Any really good summer week starts with a sundae

Nothing beats a couple of fat scoops of your favorite ice cream on a lazy summer evening. I can't think of a more perfect way to end the day than with a sugar cone piled high with Hershey's hand-dipped Cappuccino Crunch (none of that low-fat stuff for me!), unless I'm at my parents' cabin near Cook Forest. There I satisfy my sweet tooth with the thickest, creamiest chocolate frozen custard this side of the state at the Sawmill ice cream stand in Leeper.

Sometimes the day calls for something a little more special, a cool and creamy treat that requires a bit more effort than simply reaching for an ice cream scoop.

Maybe you've got company over that you want to impress, or you're celebrating a birthday. Or perhaps you've simply found a few extra minutes in your day and decide to devote it to dessert.

Time to build a sundae.

Grandma's Sundae Bar

When I plan our family picnics, I always make sure to include enough goodies for what we call the "sundae buffet" for the grandkids.

I usually have two cartons of different flavors of ice cream and all kinds of toppings such as candies, sprinkles, caramel syrup, chocolate syrup, whipped cream and cut-up fruit, and waffle bowls. The kids line up to make their own sundaes and they really have a good time coming up with different concoctions. The girls seem to concentrate on creativity, while the boys don't seem to be satisfied until their bowls are overflowing and their shirts look like used napkins.

-- Arlene Burnett

Several cities claim to have given birth to this popular ice cream treat: Two Rivers, Wisc., in 1881; Evanston, Ill., in 1890; and Ithaca, N.Y., in 1892. I like Evanston's story the best because it contains an element of civil disobedience: According to an article published by the city's public library, confectioners and drugstore operators came up with the idea to get around blue laws that prohibited the consumption of ice cream sodas on Sundays.

Whatever their history, sundaes remain a delicious way to step up your ice cream consumption a notch.

Inside we offer a few recipes that should knock your friends' and family's socks off. Because it's summer, after all, when everyone should be running around barefoot.

Apricot Pie a la Mode Sundaes

PG tested

This grown-up sundae makes good use of one of summer's sweetest fruits. Look for plump apricots that are slightly soft, with plenty of orange-red color.

  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons caramel sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Scotch whiskey or rum
  • 5 apricots, firm but ripe, each cut in half lengthwise
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • Vanilla ice cream
  • 3/4 cup coarsely crushed shortbread or sugar cookies
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted and chopped

Prepare grill for direct cooking over medium heat.

In a medium bowl, mix the caramel sauce and whiskey or rum. Set aside. In a medium bowl, toss the apricots with the melted butter.

Brush the cooking grates clean. Grill the apricots, cut side down first, over direct medium heat, with the lid closed as much as possible, until heated through, about 6 to 8 minutes.

In each of 6 ice cream dishes, arrange 2 apricot halves over 2 scoops of ice cream. Drizzle with 2 to 3 tablespoons of caramel-whiskey sauce and top with about 2 tablespoons cookie crumbs. Garnish with a sprinkle of almonds and serve right away.

Makes 6 sundaes.

-- "Weber's Time to Grill" by Jamie Purviance (Sunset, 2011, $24.95)

Chocomole Sundae

PG tested

Get ready for a taste explosion: This frozen treat is sweet, salty, buttery and slightly spicy, all at the same time.

  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons ground Fritos
  • 1/4 cup turbinado sugar
  • Vanilla ice cream, homemade or store-bought
  • Whipped cream, homemade or store-bought
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • Praline Sauce (recipe below)
  • Salty Buttered Nuts (recipe below)

Line a baking sheet with a Silpat or parchment. Melt bittersweet chocolate in a double boiler. Add Fritos and spread in a thin layer on baking sheet. Let cool completely (or freeze). Break into 6 or more wedges.

Blend sugar and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Set aside.

To assemble the sundaes: Place 2 small scoops of ice cream on a plate or bowl. Top each with 1/4 cup praline sauce and a large dollop of whipped cream. Sprinkle cinnamon sugar generously over whipped cream and scatter the almonds (or other nuts) over the sundaes. Garnish each with a wedge of chocolate.

Makes 6 sundaes.

-- "Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home" by Jeni Britton Bauer (Artisan, 2001, $23.95)

Salty Buttered Nuts

PG tested

These nuts are so easy I suggest doubling, or even tripling, the recipe so you always have plenty on hand. Also delicious on top of a salad.

3/4 cup almonds, pecans, walnuts or other favorite nut

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine nuts with butter and salt in a bowl. Spread evenly on a baking sheet and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, turning once, until crisp and aromatic. Let cool completely.

Makes 3/4 cup.

-- "Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home" by Jeni Britton Bauer (Artisan, 2011, $23.95)

Praline Sauce

PG tested

I used half whipping cream and half heavy cream for this ultra-easy and extremely rich sauce, which I'm guessing would also taste great on a slice of apple pie.

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup each packed dark brown and light brown sugar
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped out, seeds and bean reserved
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Make praline sauce by combining cream, sugars, vanilla seeds and bean, and salt in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar, and boil for 7 minutes or until sauce thickens a bit. Remove from heat and add vanilla extract. Serve warm, or let cool and refrigerate. The sauce will keep for up to 1 week.

