Babycakes Dairy-Free Soft Serve

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Check out the vanilla bean specks in Babycakes dairy-free soft serve.

I once said the hardest thing about giving up dairy was giving up cheese. Well, in the summer, the hardest thing for me to give up is soft serve ice cream. I love soft serve.

For years I’ve been on a quest to find a dairy-free soft serve. So when my friend Sasha texted me that Babycakes on Larchmont had one, I almost dropped everything to race over there.

To clear up any confusion, Babycakes is now called Erin McKenna’s Bakery. They had to change the name because of a “proprietary legal issue.” Sad because Babycakes is so much catchier.

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You wouldn’t know it from the sign, but this is in LA.

Everything at Babycakes is dairy-free. Everything. Soy-free, gluten-free, and certified kosher as well. They’re known for their gluten-free donuts, but I haven’t tried those. I made a beeline for the vanilla soft serve. So how was it?

In a word: good. It’s coconut-based, but you can’t taste the coconut at all. As for the texture, it’s not silky smooth, but I wouldn’t call it gritty or chalky. It also melts more quickly than dairy ice cream. This unfortunately means you need to scarf it down fast, before it turns into a puddle.

Overall, I’d say it’s a few small technological advancements away from being just right.

I also tried a sample of the chocolate soft serve and it was pretty good. For those who can’t decide, you can get a swirl. Toppings that day were cookie crumble, chocolate chips, coconut, and caramel. I wish they had hot fudge (although that would’ve melted my ice cream even faster). I also wish they had cones.

As with most eating establishments that cater to people with food allergies and dietary restrictions, Babycakes is not cheap. A plain kid’s size soft serve was $2.75. It seemed awfully expensive, but the kid’s size was all I needed. I left feeling satisfied.

I wouldn’t rush back, but the next time I’m in the area, I might try a cupcake. You gotta give bonus points to a bakery that displays a Belinda Carlisle album as part of its decor.

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ERIN MCKENNA’S BAKERY, 236 N. Larchmont Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90004

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Dairy-Free Root Beer Float

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As some folks get ready to head out to Burning Man next week, I thought I’d share a memory from a few years back. Bear with me — I promise it relates to dairy-free summer treats…

I went to my first Burning Man in 2005, thanks to my friend Jill who had an extra ticket and preyed upon my curiosity. We had an amazing time. At the end of the week, we attempted to exit the playa, an activity known as “exodus.” Sitting in our rented RV in the worst stand-still traffic I’d ever experienced, we made a list of stuff to bring to Burning Man the following year. The list consisted mostly of food items, such as “a shit-ton of Double Stuf Oreos.” (We finished off our one package on the first day.)

One of the things I wrote on the list was “root beer floats.” Why? Because there was nothing I wanted more at that moment than a root beer float. It wouldn’t have helped me get home any faster, but it would’ve made me a lot happier.

So the next year, during exodus, we whipped up some root beer floats in our RV kitchen, then ran around going up to people’s cars, giving them away. I’ll never forget the joy on people’s faces when they were gifted with this cold, sweet, homemade treat in the middle of a traffic jam in the desert.

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Moving sculptures we saw during exodus (Burning Man 2006).

In honor of this Burning Man memory, I made root beer floats — dairy-free versions. This was no easy task, as there aren’t many non-dairy ice creams that come in plain vanilla, and the ones I’ve tried aren’t quite right.

I tried Coconut Bliss Vanilla Island and New Barn Almond Creme in Organic Vanilla. The Coconut Bliss tasted too much like coconut, and the New Barn Almond Creme tasted too much like almonds. My theory is that because vanilla is such a mild flavor, it can’t mask the base. Of these two, the Coconut Bliss had a better texture; the New Barn was slightly chalky and had an odd aftertaste.

With the caveat that neither of these ice creams is great, I’m including my root beer float recipe below. Experiment with your own non-dairy ice creams and let me know if you can recommend a good dairy-free vanilla. Call me vanilla, but I’m one of those weird people who actually like vanilla.

And for those of you heading to the playa next week, have a great Burn!

Dairy-Free Root Beer Float Recipe

2 or 3 scoops of non-dairy vanilla ice cream
8 ounces cold root beer (I like the classic A&W)

Scoop ice cream into a chilled glass. Pour in root beer — do it slowly or it will overflow. Serve with a straw and a long spoon.

Volcano Tea House

There’s a boba tea shop in West LA, on the stretch of Sawtelle Boulevard known as Little Osaka, that makes a lychee iced tea that’s the bane of my existence. Why? Because it’s so addictive that, at one time in my not-so-distant past, I thought about it almost every day and often found myself planning my whole day around getting one.

