Cooking

Sundae School

How to take your ice cream sundaes to the next level
The Best Sundae Ever
Photo: Tasting Table

Hot fudge. Chopped peanuts. Whipped cream. Sprinkles. Cherry on top.

There's a basic arithmetic to the classic ice cream sundae that instantly transports you back to childhood. But if that's the last time you actually ate one, it's time to go back to sundae school. We turned to some ice cream pros for advice on how to turn the simple sundae into a sophisticated dessert.

Tips from Eva Ein, chef and co-owner of Santa Barbara-based McConnell's Fine Ice Creams, which recently opened a new shop in downtown Los Angeles.

Take fresh berries to the next level.
"Berries in the summertime are wonderful, but they aren't always full of flavor," Ein says. "They look great, but then you slice them and they're all water—so I cheat." Her move? Macerate berries by sprinkling a little sugar on top and let them sit at room temperature for an hour to two to draw moisture out of the fruit, which combines with the sugar in the bowl to create a syrupy liquid. She also mixes in grated lemon zest and mint. "It's spectacular with a citrus-y ice cream flavor," she says.

Use toppings that complement the ice cream flavor.
Ein hesitates to ascribe any hard-and-fast rules to pairing ice creams with sauces and toppings. "The pairing works if you like it," she says. "Experimenting is half the fun." McConnell's Olive Oil and Salted Almonds ice cream, for example, goes well with fresh figs, a drizzle of honey and crumbled almond biscotti—all subtle toppings that enhance the slightly savory ice cream.

Mix and match the ice cream flavors.
Ein likes to set up a makeshift sundae bar for friends at home so they can mix and match at will. "I often serve three to five flavors of ice cream, and then I put out a melon ball scooper so people can do tiny flights," she says.

Tips from Brian Smith of Ample Hills Creamery, whose new, three-level location in Gowanus, Brooklyn, has a roof deck with Crayola-bright Adirondack chairs.

It's all about nuts.
Peanuts, hazelnuts, and walnuts all add texture and crunch to a sundae—and, according to Smith, all pair perfectly with chocolate. He's also a proponent of incorporating wet nuts—a mix of walnuts and maple syrup does the trick.

Brian Smith, Eva Ein and Molly Moon Neitzel (bottom right)

Experiment with whipped cream.
"The neat thing about whipped cream is that you can flavor it in different ways," Smith says. To make a maple-bourbon version, pick your favorite whipped cream recipe and add a tablespoon of bourbon and use maple syrup instead of sugar. Add some juice from macerated berries for a fruity spin, and mix in spoonful of cocoa powder for chocolate whipped cream.

Tips from Molly Moon Neitzel, founder of Seattle's mini-empire, Molly Moon's Homemade Ice Cream, and author of a cookbook of the same name.

Sweet and salty is a winning combo.
Take a cue from Neitzel's signature dish, which combines salted caramel and melted chocolate-flavored ice creams, with—in classic sundae style—hot fudge, candied hazelnuts, whipped cream and a cherry on top.

Add texture
"All of our sundaes have a crunch or a crackle," Neitzel says. She particularly loves brittle—especially one made with pepitas in lieu of peanuts. Popcorn is another great way to add crunch.

Never underestimate the power of a crumbled Girl Scout cookie
"We just put the cookies in the food processor and voila," Neitzel says. Her favorites are Thin Mints—which pair well with mint ice cream and hot fudge—and Savannah Smiles, a lemon-flavored biscuit cookie that she currently serves on a "Summer Tea" sundae with Earl Grey ice cream and blackberry compote.

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