Tin Roof: Vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, frosted peanuts and Maldon salt
Hot Mess: Vanilla ice cream, butterscotch sauce, marshmallow cream and sliced bananas
Farmers Market Sundae: Lemon frozen yogurt, macerated berries, whipped cream and fresh herbs
Ohito Sundae: Mint ice cream, white-rum praline sauce, lime wedges, whipped cream and turbinado sugar garnish
Sam’s Sundae: Chocolate ice cream with Maldon salt, bergamot olive oil and whipped cream
The Sundae Blues: Lemon-blueberry sauce over créme fraîche ice cream
There's no doubt about the retro appeal of maraschino cherries, whipped cream cans and that ersatz chocolate syrup in a squeeze bottle. But it's funny to think they coexist in the same dessert galaxy with basil sorbets and pink peppercorn-tinged ice cream.
Anything as gourmet as ice cream from today's trendy, artisanal parlors — the Humphry Slocombes and Bi-Rite Creameries of the world — deserves something similarly handcrafted on top.
So we turned to a trio of ice cream experts to help us reinvent ye olde ice cream social, sans squeeze bottles and quasi-fruity syrups. The results will take you six ways to sundae, with fresh lemon-blueberry syrup, vanilla butterscotch, extra-bittersweet fudge and even bacon peanut brittle.
And if there's a cherry on top, it better be a Bing.
Whimsy runs rampant at San Francisco's Humphry Slocombe, Jake Godby and Sean Vahey's trendsetting ice cream shop. It's known for eclectic flavors, including Elvis the Fat Years (banana, peanuts and bacon) and Secret Breakfast (bourbon-cornflake), as well as a Hot Mess sundae, which tops vanilla ice cream with banana slices and homemade butterscotch and marshmallow sauces.
"We do things somewhat backward. With the Hot Mess, we came up with the name first, and then figured out what it would be," Godby says. "I always try to have a good balance of acid and salt, so you're not overwhelmed. If it was just a big, gooey mess, I wouldn't be interested after the first three bites.
That's why most artisanal ice cream toppings include bitter, sour or salty notes. It's all about layering flavors and textures, Godby says, but a dash of serendipity certainly helps. Take the day Humphry Slocombe's signature bacon peanut brittle candy was left on the stove a tad too long. Loath to just throw away a batch of brittle, Godby
and Vahey mixed it into a batch of fresh banana ice cream — and Elvis the Fat Years was born.
You can stir the chopped brittle into the ice cream and serve it by the scoop, but it also lends itself to sundae-fication when the ice cream is served with sliced bananas and topped with shards of brittle.
Caramel and butterscotch are favorites of Kris Hoogerhyde, a self-styled "caramel girl" who says "chocolate was not my first love." So it's no wonder that the lines that wrap around Bi-Rite Creamery, her San Francisco ice cream shop, are there for the signature salted caramel ice cream.
Salt is what makes flavors pop, whether it's on a scoop of that ice cream or sprinkled on a chocolate sundae drizzled with organic bergamot olive oil.
Unusual? Yes, but powerfully addictive, she says. "The olive oil gives a nice silkiness to it, the bergamot pairs so nicely with chocolate, and the salt makes your taste buds want more. People say, 'Ooh, salt on ice cream?' It's that sweet and salty combination. People forget that."
Hoogerhyde's favorite caramel is cooked to a deep mahogany hue, but she also loves a lighter butterscotch version. Add a little scotch or bourbon, and you'll have Bi-Rite's "boozerscotch."
"The butterscotch is a caramel we don't take as far, so you're not getting that bitterness," she says. "We add butter to it, so it's really lush, and when you warm it and put it over ice cream, it cools down and becomes chewy. It's the same with our hot fudge sauce. As it sits against the cold ice cream, it gets that candylike consistency, which I think is yummy."
Even the most strait-laced grown-ups get excited, she adds, when everything is homemade. Toss fresh berries with a little sugar and let them macerate until they release their own syrup, she suggests, or cook up a lemon-blueberry sauce to top a crème fraîche ice cream sundae.
"I'm a purist," she says. "A really good vanilla with fresh strawberries makes me super happy."
