Summertime Is Coming! Time for Ice Cream Sundaes

Laura B. Weiss for NPR
Laura B. Weiss for NPR

Finally, the weather is warming up. And that means I’m dreaming about ice cream sundaes.

When I was researching my book Ice Cream: A Global History, sundaes were the ice cream treat I was most eager to learn about. For me, there’s no more sumptuous dessert than the classic American combo of ice cream, toppings and whipped cream.

Sundaes are just a teensy bit fancy, but not so dressed up that they look out of place on a picnic table or at a barbecue. And sundaes are an easy way to flex your culinary muscle. That’s because with these indulgent treats, it’s the construction, not the cooking, that counts. And there’s no need to fuss in the kitchen. You can prepare your own sauces and ice creams, but store-bought varieties work well, too.

When it comes to mixing and matching ice creams and toppings, the sky’s the limit. (For me, the ice cream is an afterthought. Hit me with that topping, and lots of it, please.) Ladle hot fudge over peppermint ice cream. Drizzle honey over coconut sorbet and top it with grilled pineapple. Drop a scoop or two of chocolate ice cream into a bowl, add some brownie pieces, then crown your creation with butterscotch and whipped cream. You can also smother vanilla ice cream in berries and grilled peaches. Or for a simple but very adult dessert, pour a tablespoon of coffee-flavored liqueur over a scoop of chocolate or butter pecan.

And don’t forget to add some crunch. Sundaes need a bit of texture to counter all that goo and creamy richness. Crumbled cookies, nuts, even granola — anything with a snap to it — will do the trick. Then, there’s the whipped cream and garnishes. You could finish your ice cream construction the traditional way with a maraschino cherry. But why settle for the obvious when you can choose shaved chocolate, candy bits or crumbled bacon?

Whatever ice cream and sauce combinations you elect, start building your sundae with a spoonful of sauce in the bottom of the dish. Then add ice cream, more sauce, and another scoop of ice cream. Douse the whole thing with yet more sauce. With this method, you’ll be sure to taste sauce and ice cream in every bite. The exception to this rule is the banana split, in which the ingredients are laid side by side in a nest of banana halves, and the sauce is poured on top of the ice cream.

Sundaes are not an American invention. The Europeans beat us to it with dishes such as the French coupe. Sundaes as Americans know them came into being in the U.S. in the early 1890s. The question of the exact locale of the sundae’s birthplace has sparked fierce, but good-natured, civic rivalries, with several American towns, including Ithaca, N.Y., Two Rivers, Wis., and Evanston, Ill., claiming to be the sundae’s rightful spawning ground.

At the end of the day, I don’t much care where sundaes originated. I just love them.

Click here for recipes.

Laura B. Weiss

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