Oh, vanilla and chocolate ice cream—you are so about to be replaced. A new and decidedly more fun approach to the cold and creamy summertime favorite is taking hold, with classic (and sometimes admittedly crazy) Latino ingredients taking center stage.Case in point: Miami’s hottest ice cream parlor, the 10-month-old Azúcar, where owner Suzy Batlle, uses her late Cuban grandmother’s ice cream recipe as the foundation for more than 50 unique flavors. Like the Abuela Maria, with guava, cream cheese and the staple cookie of Latin America Galletas Maria (which is the shop’s best seller and which she’s already trademarked), the Café con Leche, with Cuban coffee and Oreo cookies, or the Plátano Maduro, as in the fried sweet plantains that typically sit along a steak and rice and beans.
“When I first thought about opening, I knew it couldn’t just be another ice cream shop,” says the 44-year-old former banker and single mom, who started planning her debut after she lost her job in 2008, when the banking industry tanked. “I knew it had to be different.”
And from the moment you arrive…different it is. The shop sits in the heart of Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood, across the street from the famous Domino Park, where Cuban men gather daily to play the black-and-whites and talk politics and memories. Vintage Cuban tiles line the shop’s floor. An enormous spray-painted portrait of singer Celia Cruz (the woman who turned the word azúcar into a verb!) graces a wall. Seats are upholstered with guayaberas (shirts) that once belonged to the men in Batlle’s family.
Amble up to the ice cream freezer, where the selection changes daily, and you’ll not only see more of Batlle’s creativity at play but a nostalgic nod to her roots. Indeed, the very first flavor she developed was mantecado, a vanilla ice cream laced with nutmeg and cinnamon popular in 1950s Cuba. Determined to re-capture its exact essence, she created 10 different versions, testing them with the domino players across the street.
“I’d create a version and run it over there and have them try it,” she recalls, “and they would tell me, no, no, no that’s not what it tasted like. Then I’d come back, adjust the ingredients and go back there for another try. I did that 10 times!”
Eventually she got it just right and, when the store finally opened, patrons young and old came because they’d heard a rumor about a woman who’d figured out how to make the old style mantecado. “People were coming here, tasting it and they’d start to cry,” she says, her own eyes welling up. “And they would say, I haven’t tasted this in 40 years.” While Batlle guards her mantecado recipe, she was happy to share with NBC Latino two other recipes for Latino-inspired ice cream concoctions you can easily make at home. So even if you’re not in Miami, you can have a little Azúcar.
Betty Cortina, senior consulting web producer for NBCLatino.com, believes salsa (the condiment as well as the music) makes the world a more delicious place.