Califonia Bountiful

On a roll

July/August 2018 California Bountiful magazine

Thai rolled ice cream offers a twist on a summer favorite

Harparam and Ashley Sandhu create rolled ice cream treats using local dairy products and California-grown toppings at their Danville shop, BlooGrape Organic Sworls. Photo: © 2018 Manny Crisostomo

A cold, creamy scoop of ice cream is the perfect answer to a hot summer day. This summer, it's also about how you roll.

Thai rolled ice cream is one of the food world's coolest trends. The craze first hit the U.S. a few years ago, and new shops continue to pop up in cities throughout California and the country.

Rather than being frozen in large batches, rolled ice cream starts as a liquid base that's poured on a super-chilled metal plate in individual portions. It's then worked over with a spatula, spread paper-thin and scraped into tight, cigar-like rolls. Along with the tasty treat, customers view an entertaining show as their ice cream is created right in front of them, a fact that's made the dish a social media star and helped catapult its popularity.

A Danville couple were inspired to bring the new style of ice cream to their community, with a wholesome twist.

Harparam Sandhu of BlooGrape Organic Sworls first tasted his shop's signature product while visiting Thailand about eight years ago. The dessert originated there about 2009 and gained popularity as a street food throughout Southeast Asia before spreading across the globe.

When the doctor with a sweet tooth met his wife, Ashley, a health nut and aspiring nutritionist, the couple said they had a difficult time finding sweet indulgences they could feel good about. They were looking for something satisfying, but lighter and less filling. Thai rolled ice cream was their answer, and in 2016 they launched a passion project to bring it to their neighborhood.

"We wanted to do a new ice cream style," Harparam said. "Ice cream is everybody's favorite dessert. We thought there should be some local option, and it should have some nutritional value."

For them, that meant crafting a dessert from organic ingredients and offering whole-food toppings such as California-grown almonds, raisins, pistachios, fresh mint—even avocado.

"Everything is a thoughtful choice," Harparam said.

The Sandhus "chop" the ice cream base as it freezes on a metal plate chilled to about minus 6 degrees Fahrenheit. This process yields ice cream with smooth consistency and light, fluffy texture. Photo: © 2018 Manny Crisostomo

'Stir-frying' is part of the magic

Their ice cream starts as a liquid base made with eggs and sugar, plus milk and cream from Straus Family Creamery. The couple chose Straus dairy because they like supporting Straus' small, family-owned dairies in nearby Marin and Sonoma counties, they said.

Customers at BlooGrape can also choose a lower-fat yogurt base or a vegan coconut milk base. Then, syrups and fruit purees are added to create ice cream flavors such as strawberry, Meyer lemon, horchata or chai tea.

The magic happens when the base is poured onto the special freezing plate, which is chilled to nearly minus 6 degrees Fahrenheit. At that temperature, the ice cream freezes very quickly, resulting in small ice crystals that create a smooth consistency. The ice cream is then "chopped," or "stir-fried," with a metal spatula, creating the unique texture that's the hallmark of the technique. In fact, the dessert is sometimes called stir-fried ice cream, though no frying occurs.

"The chopping aerates it," Harparam said. "It's lighter and fluffy, not a dense scoop."

It takes only about five to 10 seconds to chop and freeze the ice cream. It's then smoothed flat on the chilled pan and scraped in thin rolls, arranged in a bowl and topped with the customer's choice of flavored "drizzles" and toppings.

Before opening their doors to the public, the couple watched videos online to master the craft, and refined their recipes and techniques during months of experimentation in their garage. It took almost a year to perfect their process.

Being able to watch their dessert being frozen and rolled before their eyes is a big draw for many customers, especially kids, Harparam said. The process of making the ice cream one portion at a time also improves flavor, the Sandhus said.

"It's a lot fresher," Ashley said. "It tastes like homemade."

Milk and cream from a nearby dairy form the base of the ice cream. After freezing, it's first scraped into tight rolls and then topped with a choice of drizzles and toppings, such as honey. Photos: © 2018 Manny Crisostomo

Some toppings are over the top

The shop offers a few unusual toppings, such as 24-karat edible gold leaf, which has become a surprise customer favorite, especially among those attempting to impress a date or their Instagram followers, Harparam said. BlooGrape also offers fresh edible rose petals, rose crystals and crystalized whole flower buds as toppings.

"A lot of people get really excited when they see edible rose petals on our menu," Harparam said. "For a lot of people, the idea of eating flowers is a new thing."

The Sandhus turn to Fresh Origins in San Marcos for all their rose-based ingredients. The San Diego County farm is the country's leading producer of microgreens and edible flowers. The foods are grown in greenhouses, which offer protection against variable weather and allow year-round production for most of their more than 500 offerings, including 60 varieties of edible flowers.

California-grown edible rose petals and edible 24-karat gold leaf are among the topping choices at BlooGrape. Photo: © 2018 Manny Crisostomo

The Sandhus are particular fans of the company's flower crystals, in which edible flowers are combined with cane sugar to create a crunchy, sweet topping that captures the natural flavor and color of the flowers. Fresh Origins also offers herb crystals.

The herb and flower crystals are used to make artisan chocolates, distinctive rims for cocktails, and garnishes for both sweet and savory dishes. The crystals make it easy to add the unique flavor of roses to any sundae, Harparam said.

Fresh Origins rose petals feature in one of the shop's signature sundaes, the Silk Road, which was inspired in part by the flavors of Harparam's native India. Vanilla, honey, cashews, ginger and saffron, as well as California-grown almonds and rose petals, capture traditional flavors found along the Silk Road route from China through India and the Middle East to Europe.

Bringing the Thai rolled ice cream technique to California-grown ingredients has proven a winning concept for BlooGrape—so much so that the Sandhus are already envisioning ways they can gradually expand their business to bring the treat to more customers.

"The demand is there. People love it," Harparam said. "But we're not in a rush. It's our pet project, and we don't want to mess it up."

Shannon Springmeyer

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