12 Tips You Need When Making Ice Cream Floats

The ice cream float is a classic American treat that brings back nostalgic memories of a time when soda fountains were a common sight. However, you don't have to travel back in time to enjoy a delicious float. After all, we've come a long way from the spontaneous invention of the ice cream float when a drug store clerk in Philadelphia decided to add a spoonful of ice cream to his soda. 

Since then, this refreshing drink has become a classic dessert — and for good reason. There's something uniquely satisfying about the creamy texture of ice cream combined with the fizzy taste of soda. However, you don't have to go out to enjoy an ice cream float. You can make this treat at home with the right approach and some creativity.

One of the best parts about making an ice cream float is that there are countless ways to customize it to your liking. You can experiment with different soda and ice cream flavors or even make both from scratch for the ultimate culinary creation. The possibilities are endless, whether you prefer the classics, like vanilla ice cream with root beer, or something more adventurous, such as honey ice cream in elderflower seltzer. From toppings and add-ins to soda alternatives and theme ideas, here are some of our best tips for making your perfect ice cream float.

Choose the right pairing

Choosing the ideal ice cream and soda pairing for an ice cream float is an integral part of crafting this classic treat. The key is balancing contrasting yet complementary flavors to create the perfect proportion of both creaminess and fizz.

You can start with classic combinations, such as smooth vanilla ice cream and your favorite brand of cola. The rich, silky vanilla acts as a blank canvas, allowing the cola's caramel notes to shine. Meanwhile, the carbonation cuts through the richness for a refreshing contrast. A float is an opportunity to explore more unique flavor combinations, too. For example, a tangy orange soda paired with a creamy orange sherbet creates a citrusy explosion. Alternatively, pairing velvety chocolate ice cream with a robust root beer kick evokes a nostalgic indulgence reminiscent of childhood.

Whether opting for timeless classics or bold flavor combinations, the joy of composing the perfect float lies in the journey of experimentation. Floats are a fun opportunity to play with new flavors, just as the drug store clerk did when he invented the beverage more than 140 years ago. But ultimately, the best ice cream and soda pairings are a matter of personal preference.

Chill your glasses

We know why you need to chill glassware before making cocktails, but did you know it's just as crucial for an ice cream float? Chilling your glasses enhances the overall experience because it keeps the drink colder. A cold glass will, in turn, prevent the ice cream's premature melting and ensure that the soda remains crisp and bubbly for as long as possible.

Pop your mugs or glasses into the freezer for about 30 minutes before assembling your float. But if you happen to forget this step, an easy solution is to fill them with ice and soda water. The carbonated liquid will help chill the glasses faster than regular water, which means you can have a frosty float ready sooner. 

Besides just keeping your drink colder, chilled glasses also add an element of elegance and sophistication to your presentation. You can focus on savoring each creamy spoonful and fizzy sip without worrying about it turning into a lukewarm puddle before you have a chance to finish it. Just be sure to use tall glasses so there is ample space for the soda and ice cream to combine.

Keep your components cold

Glasses aren't the only component of a float you'll want to keep cold. Your ingredients should be chilled right up until when you need them. Keeping ingredients as cold as possible is crucial for making the perfect ice cream float because it preserves the refreshing chill and staves off melting.

You'll want to store your ice cream in the freezer until just before serving to achieve the best results. There are many different ways to properly store your ice cream and ensure that it's ready for a float. One idea is to store your carton of ice cream upside down so that ice crystals form on the lid instead of the surface of the ice cream. Another tip is to ensure your freezer is at or below 0 F to halt freezer burn. 

Don't let your ingredients sit out on the counter too long before assembling your floats either. Instead, scoop the ice cream immediately from the freezer into the chilled glass. Then, remove your cold soda or sparkling water from the fridge when you're ready to mix. Avoid using room-temperature beverages, which are too warm and will quickly melt the ice cream.

Customize your soda

Although many unique craft sodas are available these days, you can't beat making your own custom soda at home. You'll be able to create some of the highest quality and most exceptional carbonated flavor combinations, whether you start with a homemade SodaStream version or a plain seltzer. The only limit is your imagination.

