Sweet Rose Creamery founder Shiho Yoshikawa on serving a summer treat in February

Shiho Yoshikawa flavors her ice cream with unusual ingredients, including herbs and peas

Shiho Yoshikawa flavors her ice cream with unusual ingredients, including herbs and peas

By Richard Foss (Richard@RichardFoss.com)

It’s everybody’s favorite refresher in summer — ice cream, cool comfort food that drops your temperature as it mellows your mood. Why write about it in February? Because those who really love ice cream are eating it when the weather outside is as close to cold as L.A. gets.

Shiho Yoshikawa was celebrated as a baker at Tartine and Slanted Door before she opened Santa Monica’s Sweet Rose Creamery with partners Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan. Since then, she and her frozen confections have been celebrated in the pages of Food & Wine, Great Taste and other culinary publications.

I assume you sell more ice cream in summer, but how do people’s flavor preferences evolve with the seasons?

We sell about twice as much in summer, and the flavors people like change. In summer we sell lots of peach and plum ice creams — any fruit flavor really. In wintertime it’s heavy on chocolate, and also on citrus because that’s the season when it’s best.

Are there any other flavors that we might not expect that are popular during winter?

I make a lot of herb ice creams — bay leaf and sage — during the winter. Mint, of course. There’s a difference in flavor between summer mint and winter mint. I have offered multiple varieties of mint — chocolate mint, pineapple mint, and the spearmint — at the same time so people could taste the difference. I go to certain farmers who grow different types of mint and work with them.

I notice that you make vegetable ice creams…

Pumpkin in fall, because everyone loves it. I’ve made ice cream with sweet potatoes, soy, black sesame, and those are definitely Japanese-inspired. I love corn ice cream; it has a vegetable sweetness and works wonderfully.

The classic ice cream flavors are vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. Do you always serve those?

Chocolate and vanilla, yes. Strawberries are available all year, but the season really begins in March or April and ends in summer. That’s when they’re really good, and that’s the only time I buy strawberries. I make them into a puree and reserve some of it to extend the season, but when that’s gone, I stop.

You shop at the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market and have been known to get things just to try them out. Any unlikely successes?

Peas work great. We make mint-and-pea ice cream in April. I’ve also had excellent results with beets and carrots, but those weren’t very popular. Also, in fall, when the first crop of pistachios comes, they have a layer of fruit around them. I used it to make marmalade — it has a pungent taste — and combine it with oranges and a little bit of cinnamon. I believe in using the fruit as a whole, when it’s available. I’ve made ice cream using both the marmalade and the pistachio nuts.

Any spectacular failures?

The one I’ll probably never do again is strawberry guava. Guava tastes amazing fresh, but you have to cook it to make ice cream, to pasteurize it, and when you do that the flavor loses all its brightness. It has lots of seeds too, so it’s hard to work with. There are other types of guava, like pineapple guavas, that taste great in ice cream.

Californians seem to like Sriracha sauce on everything. Have you ever made Sriracha ice cream?

Somebody asked me to do that, but I haven’t yet. I’ve made Szechuan peppercorn ice cream, and it’s so spicy that it numbs your tongue. Only a few people really liked it, and I totally understand why. I’ve made spicy chocolate ice cream, like a Mexican mole using nine different herbs, and it was delicious. I’ve made curry ice cream, with raisins in it, and some people loved it.

I’ve seen beer-flavored ice cream. Do you like it, and is there still alcohol in it?

Right now we have Old Rasputin Stout ice cream. It has this very distinctive flavor, with molasses, honey, wheat and chocolaty flavors. I’ve worked with many different stouts, and with each stout I’ve developed a different recipe. When we pasteurize the ice cream, it heats the alcohol out. I’ve also made hop ice cream, using Simcoe hops infused in water like a tea. I add sugar and lemon juice and it makes a great hoppy sorbet.

How long will ice cream last in a home freezer?

Not as long as some people think. It makes me go crazy when somebody tells me, “I love your ice cream. I still have some from last year.” To store ice cream without it degrading, it must be kept at minus-10 degrees Fahrenheit. Your freezer at home is probably between zero and plus-10, and all of the fats and sugar are slowly separating. The water separates out, and the flavor and texture become mushy, brittle, more icy. If it was untouched, in the very back, the coldest part of your freezer, maybe it’s OK. If you’re storing it right at the front, you should eat it within three days.

Anything else we should know about serving or eating ice cream?

If it’s good ice cream you should let it sit a few minutes to get soft. If you’re eating it straight from the freezer, dead hard, you’re not really tasting the flavor. It also matters how dense your ice cream is. If you go to a supermarket, you can feel the difference between premium and cheap ice cream by the weight. The premium ice cream will be denser because it has less air in it, and if you buy cheap ice cream you are paying for air. When it comes out of your freezer, the lighter ice cream you can eat right away because it’s soft already, and it melts faster. Denser ice cream, you have to let it sit, let it soften a little bit so it melts in your mouth.

When you eat ice cream, do you have it in a bowl or a waffle cone? Any toppings?

By itself in a bowl. I do like it in ice cream sandwiches — when you pair classics like vanilla ice cream in chocolate wafers, it just works. That doesn’t mean you have to have it that way. Eat it as is, add things, do what you like. There are no rules for ice cream — that’s the fun of it.

Sweet Rose Creamery, 826 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica (310) 260-2663  sweetrosecreamery.com