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The monkey on my back

After getting the lychee iced tea dozens of times, I finally decided to branch out and try the milk tea, since theirs is made without dairy. Boba tea (sometimes called “bubble tea”) originated in Taiwan (land of my peeps) in the 1980s. It usually contains a tea base mixed or shaken with milk. The “boba pearls” added to it are chewy tapioca balls.

Because Volcano Tea House uses non-dairy creamer instead of milk, I knew I could drink their milk tea with impunity and I was curious to see what it was like. The short answer is: weird. I tried two flavors — rose and almond — and both had a distinctly artificial taste that I’m pretty sure was due to the non-dairy creamer. I’ve never been a fan of the stuff precisely because of this artificial taste.

I’m usually into rose-flavored anything, but Volcano’s rose milk tea had a strange perfumy taste. When I made my husband try it, he grimaced and said, “It tastes like the air freshener in my grandmother’s bathroom.” I suppose that’s the danger of any floral-flavored food product.

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Milk tea made with non-dairy creamer

One thing I like about Volcano is you can ask for less or no sugar in your drink. But when I ordered the almond milk tea, I asked for no sugar and the barista told me, “Then it won’t taste like almond at all.” So I got it with one-third sugar, and I could still barely taste the almond.

However, the boba pearls at Volcano are beyond reproach: wonderfully soft and chewy. I like the “tiny boba” because they’re easier to suck up the straw than the regular-sized ones. But if you’re watching your weight, opt for no boba — they’re pure starch. You don’t want to know how many calories are in those little things.

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Volcano’s handy guide for boba virgins

Final verdict: Volcano Tea House misses the mark with their non-dairy milk teas, but makes the best flavored tea without milk. My favorite: iced jasmine green tea with lychee, no sugar, half syrup. You can customize your drink in all sorts of ways, and what’s amazing is that, in all the years I’ve been going there, the industrious employees at Volcano have never messed up my order.

VOLCANO TEA HOUSE, 2111 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025

Treats Frozen Yogurt & Dessert Bar

The day I visited Treats Frozen Yogurt & Dessert Bar, there was only one non-dairy option: the chocolate fudge sorbet. That made my decision easy. Luckily, I love chocolate. But weirdly enough, when I ate dairy I never liked chocolate ice cream. The only one I liked was Berthillion in Paris, France, because it was so rich it tasted more like chocolate pudding than ice cream.

Well, Treat’s chocolate fudge sorbet reminds me of Berthillion. It tastes like a really cold dark chocolate mousse. It has a sort of fluffy texture like mousse. But unlike Berthillion, which contains enough fat to make French women get fat, this sorbet is non-fat. That’s right, non-fat, non-dairy, gluten-free, and vegan. Pretty unbelievable.

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The other stuff I like about Treats:

  • They have a variety of toppings, even some exotic ones like boba.
  • The ambience is clean and modern, but inviting.
  • They sell cool toys for kids, including some educational ones. And a shark clock!
  • They have a giant ice cream cone at the entrance that reminds me of the ones you see all over New York City.

What needs work:

  • The menu is confusing. Typeface is too small and hard to read.
  • They should offer more non-dairy desserts. At the very least, more non-dairy sorbet flavors.

Oh, and just a side note: Treats happens to be across the street from the Shaka Shack, a Hawaiian-themed burger joint that I love. Here’s the perfect summer day: boogie-boarding at the beach, followed by a Shaka Burger and truffle fries, then across the street for chocolate fudge sorbet and a hug from a giant ice cream cone.

TREATS, 1700 Ocean Park Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90405

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Ben & Jerry’s Update

After singing the praises of the Dole Whip last week, I found myself in Palm Springs a few days ago where it was 110 degrees in the shade. Of course, I had to stop by Lappert’s to get myself that cold, refreshing treat. Imagine my disappointment when they ran out of Dole Whips just as my husband and I walked in the door. Well, fortunately, there was a Ben & Jerry’s less than a block away, and I discovered that they’ve started selling their Non-Dairy P.B. & Cookies by the scoop. You can read my review of this delicious almond-milk-based ice cream here.

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So this week I’m keeping it short and just urging you all to go to a Ben & Jerry’s scoop shop and get some of their non-dairy ice cream. Currently, the only flavor they sell by the scoop is P.B. & Cookies, although you can buy all four of their non-dairy flavors by the pint in their freezer section. I’m hoping if their non-dairy sales do well, they’ll start making more non-dairy flavors. Let’s encourage them.

By the way, you can also order a P.B. & Cookies milkshake made with almond milk. I haven’t tried this yet, but I’m super excited about it.

BEN & JERRY’S, 110 S. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs, CA 92264