Sure, it's only January, but ice cream is ice cream, and when it's Hans' ice cream, it's [insert wistful sigh] ice cream.
An engineer of frozen goodness, Hans Biermann has been churning out the richest, creamiest and arguably most heavenly ice cream in Orange County since 1972. Nestled in a Vons strip mall on Bristol Street in Santa Ana, Hans' Homemade Ice Cream is a local fixture, serving up 60 to 70 wondrous flavors at any given time, from the familiar (Rocky Road, Rum Raisin) to the inventive (Swiss Orange Chip, Banana Nut Chocolate Chunk) to the seasonal (Pumpkin, Eggnog).
The charming shop remains untouched from its early days--jewel-toned stained-glass lamps hang above marble tables and dark-wood parlor chairs. "It's the same old stuff," says the 70-year-old Biermann, who hails from Germany. Luckily for Hans' sweet-toothed fans, he uses the same old ice-cream-making process, too.
Back in the kitchen, a sort of sweets lab crammed with an array of liquid flavors in plastic jugs--chocolate, lemon, peach, peppermint--Biermann starts with a bag of 16 percent milk fat, the richest cream you can get. "Our ice cream weighs twice what other ice cream weighs," he says. "There's no air in it."
He pours the cream into the batch freezer, a $25,000 Emery Thompson machine.
For this batch, Praline Pecan, he adds a pint of praline flavoring.
After eight to nine minutes, he releases the now-cold-and-creamy mixture into a 2.5-gallon plastic bucket. Rather than tossing the caramel and pecans into the ice cream machine, he adds them later so the ingredients are distinctive.
He pours in ribbons of gooey caramel.
Then sprinkles in candied pecans. He then layers in more ice cream, and then more caramel and pecans. He does this so that there's a perfect proportion of ice cream, caramel and pecans in every scoop.
The batch gets put into a freezer to sit overnight at 20 degrees below zero. It's then put into another freezer to "warm up" at 15 degrees above zero.
Biermann makes 60 to 70 batches of ice cream each week. Oftentimes, he takes the recommendations of customers. "People say, 'Oh, I had this-and-this kind of ice cream as a kid. Can you make it?'" Once, an elderly woman told him that in the 1930s, she loved a flavor called White House--vanilla ice cream with maraschino cherries and pecan halves. So Biermann made some. It's a staple now. For $40, you can get your own 2.5-gallon tub of custom-made ice cream.
Other popular concoctions: New York Cherry Cheesecake, a glorious mix of cheesecake ice cream, boudoir cherries, tart cherry ribbonette and graham crackers, and Swiss Orange Chip, which fuses dark-chocolate ice cream, orange extract and chocolate chips and tastes like an orange Toblerone. When it was mentioned on the radio that Hans' served licorice-flavored ice cream, Biermann saw a flood of curious customers pining for a bite. (It's delicious.)
Biermann says Hans' ice cream is so good because he uses "the best possible ingredients." He has gathered various products from all across the country--cocoa powder from San Francisco, Blue Diamond almonds from Sacramento, and various flavors from New York. He'll get fresh mangoes and peaches from the Vons next door.
He says if he were 20 years younger, he'd consider franchising, but not anymore. "I run a good store and take pride in what I do," he says. "My wife and I work together, and we've been married for 45 years. If I opened two or three more stores, we'd probably be divorced."
, works the counter. Her favorite? "Mocha chip, mixed with a little bit of Sticky Chewy Chocolate."
Judy also makes munchies, basically an ice-cream sammie dipped in chocolate and on a stick. Yum. Hans' sells drumsticks, chocolate-covered bananas and other brain-freeze-inducing treats.
On a warm day in January, the shop is filled with customers, young and old. "The kids are bringing their kids," Biermann says.
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Sitting at a booth is Norm Cowden, 81, and his wife, Carol, 71. "Today's a good ice cream day," says Norm, slurping down a coffee shake with coffee ice cream. "If it's really hot, you need to order the chocolate soda with chocolate ice cream."
The ice cream at Hans' is a bit on the pricey side--$3.50 gets you one scoop. And it's cash only, which is a nuisance to some.
But the creamy goodness is worth a trip to the ATM--or a trip across town. Just get there, somehow. Trust us.