecan is particularly delicious. Cohen also makes Banana Walnut, Mint Chip, and Mocha Chip in pint and one-serving sizes.

Gelateria Naia makes icy Bar Gelato on a stick, with flavors like Lindcove Ranch Pomegranate Sorbetto and Tcho Chocolate, sold in local groceries. The founders are committed to building strong relationships with the craftspeople and farmers who grow, roast, and distill the ingredients used to create their product.

Whatever your choice, it’s kind of hard to go wrong. Any experience with ice cream, gelato, or sorbet is as much about
the people with whom you share the sweets and the memories as it is about the tastes. And with such great tastes available now, the memories might be even sweeter.

Kristina M. Sepetys lives in Berkeley, California. She and her children were delighted to taste every frozen treat mentioned in this article. Kristina is a regular contributor to Edible East Bay and has written on food, farming, economics, and environmental policy issues for many publications.

Right: Author pictured, circa 1965, dining at one of the establishments described in the article.

Ice cream, sorbet, gelato, paleta…what’s the difference?

strawb_1Ice cream: Made with fresh cream, real eggs, and flavorings. It may have air (known as “overrun”) whipped into the mix. Better-quality ice cream generally has lower overrun (and a higher price tag).

Gelato: Made from milk and usually includes more egg yolks and less cream than ice cream.

Sorbet: They’re all about fruit. With no milk, cream, or eggs, they use only sugar, lemon juice, and fresh fruit for flavor. Sorbets were popularized during the Victorian period, when they were served as palate-cleansers between courses. A sorbetto, the more intense Italian version, generally has more fruit and less water, resulting in a softer, less icy texture. Sherbet is similar. Granita, similar to sherbet, has larger crystals and a crispier texture.

Paleta: a Latin American ice pop made from fresh fruit. The stores, carts, and kiosks selling them are known as paleterías and the sellers, paleteros.

When Did the Pleasure Begin?

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If all this nostalgia has you wondering whether Marco Polo really did introduce ice cream to Europe, or how ice cream and candy collided to become an Eskimo Pie, you may want to pick up a copy of Jeri Quinzio’s book Of Sugar and Snow: A History of Ice Cream Making (University of California Press, 2009). Quinzio traces the history of the frozen confection from its first documented appearances on the tables of royalty in 16th-century Europe to Main Streets throughout the United States. She explains how the making of ice cream has evolved, discusses the social and cultural norms that surround its consumption, and does a particularly in-depth analysis of the historical and technological developments (like refrigeration) that have driven its democratization and widespread popularity.              —KMS

Make it at Home

The key to great homemade ice cream is high-quality, farm-fresh, and seasonal ingredients, and you’ll find plenty of

Dollar Deal

East Bay resident Shelby Miller, a self-described “cheapo-vore,” insists that any description of local frozen treats would be deficient were it not to include a tip of the hat to John’s Ice Cream in downtown Berkeley. A single scoop of the house-made ice cream, perhaps Mocha Almond Fudge, the most popular flavor, in a cone, costs just one dollar.

those at local farmers’ markets this time of year. But now, there’s also some expert local guidance. Kris Hoogerhyde and Anne Walker, founders of San Francisco’s acclaimed Bi-Rite Creamery, together with Dabney Gough, have published the perfect book to inform and inspire your efforts: Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones (Ten Speed Press 2012).

Filled with colorful, appetizing photos and an easy-to-access layout, the book describes basic ingredients, equipment, and techniques for making ice cream, sorbet, granite, ice pops, and ice cream pies, cakes, and sandwiches. It’s organized by main ingredients (vanilla, caramel, chocolate, nuts, berries, citrus, and several others) and includes fairly simple and straightforward instructions for making classic flavors or more creative combinations, such as Honey Lavender, Malted Vanilla with Peanut Brittle and Milk Chocolate, Orange Cardamom, or the oft-requested Salted Caramel. There are also recipes for mix-ins and other supporting items, like brown sugar graham crackers, cones and bowls, almond toffee, espresso fudge sauce, and candied citrus zest. You’ll also find tips for choosing the best vanilla, chocolate, nuts, fruits, and other elements, and advice for customizing a recipe or pairing it with a topping to make your frozen dessert extra toothsome. There is also some interesting background on how the founders got their business up and running.                —KMS

Bi-Rite Creamery’s Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream

Reprinted with permission from Sweet Cream & Sugar Cones by Kris Hoogerhyde, Anne Walker,  and Dabney Gough, copyright © 2012. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.

Makes about 1 quart  biritebookuse

6 large egg yolks

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground ginger

¾ cup packed light or dark brown sugar (divided)

2 cups heavy cream

½ cup 1{94d79dd6af1e87a94e700e4c297236468333f22e27ed5757b44711974a9a4b91} or 2{94d79dd6af1e87a94e700e4c297236468333f22e27ed5757b44711974a9a4b91} milk

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¾ cup pumpkin purée

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

To make the base: In a medium heatproof bowl, whisk the yolks just to break them up, then whisk in the cinnamon, ginger, and 6 tablespoons brown sugar. Set aside.

In a heavy nonreactive saucepan, stir together the cream, milk, salt, and the remaining 6 tablespoons sugar and put 
the pan over medium-high heat. When 
the mixture approaches a bare simmer, reduce the heat to medium.

Carefully scoop out about 12 cup of the hot cream mixture and, whisking the eggs constantly, add the cream to the bowl with the egg yolks. Repeat, adding another 12 cup of the hot cream to the bowl with the yolks. Using a heatproof rubber spatula, stir the cream in the saucepan as you slowly pour 
the egg-and-cream mixture from the bowl into the pan.

Cook the mixture carefully over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it is thickened, coats the back of a spatula, and holds a clear path when you run your finger across the spatula, 1 to 2 minutes longer.

Strain the base through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean container. Set the container 
into an ice-water bath, wash your spatula, and use it to stir the base occasionally until 
it is cool. Remove the container from the 
ice-water bath, cover with plastic wrap, 
and refrigerate the base for at least 2 hours 
or overnight.

To freeze the ice cream: Whisk the vanilla and pumkin puree into the chilled base. Freeze in your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions. While the ice cream is churning, put the container you’ll use to store the ice cream into the freezer. Enjoy right away or, for a firmer ice cream, transfer to the chilled container and freeze for at least 4 hours.

Tcho Chocolate Sauce

Kelsie Kerr, the Oakland-based caterer, culinary instructor, and former Chez Panisse chef makes a silky smooth, rich sauce using chocolate from Tcho, where her partner, Matt Heckert, is Chief Engineer. It’s perfect on top of just about any frozen confection!

Makes about 2 cups

½ cup Clover organic heavy cream

½ cup Clover organic milk

¼ cup organic sugar

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 8-ounce bag Tcho 66{94d79dd6af1e87a94e700e4c297236468333f22e27ed5757b44711974a9a4b91} Organic Dark Chocolate Discs (semisweet/bittersweet)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine all the ingredients except the vanilla in the top of a double boiler and place over simmering water. Heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter and chocolate are melted. Stir in the vanilla and whisk until smooth. Serve warm. Sauce may be covered and stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Reheat in the same manner as above.

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Pictured above: Tasting bar at Scream Sorbet (photos by Bryan Black)

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