Lexie LeCount tasted her first frozen custard in Rochester, New York. “I thought it was the best thing I’d ever eaten,” she said. When LeCount describes it to people who’ve never tried it, she tells them, “It’s the best soft serve you’ve ever had. It’s so smooth and so dense.” She decided to sell it in California, “to bring that deliciousness here.” After selling it out of a food truck for a decade, LeCount opened a Lexie’s Frozen Custard storefront last month.
Frozen custard differs from gelato and ice cream, not so much in terms of the ingredients, but because of the machine it’s made in. “The machine is the miraculous part that makes it so smooth,” LeCount said. “The custard gets extruded out in a ribbon and then it’s scooped out of a freezer called a dipping cabinet.” The freezer’s temperature is set to 20 degrees rather than below zero. “It keeps it softer at that temperature, but still gets scooped rather than squeezed [out of a soft serve machine],” she said.
LeCount’s frozen custard machines are called continuous freezers. Hers don’t have handles, so the custard can’t be immediately dispensed. “I have to run a batch of it, even though I could be doing that all day if there’s the demand,” she said.
The ingredients LeCount uses to make her frozen custard include milk, cream, egg yolks, sugar, vanilla—always!—and two natural stabilizers. “I make it without a lot of chemicals,” she said. “A lot of chains put things in to keep it from melting—more additives that make it stay creamy longer.” LeCount’s ingredients are locally sourced and organic.
Gelato is served at a slightly warmer temperature than regular ice cream. “Gelato traditionally has more fruit, or whatever the flavoring ingredient is,” she said. “The flavor is stronger, but the texture isn’t quite as smooth.”
At her commercial kitchen, LeCount has a steam kettle to gently cook the custard base. During the decade she sold frozen custard out of her roaming truck, she bought a soft-serve base made by the Straus Family Creamery. “I wanted to be able to make my own and didn’t have the facilities to do it,” she said. Once she did have the commercial space, LeCount made 25 batches, making adjustments each time, until she finalized the recipe of her own custard base.
The menu changes every couple of days. “A lot of frozen custard places in the Midwest only offer vanilla and chocolate, then they do a flavor of the day,” LeCount said. “That’s something mixed into vanilla. For example, caramel and pecans—now it’s a turtle flavor.” Since she has two machines, LeCount sometimes makes a third flavor depending on how many small batches she can make in a day. “I also have a whole bunch of toppings, to add variety to the menu,” she said. “What’s really popular is cookies and cream, or cookie dough. Anything with caramel is a big seller. People love coffee flavors like mocha almond fudge and coffee toffee.”
During the pandemic, LeCount kept her business going by making frozen custard deliveries all over the Bay Area. Those deliveries helped shape the menu for her shop. “I made different flavors every week for two years and saw what sold better,” she said. Changing her business model to one that made deliveries turned out to be more profitable than having a stationary truck. But she spent two years looking for a brick-and-mortar location before she found the space in Berkeley.
LeCount sold her truck last autumn and the kitchen commissary she was using closed down. For nearly a year and a half she didn’t have anywhere to make her frozen custard. She didn’t even have a small machine to make it at home. “I was going out, looking for soft serve and craving it during that time I couldn’t make it,” she said.
I tried Lexie’s Frozen Custard for the first time seven or eight years ago one Sunday at the Alameda Point Antiques Faire. Delighted by the taste and texture, I went home and bookmarked the company’s social media accounts and thought about it, perhaps too regularly in the intervening years. When I ventured into the newly opened shop, I had a cup of chocolate frozen custard that was, I’m happy to report, as gobsmackingly good as that very first one.
Lexie’s Frozen Custard, 2010 Addison St., Berkeley. Open Tue to Thu 1–10pm; Fri and Sat 1-11pm; Sun 1–9pm. 510.529.4470. lexiesfrozencustard.com.