Sort-of Secret: This Toronto-made ice cream is so popular, it sells out in minutes every single week
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The sort-of secret: Ruru Baked, a specialty ice cream maker that takes pre-orders once a week and sells out in minutes
You may have heard of it if: You’ve been lucky enough to catch a scoop pop-up or stumble on an Instagram story from an in-the-know friend
But you probably haven’t tried it because: Even dedicated followers can’t always snag a pint before the weekly stock sells out
Custard-based ice cream—also known as French-style or traditional—is richer and creamier than its eggless Philly-style counterpart, which is what you’ll find at most Toronto scoop shops. Ruru Baked, a tiny ice cream brand owned and operated by pastry chef Luanne Ronquillo since 2017, takes the best of the traditional approach and elevates it with flavours that are anything but. Think miso butterscotch, banoffee pie, matcha shortbread, honeycomb cereal milk, Horlick and Ribena, to name just a few.
Custard ice cream is made with egg yolks, which are responsible for the ultra-creamy and dense texture. Egg yolks are also a natural emulsifier, so including them means eliminating the use of stabilizers and other additives. “I like to keep my ingredient lists short and my recipes as clean as possible,” says Ronquillo. “But there are some cons to using eggs: Philly-style has a cleaner flavour base, which makes it easier for certain tastes to shine through.”
Ronquillo seems to have nailed the formula for getting around that issue. The pandan flavour, made from the fragrant leaf sometimes called the “vanilla of Southeast Asia,” is earthy and grassy in the best way, like matcha and vanilla had a beautiful—and tasty—baby. Yuzu raspberry is another standout. It tastes a bit like raspberry cheesecake at first—which is the result of the acid in yuzu reacting with the eggs and cream—before melding into a bright, tangy finish.
Ronquillo uses freshly baked mix-ins and whole ingredients, as opposed to extracts, wherever possible. You can really taste the difference in flavours like mint chip, which is good enough to convert any mint-chocolate haters out there. With fresh spearmint steeped and blended into the custard, it’s fresh, herbaceous, and (unlike most versions, which use mint extract) tastes nothing like toothpaste.
Likewise, banoffee pie (the classic British dessert combo of banana and toffee) tastes like actual bananas instead of banana popsicles. “I buy a whole case of bananas and let them over-ripen, like you would for banana bread, then blend them into the ice cream,” says Ronquillo, who also throws caramel and buttery graham crust crumbs into the decadent creation. Her strawberry shorty has big chunks of freshly baked biscuits and strawberry jam, hand-layered in pint jars for distinct pockets of flavour.
So what’s the catch? You have to race to get your hands on a pint. This one-woman operation, which runs out of a 100-square-foot commercial kitchen rented from Empire Espresso in Little Italy, releases a flavour list every Thursday at 8 p.m on her website. When it drops, may the force be with you. The entire stock usually sells out in less than five minutes via pre-orders—even with a four-pint-per-order cap. If you’re one of the lucky ones, you can then pick up your pints at Empire Espresso the next day or the day after that.
There’s more than enough demand to justify scaling up, but it’s not as straightforward as making more ice cream. “Landlords are really cautious since the pandemic, and they don’t exactly love applications from ice cream businesses, since they see them as seasonal operations,” says Ronquillo, who plans to continue selling straight through the winter. “Ice cream makers also need specialized equipment, like really good freezers, which is all very expensive. I can’t just move into any commercial kitchen.” She’s even received a few angry messages from customers frustrated by how quickly the ice cream sells out. “What people don’t realize about the business is that it’s literally just me,” she says. “There are a lot of growing pains.”
Nevertheless, with this much demand, growing the business seems inevitable. “My vision for Ruru Baked is to have one or two shops in Toronto, and maybe one in my hometown of Calgary. I’d love to sell scoops in the summer, get pints into boutique shops, and do ice cream–making classes and more community outreach.” Ronquillo recently did pop-ups with The Kickback and Tier Zero, and plans to start ice cream–related workshops for the kids in those programs. “But I don’t want to be the next Ben and Jerry’s.”