The best of Philly's small-batch ice cream makers

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Big Gay Ice Cream manager Janell Avery (right) hands costumer Melissa Nowaczyk (left) ice cream treats with general manager Maureen McCue watching. ( YONG KIM / Staff Photographer )

Philadelphia has seen a steady rise in its premium ice cream cred over the last few years, and this summer, the frozen stuff is even more tricked out, with soft-serve cones injected with dulce de leche, fresh-picked berry ice cream stuffed between slabs of sugar cookie, and La Colombe-infused mocha ice cream layered with hazelnut chocolate for an affogato cake.

And these are just a few of the offerings being churned up by the best of Philadelphia's small-batch ice cream makers. What follows is a list of this summer's best.

Soft Serve:

Big Gay Ice Cream
521 S. Broad St.

You've never seen soft serve done like this - high-quality ingredients (milk from Ronnybrook Farms dairy from upstate New York); twice the butterfat of traditional soft serve (12 percent), cones lined with peanut butter, Nutella, or caramel sauces; and innovative flavor combos. Started as a food truck in New York City in 2009, Big Gay Ice Cream has received national acclaim for upping the soft-serve game. Try the Salty Pimp - a cone lined with dulce de leche, filled with vanilla soft serve, injected with more dulce de leche, and then dipped in chocolate. Or for a tart treat, the Mermaid, a sundae striped with zesty key-lime curd.

Cups/cones start at $3.50; sundaes, $6.20; shakes about $7; specialty cones $5-6.

Classic with a Twist:

Zsa's Ice Cream

"Seriously, from scratch" is Zsa's motto, a mobile operation started as a hobby in 2009 by Danielle Jowdy and her fiance, Parker Whitehead, when both had full-time jobs. By 2011, their business selling ice cream from an antique ice cream truck at farmers' markets and events was doing well enough that Danielle quit her job; Parker followed in 2013. Produce comes from local farms, and scoops are 16 percent butterfat, with cream from Trickling Springs Creamery in Chambersburg, Pa. Zsa's flavors are yummy, like Lemon Buttermilk and Black Magic (coffee ice cream with swirls of moist chocolate cake). For summer, try the Berry Crisp (raspberries and blackberries) or Butter Brown Sugar Peach.

A single serving cup is $3; ice cream sandwich, $4-5; a pint, $8, at area co-ops.

Wacky:

Little Baby's
2311 Frankford Ave.,
4903 Catharine St.

This self-described "weird" ice cream company also sources local cream for its 16 percent butterfat product. Strawberry Celery (heavy on the celery) and Cucumber Dill are interesting summer flavors. For more traditional, try the Birch Beer Vanilla Bean or Chocolate Pomegranate Swirl (the pomegranate packs a surprising punch within the rich dark chocolate). Little Baby's signature nondairy lineup, made from a coconut-cream base, is surprisingly robust, with flavors like Pineapple Guava White Spodee Swirl and Blueberry Lemonade. Cofounder Pete Angevine concedes that some of the shops' flavors seem "alienating," but says that "when folks let down their guard and give it a shot, they really like it."

Two scoops, milkshake, ice cream sandwich, $6 each. Pints now available at Whole Foods, Wegmans, and other small markets.

Purist:

Weckerly's
4500 Worth St.

This husband-and-wife duo have been making high-intensity takes on natural flavors since 2013 using a French custard-style base with eggs. They don't use stabilizers, which is practically unheard of in the ice cream game. Co-owner Andy Satinsky believes that contributes to the clean taste and "buoyant" texture. Organic cream from Seven Stars in Phoenixville and other local creameries is used for the 15 percent to 16 percent butterfat product, made with local fruits and herbs. Try Blueberry ice cream (like a blueberry pie), Verbena Black Raspberry or an ice cream sandwich like Cherry Chocolate Malt or Peaches & Cream (peach ice cream on pie crust).

Pints are $8. Sandwiches are $4.

Sundaes:

The Franklin Fountain
116 Market St.
401 S. Columbus Blvd.

Franklin Fountain, an old-time soda fountain, has been churning out scoops, sodas, shakes, and decadent sundaes since 2004. Try its seasonal line up - Blueberry (delicious, if a little tart), Honeycomb (honey from its own rooftop with crunchy honey candy from Shane Confectionary), or Black Raspberry, which sells out quickly, as well as Vegan Strawberry and Red Raspberry Sorbet. Or new house-made Blueberry and Lavender sodas (heavenly, or try as a milkshake). This is the first season for the S.S. Franklin Fountain, an outpost at Spruce Street Harbor Park that serves the usuals, plus waffle ice cream sandwiches and Mighty Warship sundae in a waffle boat, through Sept. 27.

Two scoops of ice cream start at $5.50 plus extras, sundaes, $9-12, sodas start at $3 and milkshakes at $7. (Inquirer restaurant critic Craig LaBan raves about the Honeycomb cone in Good Taste, F3.)

Cake:

Beese Knees
609-425-2709

Kristina Beese and Tom Williamson have been making ice cream cakes since November 2014. It all started with Tom's birthday. Kristina made an ice cream cake for the occasion - chocolate-covered pretzel-stuffed brownie-bottom base, coffee ice cream, traditional chocolate "crunchies," smooth bourbon ice cream, and shaved dark chocolate. It was a hit, and the "Olde Fashioned" cake was born. Soon, it was joined by other adult takes on classics like Affogato Your Sorrows (chocolate-hazelnut ice cream, chocolate crust, and mocha ice cream infused with La Colombe coffee; like nothing else you've tried) and the Ed Rendell (nutter-butter crust, peanut-butter ice cream, chocolate-pretzel crunchies, pretzel-infused ice cream). For summer, there's Lemon Let Live (graham-cracker crust, with ricotta ice cream, lemon cookie "crunchies," and lemon ice cream) and Strawberry Shortbread. All flavors are also available as single-serving cupcakes, perfect for weddings or special events.

