The old-school charm of soft serve is a powerful draw in sunny SoCal—look no further than the proliferation of vendors like Magpies, Little Damage, and Drips & Swirls over the past few years. Yet when Big Softee debuted in Monterey Park last summer, the nascent soft-serve specialist had a plan to set itself apart from the pack: capture the spirit of the San Gabriel Valley’s Asian American community in frozen-dessert form.
“We wanted it to feel like any neighborhood ice-cream shop, like it’s been here forever,” says Angelino Baltazar, the consulting chef enlisted by Big Softee’s Hong Kong-born, SGV-raised owners. “But it’s also for this neighborhood. We worked really hard to ensure that when someone local came in, the menu felt nostalgic.”
That meant nailing down flavors like tofu pudding, milk tea, purple taro with coconut, pandan leaf, even the famously pungent durian fruit. So how do traditional treats get transformed into smooth and silky soft serve? Baltazar gave us a peek at his process.
Chocolate Tofu Shake
Fresh tofu is emulsified with dark chocolate, creating a ganache-like batter. The technique was adopted from chef Brooks Headley’s recipe for dairy-free crème brûlée. “We wanted a thick shake, but without ice cream,” Baltazar says.
Salted Egg Custard
Nodding to the sweet-savory notes in some Chinese moon cakes, Big Softee blends frozen custard with Taiwanese cured egg yolks. “I would love to cure them here,” Baltazar says. “But I think the health department would have a panic attack.”
Butter Mochi Sundae
The shop’s spin involves butter mochi, a bouncy baked good made from Koda Farms’ Mochiko rice flour and inspired by the Oahu roots of Baltazar’s girlfriend. “Every grandma in Hawaii makes this,” he says.
Black Sesame Soy Milk
Big Softee infuses premium sesame paste (the kind used to fill dim sum) into a rich soy milk made at nearby VK Products. “It has to taste like soy, not water,” Baltazar says. “Most of our customers grew up with real soy milk.
Hong Kong Milk Tea
Sri Lankan Ceylon tea helps achieve the concentrated flavor in what is surely Big Softee’s white whale. After a research trip to Hong Kong and countless tests, Baltazar is still fixated on perfecting it. “It’ll be the end of me someday,” he laughs.