To serve, reheat, stirring, until sauce is warm and fluid.

Makes about 3 cups.

-- "Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home" by Jeni Britton Bauer (Artisan, 2011, $23.95)

Fried Ice Cream Balls with Strawberry Sauce

PG tested

This isn't a sundae in the classic sense, but it incorporates all the necessary ingredients: a scoop of ice cream, flavored sauce, whipped cream and a cherry. It's also not a dessert you can make on the spur of the moment, as the ice cream balls have to be shaped, coated and frozen in stages over several hours. (I ended up frying it at 11 p.m.)

The effort, though, is worth it, resulting in a dessert that's at once cold and creamy and warm and crunchy. Exclaimed my daughter Catherine as she dug in, "This is so cool!"

-- Gretchen McKay

  • 1 quart of your favorite hard ice cream, softened
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 6 cups cornflakes (about 7 ounces)
  • 4 cups vegetable oil for frying
  • Strawberry Sauce (recipe follows)
  • Whipped cream
  • Maraschino cherries for topping

Line a baking sheet with plastic wrap, and freeze sheet for 10 minutes. Using an ice cream scooper, scoop out 12 balls of ice cream onto the chilled baking sheet. Freeze the balls, covered with plastic wrap, for at least 3 hours or until very hard.

Combine eggs, sugar and vanilla extract in a mixing bowl, and whisk well. Place cornflakes in a food processor fitted with the steel blade, and chop very finely using on-and-off pulsating (you also can place flakes in a resealable plastic bag and hit the bag with a rolling pin). Place crushed cornflakes in a shallow bowl.

One at a time, dip ice cream balls into egg mixture, allowing any excess to drip off. Roll in cornflakes to coat well. Return balls to freezer, covered, and freeze for at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours. Reserve remaining cornflakes and refrigerate remaining egg mixture. Repeat coating process, and freeze for a minimum of 4 hours after the second coating.

Heat oil in a deep-sided saucepan or deep-fryer to a temperature of 375 degrees. Working in batches of 2 or 3 balls, fry balls for 30 seconds or until golden. Remove the balls from the pan with a slotted spoon, and drain them on paper towels. Repeat with remaining balls, and serve immediately with Strawberry Sauce and a dollop of whipped cream.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

-- "SCOOP: 125 Specialty Ice Creams from the Nation's Best Creameries" by Ellen Brown (Running Press, May 2011, $19.95)

Strawberry Sauce

PG tested

The chunky sauce is best eaten the day it's made, but it can be refrigerated for up to 2 days. Feel free to substitute your favorite berry and/or a few tablespoons of a fruit liqueur such as Grand Marnier or Chambord for some of the water.

-- Gretchen McKay

  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup granulated sugar, depending on sweetness of the berries
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup squeezed orange juice
  • 1 pound fresh strawberries, rinsed, hulled and sliced if large

Combine the sugar, cornstarch, salt and orange juice in a small cup, and stir well to dissolve the cornstarch.

Place strawberries in a saucepan along with 1/2 cup water, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Add cornstarch mixture and cook, stirring frequently, for 3 minutes or until the mixture thickens. Remove sauce from heat, and cool to room temperature.

Makes 2 cups.

-- "SCOOP: 125 Specialty Ice Creams from the Nation's Best Creameries" by Ellen Brown (Running Press, May 2011, $19.95)

Frosted Cupcake "Sundae" Cones

For cupcakes
  • 12 sugar cones
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
For Swiss meringue buttercream
  • 5 large egg whites
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 4 sticks unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • Melted chocolate and cherries for garnish

Make cupcakes by preheating oven to 350 degrees. Cover a 12-inch ovenproof bowl or tube pan (center removed) with a double layer of heavy-duty foil. Poke 12 holes in the foil, 2 1/2 inches apart, using a skewer or a sharp paring knife. Place a cone in each hole, leaving top inch of each visible.

Sift flour, baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt into a bowl. Beat butter and sugar with a mixer on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, then vanilla. Beat in flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with milk, beginning and ending with flour. Continue to beat until combined.

Fill each cone with 2 to 3 tablespoons batter. Bake, rotating bowl halfway through, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Make meringue by heating egg whites, sugar and salt in a heat-proof bowl of a mixer set over a pan of simmering water, whisking, until mixture is warm to the touch and sugar dissolves. Transfer bowl to mixer and whisk on slow speed, gradually increasing speed to medium-high, until stiff (not dry) peaks form. Continue whisking until cooled and glossy peaks form, about 10 minutes.

Reduce speed to medium-low and add butter, a few tablespoons at a time, whisking well after each addition. Whisk in vanilla. Switch to paddle attachment. Continue beating on low until air bubbles are eliminated, about 2 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl and beat until completely smooth.

Transfer buttercream to a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip. (You also can use a plastic freezer bag with a corner cut off. Pipe buttercream onto cupcakes in a circular motion to create a "soft serve" swirl. Garnish with chocolate and cherries. Serve immediately.

Makes 12 cones.


Gretchen McKay: or 412-263-1419.


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