It's a view shared by Jeni Britton Bauer, an Ohio-based artisanal ice cream maker whose book, "Jeni's Ice Creams at Home," just won a James Beard award. Her wildly popular Farmers Market Sundaes use lemon frozen yogurt and fresh berries, macerated with Champagne, port or Grand Marnier. Her Ohito Sundae, a play on the classic rum cocktail, draws its flavors from fresh mint leaf-infused ice cream, a white-rum praline sauce and a wedge of lime, so guests can squeeze the tart citrus over the entire affair, including the sprinkling of turbinado sugar crystals.
"I like things to be a contrast," she says. "Something crunchy, sweet, sour, bitter, salty, a little bit of everything. What's great about the artisanal ice cream world is you can start with something more unusual, or something really well made, but very simple."
As for that cherry on top, Bauer uses fresh Bings or brandied cherries, such as Amarena cherries imported from Italy.
"I don't know how much more natural they are than maraschino, but they are so good and so beautiful," she says. "Probably maraschino cherries were supposed to be like that, but someone messed up."
Elvis (The Fat Years) Sundae
Makes 1 quart
3 ripe bananas, sliced
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup water
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon salt
3 egg yolks
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup Bacon Peanut Brittle, chopped (see recipe)
In a large, heavy-bottomed, nonreactive saucepan, combine bananas, brown sugar and water. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until bananas are completely mushy, about 10 minutes. Don’t let mixture burn. Puree the mixture in a blender.
Fill a large bowl with ice and water. Set a bowl in the ice bath. Get a sieve ready.
Using the same saucepan, combine cream, milk and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until hot but not boiling.
Meanwhile, whisk together the banana puree, egg yolks and granulated sugar until well blended. Slowly pour in half the hot cream mixture, whisking constantly. Transfer back to the saucepan. Cook, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula and being sure to scrape the bottom, until the liquid begins to steam and you can feel the spatula scrape against the bottom, 2-3 minutes.
Remove the custard from the heat, and immediately pour it through a sieve into the clean bowl you set up for the ice bath. Let cool.
Transfer to an ice cream maker and spin according to manufacturer’s instructions. Fold in the brittle, then transfer to an airtight container, cover and freeze up to 1 week. Or, serve the ice cream over banana slices, and top it with shards of brittle for Elvis sundaes.
Bacon Peanut Brittle
Makes about 5 cups
Note: Collect everything before you start, because things move quickly.
2 ¼ cups sugar
1/3 cup corn syrup
½ cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups roasted peanuts
2 slices bacon, cooked until very crisp, drained and finely chopped
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
In a medium, heavy-bottomed, nonreactive saucepan, bring sugar, corn syrup and butter to a boil over high heat, stirring often, until the mixture turns golden brown, 10-15 minutes (300 degrees on a candy thermometer).
Immediately take pan off the heat and stir in the vanilla, salt, peanuts and bacon.
Sprinkle with baking soda, and stir the foaming mixture until evenly combined. Spread mixture evenly on a baking sheet. Cool completely before chopping or breaking into pieces. Brittle keeps up to 2 weeks in an airtight container at room temperature. Do not refrigerate it.
Extra-Bitter Hot Fudge Sauce
Makes 2⅓ cups
1 cup water
⅓ cup sugar
⅓ cup light corn syrup
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
Combine water, sugar and corn syrup in a saucepan; bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve. Off heat, add the cocoa, whisking well to combine. Add vanilla, and whisk until very smooth. Add chocolates, and let sit 3 minutes.
Stir the sauce until the chocolate is completely melted; it will have a smooth and glossy shine when it is ready. Serve warm, or let cool and refrigerate up to 2 months. To serve: Reheat, stirring, until warm and fluid.
Makes 2 cups
½ cup sugar
1 egg white
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
2 cups roasted, unsalted peanuts
Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
Lightly whisk together sugar, egg white, vanilla and salt. Stir in the peanuts.
Spread them on a Silpat- or parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake, stirring every 10 minutes so the nuts don’t clump, until dry, about 30 minutes. Transfer immediately to a plate to cool. Nuts keep up to 2 weeks in an airtight container.
