The bliss-inducing treat that conjures up sunny days and happy childhood memories continues to evolve as small-batch purveyors experiment and reinvent the classic frozen dessert. Whether it’s salted caramel, or blackberry sorbet infused with St. Germain, ice cream has never looked, or tasted, better.
1. The Sticky Pig
Orange County’s reigning queen of bacon confections, Tara Simon of The Sticky Pig, left, has added ice cream to her sassy repertoire of handcrafted treats. The Temptress, a signature flavor with brandy, cinnamon, and bacon, is a crowd-pleaser. Even more fetching is the Femme Fatale, a dark-chocolate ice cream woven with dark-chocolate flourless cake, bacon, bits of Whopper candies, and, for a deliciously subtle heat to counter the richness, fresh black pepper that Simon grinds with a mortar and pestle. Coming soon: Coffee & Donut ice cream infused with ground coffee beans and old-fashioned cake doughnuts. Also in the works: all-bacon cones. Sold by the pint (starting at $9) at Buttermilk Sky, 544 El Camino Real, Tustin; custom orders at thestickypig.com
2. Drunken Udder
Ice cream’s gone wild with Drunken Udder’s booze-spiked scoops, all made in small batches by hand. The velvety blackberry sorbet bursting with sweet tartness is married perfectly with St. Germain—you taste all of the aromatic elderflower liqueur. Then there’s salty butter caramel with bourbon, which chef-owner Nicci Piscitelli says is a big seller. Also on the menu of nearly 50 made-from-scratch flavors is Lemon Basil sherbert, with lemon vodka, and the Dirty Elvis, with peanut butter and Nutella ice cream, fresh chunks of banana, house-made marshmallow fluff, crispy bacon, and bourbon. Sold at 320 Main, 320 Main St., Seal Beach, and alcohol-free versions at Landmark, 3520 E. Coast Highway, Newport Beach; custom orders are $25 per pint with a $10 delivery fee anywhere in O.C.; drunkenuddericecream.com
Orange County’s first made-to-order liquid nitrogen ice creamery creates the frozen dessert right before your eyes. The ice cream is made using premium, organic ingredients, then dramatically flash-frozen with liquid nitrogen in a cloud of vapor. Must-try flavors: Matcha green tea’s earthy bittersweetness is tempered with condensed milk for an Asian-inspired flavor; and the savory Hass avocado is buttery heaven. Salty-sweet pleasures include vanilla bean with candied bacon, and salted caramel with toffee. Or create your own flavor and add any number of mix-ins, from candies to nuts, and cookies to cakes. Also enticing: profiteroles, ice cream stuffed in fresh-baked cream puffs. 3972 Barranca Parkway, Irvine, 949-777-6627, creamistry.com
4. Sprinkles Ice Cream
It’s conquered cupcakes—now Sprinkles has segued into artisanal ice creams. Fans of the brand’s signature red velvet cupcake will delight in finding it swirled into a scoop of sweet cream ice cream, crowned atop a house-made red velvet waffle cone. But it’s the milky Cap’n Crunch flavored ice cream that will win over the kid in all of us, studded with those familiar cereal squares caramelized to crackly, irresistible perfection. For those who prefer a dairy-free treat, there are two fruity sorbets: strawberry and blood orange. Also look for a new twist on the ice cream sandwich—Sprinkles’ version uses cupcake tops, natch. $4 to $7 a scoop. 925 Avocado Ave., Newport Beach, 949-718-9400, sprinklesicecream.com
5. Le Bon Goûter
Edouard Vicqueneau could be Orange County’s godfather of ice cream. The classically trained French chef churns all-natural, artisanal ice cream for more than 50 local restaurants, including Bluefin in Newport Coast, Lucca Cafe in Irvine, and Broadway by Amar Santana in Laguna Beach. Signature flavors include mango black peppercorn, and red beet with orange zest; also beguiling are the citrusy and aromatic bergamot, and the black tea, both rich and refreshing. Look for new flavors such as popcorn—made with corn ice cream and a salted caramel swirl—to arrive this summer at local farmers markets. Custom orders available at 17795 Sky Park Circle, Irvine, 949-456-1089, lebongouter.com
Photographs by Priscilla Iessi
This article originally appeared in the June 2013 issue.