Cupcakes run $4 each; most cakes are $65.

Gelato:

Capogiro
117 S. 20th St. (other locations and grocers)

Open since 2002, this local gelato giant, with rich, silky and addictive flavors, has exciting plans for summer. They've teamed up with Philadelphia Distilling to make refreshing new flavors and tangy sorbets using local fruits from Lancaster's Green Meadow Farms. Now through Labor Day only, try the Bluecoat & Blueberries made with craft gin, Melon & Vieux Carre (absinthe), Cucumber & 1681 Rye Vodka, and Heirloom Tomato & The Bay Seasoned Vodka ("think badass bloody mary sorbetto," says owner Stephanie Reitano). Capofitto, her pizza and gelato shop in Old City will also be serving sgroppino this summer - a venetian cocktail made with sorbet, liqueur, and prosecco - in the same flavors, as well as a Yellow Peach & 1681 Rye Vodka. It's the perfect cocktail for a hot summer brunch.

Cups/cones are $5.15-7.75, sgroppino starts at $9.

 

RECIPES


Milk Chocolate Ice Cream

Makes 1 quart or 4-6 servings

5 large egg yolks

11/2 cups whole milk
11/2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup sugar
6 ounces milk chocolate morsels or finely chopped milk chocolate bar 

1. Whisk the egg yolks in a large, nonreactive saucepan; set aside. Warm the milk and cream in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring often to keep the mixture from scorching, for about 5 minutes, until it has begun to steam. Whisk in the cocoa powder and salt until dissolved. Add the mixture to the yolks in a slow, steady stream, whisking continuously.

2. Set the saucepan over medium heat, add the vanilla and sugar, and stir for about 2 minutes, until the sugar has dissolved. Continue cooking, stirring continuously, for an additional 5 minutes, or until the mixture begins to thicken; do not allow to boil. Remove from heat, and whisk in the milk chocolate for no more than 45 seconds, to thoroughly incorporate. Transfer the pan to an ice bath to stop the cooking, and stir until the steaming stops.

3. Transfer the mixture to an airtight container, cover, and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.

4. The chilled mixture will be quite thick, so give it a good whisk before pouring it into your ice cream maker. Freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions. When it is finished, transfer the ice cream to an airtight container, and freeze for at least 2 hours to harden. The ice cream can be stored in the freezer for up to 5 days.

- From Big Gay Ice Cream

by Bryan Petroff and Douglas Quint (Potter, 2015)

 

Per Serving (based on 6): 384 calories; 7 grams protein; 33 grams carbohydrates; 29 grams sugar; 26 grams fat; 229 milligrams cholesterol; 259 milligrams sodium; 2 grams dietary fiber.


Dirty Banana Ice Cream

Makes 1 quart or 4-6 servings
1 ripe medium to large banana (with brown spots on the skin)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2/3 cup lightly packed dark brown sugar
5 large egg yolks
2 cups whole milk
11/4 cups heavy cream
11/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt 

1. Slice the banana into 1/2-inch-thick circles. Melt the butter in a small sauté pan over medium-high heat. The butter needs to be quite hot (but not burning) for the bananas to properly caramelize; otherwise, the bananas will just absorb the butter and turn mushy. Place the banana slices in the pan, and sauté until the first side has browned, then flip. Once the bananas are nicely browned on the second side, sprinkle the brown sugar over them and allow it to melt. Stir the bananas and sugar to combine, and set aside.

2. Whisk the egg yolks in a large, nonreactive saucepan; set aside. Warm the milk and cream in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring often to keep the mixture from scorching, for about 5 minutes, until it has begun to steam. Add the mixture to the yolks in a slow, steady stream, whisking continuously.

3. Set the saucepan over medium heat, add the vanilla and salt, and stir to combine. Add the banana mixture, then whisk together, mashing the bananas thoroughly. Cook, stirring continuously, for 7 to 10 minutes, until the mixture begins to thicken; do not allow to boil. Transfer the pan to an ice bath to stop the cooking, and stir until the steaming stops. Transfer the mixture to an airtight container, cover, and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.

4. Freeze the mixture in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. When it is finished, transfer the ice cream to an airtight container, and freeze for at least 2 hours to harden. Store in the freezer for up to 5 days.

- From Big Gay Ice Cream (Potter, 2015)

 

Per Serving (based on 6): 330 calories; 6 grams protein; 25 grams carbohydrates; 23 grams sugar; 23 grams fat; 238 milligrams cholesterol; 302 milligrams sodium; trace dietary fiber.


Honeycomb Candy

Makes 3 quarts (or 18-24 servings)
3 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons baking soda 

1. Line a baking sheet or large wooden cutting board with parchment paper.

2. Combine sugar, honey, and water in a copper kettle (or nonreactive steel pan). Bring to a boil, and wash down sides of kettle with cold water using a heat-resistent basting brush. (Washing the sides of a candy kettle with a touch of water during the cooking of any type of sugar ensures that no sugar granule jumps ship and crystalizes the whole batch.)

3. When the mixture reaches 300 degrees on a candy thermometer, remove from heat and quickly add baking soda. Stir to thoroughly incorporate. Be careful, as the hot mixture will bubble up and expand rapidly.

4. Pour onto parchment paper, taking care not to spread the candy out too much. The candy should be dense with few air bubbles.

5. When cool, chop into very small pieces, and layer shards into an airtight covered container. It will keep for 2 to 3 days. Enjoy atop your ice cream.

Per Serving (based on 24): 115 calories; no protein; 31 grams carbohydrates; 31 grams sugar; no fat; no cholesterol; 315 milligrams sodium; no dietary fiber.

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