Farmers Market Sundae
3 cups blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, halved strawberries or halved, pitted cherries
5 to 6 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons tawny port or Champagne, or 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Lemon frozen yogurt
6 sprigs fresh mint, basil or lemon balm
Toss the berries with 4 tablespoons sugar, honey and wine, and let sit for 30 minutes to 6 hours to macerate. The berries will create their own lovely syrup.
Chill a large metal bowl in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. Then add cream, 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar and vanilla, and whip to soft peaks.
Divide the macerated fruit among 6 plates or wide-mouthed Mason jars. Top with 2 small scoops frozen yogurt. Garnish with whipped cream and an herb sprig.
Vanilla Butterscotch Sauce
Makes 1½ cups
½ cup cream, at room temperature
½ vanilla bean
½ cup water
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
1 ½ cups sugar
¼ cup unsalted butter, cut in ½-inch slices
Pinch of kosher salt
Set the cream by the stove so it’s ready.
Split the vanilla bean. Scrape the seeds into a medium saucepan and add the pod, along with the water and cream of tartar. Pour the sugar in the center of the pan. Do not stir.
Place the pan over medium-high heat and watch carefully. Once caramelization begins, the mixture can burn in seconds. Cook without stirring until the sugar begins to brown in spots, 8 to 11 minutes. Gently swirl once to evenly distribute.
When it turns light amber, about 5 minutes, turn off heat. Immediately, but slowly, pour in cream. Wear oven mitts and be careful.
When bubbling subsides, gently stir to blend the cream into the caramel, scraping vanilla seeds from pan sides and back into the sauce. If you have lumps of hardened caramel, stir over low heat until melted.
With a fork, carefully remove hot vanilla bean pod. Gently stir in butter and salt. Let cool until just warm. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Rewarm before using.
Variation: Add a couple of tablespoons of scotch or bourbon along with the butter to make Boozerscotch.
Lemon Frozen Yogurt
Makes 1 quart
1 quart plain, low-fat yogurt
1½ cups whole milk, divided
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 ounces cream cheese, softened
½ cup heavy cream
⅔ cup sugar
¼ cup light corn syrup
Zest from 1 lemon
2 to 3 lemons
3 tablespoons sugar
Fit a sieve over a bowl and line it with 2 layers of cheesecloth. Pour yogurt into the sieve, cover with plastic wrap and chill 6-8 hours. Discard the liquid and measure out 1 ¼ cups of the drained yogurt. Set aside.
For the lemon syrup, remove the zest from 1 lemon in large strips; reserve. Juice the lemons to make ½ cup; combine with 3 tablespoons sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve. Let cool.
For the frozen yogurt base, mix 2 tablespoons milk and cornstarch into a slurry. Whisk cream cheese until smooth. Fill a large bowl with ice and water.
Combine remaining milk, cream, sugar, corn syrup and zest strips in a 4-quart saucepan. Bring to a rolling boil and boil for 4 minutes. Remove from heat; gradually whisk in slurry.
Bring the mixture back to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, stirring, until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Turn off heat.
Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese. Whisk in the reserved 1¼ cups yogurt and lemon syrup until smooth. Pour the mixture into a gallon zip-top freezer bag, seal and submerge it in the ice bath. Let stand, adding ice as necessary, until cold, about 30 minutes.
Remove the zest from the yogurt base. Pour the mixture into your ice cream maker and spin until thick and creamy. Pack frozen yogurt into a storage container, press a sheet of parchment against the surface and seal with an airtight lid. Freeze until firm, at least 4 hours.
Blueberry Lemon Sauce
Makes 1¼ cups
1 pint blueberries, divided
⅓ cup sugar
Finely grate the lemon zest into a small, nonreactive saucepan. Juice the lemon into a bowl and set aside.
Add 1 ½ cups blueberries and the sugar to the pan, then place it over medium-high heat. Cook until most of the berries have popped and the juice has thickened slightly, 6-8 minutes.
Remove from heat and stir in the remaining berries and lemon juice. Serve warm or at room temperature. The sauce will keep, refrigerated, for up to a week, but it’s best the same day it’s made.