What would you do if your husband, a sugar mill engineer, frequently relocated the family all over Central and South America and you loved ice cream? If you were Suzanne Batlle’s abuela (grandmother), you would make it your mission to create ice cream out of every tropical fruit you came into contact with on your travels. Suzi, as she is known to her friends, carries on her abuela’s passion for ice cream making at Azucar, across from the highly regarded Tower Theater in the heart of Little Havana.
Lorna gave me the grueling assignment of visiting Azucar this week. As I repeatedly went to the back of the line as two of the typical eight daily tour bus groups visited, I surveyed the cases to see what flavors caught my attention.
- Azucar’s signature flavor, Abuela Maria, combines guava, cream cheese, Maria biscuits and vanilla ice cream.
- Mantecado, (Cuban vanilla),
- Passion Fruit
- Chocolate Guiness,
- Multadito (a combination of cinnamon ice cream with oatmeal raisin cookies, and
- Nutella, dazzled my eyes.
I decided to try the mamey, chocolate (made yesterday with Suzi’s personal stash of Belgian chocolate from home) and mantecado. The mamey tasted like your favorite sweet potato dish at Thanksgiving, creamy, sweet in a rich, earthy way with that orange color famous in the 1970s! The Belgian chocolate gave the ice cream a lasting, luscious, deep chocolate taste. As a baker, I picked up hints of cinnamon or nutmeg or a combination of spices you would find in fall baking in the Mantecado. For those who left Cuba, Mantecado, is simply Mantecado, you know it when you taste it!
The famous Cuban singer Celia Cruz adorns the wall.
Azucar’s guests can eat their cones, cups and Havana Sundaes (platano maduro (sweet plantains), dulce de leche ice cream and caramel sauce) while sitting on cushions made of guayaberras, (traditional Cuban shirts) and resting their feet on a mosaic of authentic Cuban tiles.
Before Suzi arrived, I chatted with her scoop shop crew, Alex, Robert and Frenchy. They spoke highly of their employer’s creativity and collaborations. The crew often provides feedback on flavor ideas and is often the first to review flavors. Miami restaurants have caught wind of the ice cream alchemy occurring on 8th street and purchase bins of Suzi’s treats for their diners.
Suzi ponders new flavors daily. She will accept fruit or veggies from your backyard harvest and create ice cream confections. I asked what some of her more “out of the cone” flavors have been, to which she and her crew replied:
With America’s current craze for bacon everything, I asked if she had a bacon flavor percolating in her mind. She asked me to wait a minute as she went to her office, returning with a sticky note that said… maple, bacon (and one more ingredient… I don’t want to give away her secrets!) She’s got it covered!
No dairy? Diabetic? No worries! Suzi created a fat free/sugar free (no sugar substitutes either!) pineapple sorbet. Her almond ice cream only contains sugar naturally found in cream, nothing else. Since I found her so open to ideas, I offered the possibility of trying almond milk, coconut milk or goat milk based flavors for those of us with dairy allergies, sensitivities or delicate tummies.
For those of us who live in Miami, Azucar may be coming to your part of the county. In the meanwhile, bring a cooler to take home pints, or ½ bins to satisfy your craving for Cuban ice cream.