Customizing your soda is the first step for the best ice cream floats. Crafting the right soda is crucial because it forms the base of the float's flavor profile. Experimenting with different flavors maximizes the ability to complement your chosen ice cream. For example, you can create fruit syrups by boiling down fruit juices until thick. Or, try making simple syrups infused with herbs like mint or rosemary.

Not only can you customize your seltzer's flavor, but you can also control the sugar level in your homemade soda. Many store-bought sodas are incredibly high in sugar. Pairing that with sweet ice cream can lead to an overload of sugary flavor. Instead, you can cut some of the syrup or sugar to make your float taste less sweet and more balanced. 

Use quality ice cream

It's no secret that some ice creams are better than others. You'll only want to choose the best ice cream brands and ice cream flavors when you're making your selection, as the beverage will absorb that quality — or lack thereof. 

Start by considering both the taste and texture of the ice cream. Opt for an ice cream with a rich, creamy consistency that will hold up well against a carbonated beverage. Classic choices like vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry provide versatile bases that pair well with various soda flavors. Ice creams with too many added components may not have a firm enough texture for a float.

Additionally, consider the density of the ice cream. A denser ice cream will melt slowly and prolong the life of the float. While low-fat, high-protein ice creams are trendy, they're not ideal for use in an ice cream float. Instead, look for ice creams with a higher fat content, as they tend to be creamier and richer.

Try sherbet in place of ice cream

If you're tired of ice cream floats, why not make one with sherbet? Ice cream may create the creamiest floats, but because of this, they can also be heavy and filling. On the other hand, sherbet is a refreshing alternative that's great for a hot summer day. This frozen dessert is similar to ice cream, but it's made with fruit juice or fruit purée, sugar, water, and, potentially, a small amount of milk or cream. It is lower in fat than ice cream and has a tangy, fruity taste.

Sherbet's lower fat content and fruit-based flavors make it ideal for those seeking a lighter dessert. You can also find some varieties made entirely without dairy, making this an accommodating treat for a wide range of dietary preferences. Moreover, its vibrant and tangy fruit flavors, such as orange, raspberry, or lime, also add a welcomed freshness to the float.

Using sherbet instead of ice cream opens up even more opportunities to get creative with flavor pairings. Orange sherbet with lemon-lime soda would make the ultimate citrus experience, while pineapple sherbet with coconut soda would offer a wonderful tropical combination.

Add the ice cream first

Aside from chilling your glasses and ingredients, the first step in assembling an ice cream float is to add the ice cream to the bottom of the glass. Placing the ice cream first allows it to act as a strong base and provide a foundation for the carbonated beverage. That way, you can slowly pour your soda over the ice cream, better control the level of fizz, and prevent your glass from overflowing. Starting with the ice cream also allows it to gradually melt into the soda, creating a creamy, effervescent fusion of flavors with maximum visual appeal. Each sip of the float contains a balance of creamy sweetness and fizzy refreshment.

If you plan to make several floats at a party, you may want to pre-scoop ice cream onto a sheet pan. Line the pan with parchment, place scoops of ice cream on the tray, and slide the tray into your freezer until you're ready to make the floats. Or if you have the freezer space, why not get a head start and scoop the ice cream into your glasses, then store them in the freezer until you're ready to serve? That way, you'll keep the ice cream as frozen as possible while ensuring your glasses are cold, too.

Slowly pour the soda

Pouring soda slowly over the ice cream is crucial for achieving the ideal level of creaminess and fizziness while minimizing overflow and mess. Slow pouring allows the carbonated beverage to interact gently with the ice cream without creating excessive foam.

If the soda is poured too quickly, the sudden combination with the ice cream will lead to excessive fizzing, and you'll find yourself with a mess to clean. By pouring the soda slowly, you can better control the rate of the carbonation and allow the bubbles to disperse more evenly throughout the float. Not to mention, pouring the soda slowly gives you better control over the quantity, allowing you to adjust the soda-to-ice cream ratio according to the size of your glass and preference.

You could try a clever technique for pouring soda so it doesn't fizz over using the tab on the can. Pop the can and position the tab perpendicularly before leaning it on the side of the glass for hands-free pouring. Another idea that's often used when pouring beer is to hold your glass at an angle and slowly pour the soda down the side, which creates less fizz. 

Add flavor enhancers to your ice cream float

Once you know the basics for making a float, it's time to get creative. One unique idea is to add peanuts to your ice cream float for the perfect salty complement. If you enjoy the sweet and salty combination found in kettle corn, try a handful of salted peanuts in your float for a similar, if not completely unexpected, flavor experience. If you don't have peanuts, sprinkling salt over your float can add that unique flavor without the nutty crunch.

If you find peanuts to be too unconventional of an addition to your ice cream float, there are more classic options you can try. For instance, you can coat your glass with chocolate, strawberry, caramel, or any other sauce flavor you prefer. As you sip the float, you'll find the flavor slowly releases into the soda. A shot of flavored syrup, such as those used in coffee drinks and Italian sodas, is another easy way to experiment with fun flavor additions.

Another way to take your float to the next level is to toss in a few pieces of fresh or frozen fruit. This is a fantastic way to round out the float's flavors, especially if you're already using fruity ice cream, sherbet, or soda. The fruit will provide a natural complement to the existing components, and the contrasting texture will add another dimension to the float's smoothness and carbonation.

Don't skip toppings

In many ways, a float and a sundae have a lot in common. Both treats are centered around the creamy goodness of ice cream and offer endless possibilities to experiment with different toppings. You can start with a dollop of fluffy whipped cream or add some extra crunch with chopped nuts. For those who appreciate a pop of color, sprinkles can make an excellent addition, and no sweet treat is complete without a maraschino cherry on top.

But if the usual topping suspects aren't doing it for you, here's another opportunity to think outside the box. Consider more unique toppings to spruce up ice cream sundaes to craft an extra special float. For instance, a drizzle of fruity balsamic vinegar will surely make for a memorable beverage with a bit of tang. Or how about a bit of chili crisp? This ubiquitous condiment is already used on everything else, so why not on top of an ice cream float? You could also try cutting the sweetness of the float with a bite of something salty and savory, such as a few potato chips for French fries. A float is all about indulgence, after all.

Consider an alcoholic float

Incorporating booze into an ice cream float introduces an exciting twist and elevates the nostalgic treat into a delightful adult indulgence. Alcohol can add complexity and flavor, transforming a simple float into a sophisticated dessert and cocktail all in one.

There are many ways to include booze in an ice cream float. One option is to add a splash of liqueur such as Kahlua, Baileys, or amaretto, which infuses the float with rich coffee, chocolate, or almond flavors. These sweet liqueurs blend seamlessly with creamy ice cream, which makes them ideal choices for an adult beverage.

On the other hand, spirits like coconut rum or flavored vodka can add a tropical or fruity essence. Or you can play with classic cocktail combinations, such as a root beer float spiked with bourbon or a cream soda float infused with spiced rum. Another idea is to replace the soda with a carbonated alcoholic beverage instead of just adding a splash of liquor. Try a stout with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a glass of champagne with some fruit sorbet.

Get creative with themed floats

While there's never a wrong time to enjoy an ice cream float, why not make a batch of floats centered around a theme? Themed floats offer a creative and special way to elevate the classic dessert and add an extra layer of customization. Try incorporating a specific theme inspired by holidays, seasons, movies, or special events. With a little imagination, you can craft a float for nearly any occasion.

For example, during the summer, you can create a beach-themed float by using a blueberry soda for the ocean, butter pecan ice cream for the sand, and topping it with whipped cream and Swedish Fish for decoration. For Halloween, consider an orange soda and pumpkin spice ice cream topped off with candy eyes or candy corn. Or, for a more sophisticated occasion, such as New Year's Eve, create a float with sparkling wine, raspberry sorbet, and flecks of edible gold.

Themed floats can also be inspired by movies or TV shows, such as a Harry Potter-themed float featuring butterbeer soda and a scoop of vanilla ice cream topped with caramel syrup. If you're a fan of "Twin Peaks," you might like to try a combination of cherry cola and vanilla ice cream topped off with a mini donut. On the other hand, if you enjoy "Parks and Rec," you might appreciate the taste of bacon ice cream with maple soda, whipped cream, and waffle pieces.