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Plopping pints of mint chocolate chip or cherry vanilla onto the table after a laid-back dinner is a time-honored summer tradition. Effortless and crowd-pleasing, store-bought ice cream is the beloved finale to countless hot-weather meals.
But, with some advance planning and a smidge more work, you can transform purchased pints into the kind of nostalgic frozen desserts that satisfy the kid in all of us — as well as any actual children at the table.
Banana splits were a fixture in the comic books I read growing up, and this version looks exactly like something Betty and Veronica might have gobbled up at Pop’s, Archie looking on longingly.
There’s a bittersweet hot fudge that turns taffy-like when it hits the scoops of cold ice cream. The homemade wet walnuts — a mix of honey, maple and freshly toasted nuts — are a lot more intensely flavored than the jarred kind, lending just the right syrupy crunch. The two are poured over ice cream and whipped cream nestled in sliced ripe bananas for a classic ice cream parlor confection that’s not at all hard to make at home.
My ice cream sodas, however, would never be mistaken for their retro counterparts. Scoops of ice cream bobbing in cherry or berry syrup, they are dazzlingly colorful and deeply fruity.
You can simmer up the syrup with fresh fruit in the height of summer, or use frozen fruit all year long. And feel free to play with the combinations of syrup and ice cream: Try chocolate or fudge ripple ice cream with cherry syrup; salted caramel ice cream with blackberry syrup; vanilla or strawberry ice cream with raspberry or blueberry syrup. Whipped cream is optional here but adds a nice, fluffy touch.
For me, though, the most nostalgic of these three is the chocolate chip ice cream sandwich. Based on Chipwiches, they feature a more streamlined process, using a giant cookie that’s halved, filled and sliced into squares. Sprinkling some flaky sea salt into the mini chocolate chip coating at the edges makes everything taste more intense. Prepared ahead and stored in the freezer, they’re just as easy to grab for an instant summer dessert as a pint of ice cream — and a heck of a lot more fun.
Classic Banana Split
The key to a great banana split is a combination of textures and temperatures. There’s the velvety cold ice cream, the pleasingly sticky hot fudge and the crunchy wet walnuts (here, made with maple syrup and honey), all nestled in a sliced ripe banana and topped with whipped cream. You can use any ice cream flavors you like: classics like chocolate, vanilla or strawberry, or get creative with your favorite varieties — maybe even a scoop or two of fruity sorbet. Naturally, banana splits are meant to be split between two (or three) people, so find some friends to share the sweetness.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Total time: 30 minutes
For the walnuts:
1 cup/115 grams walnut halves
1/4 cup/59 milliliters maple syrup
1/4 cup/59 milliliters honey
Pinch of fine sea salt
For the hot fudge sauce:
2/3 cup/158 milliliters heavy cream
1/4 cup/50 grams packed light brown sugar
3 tablespoons honey
1 1/2 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa powder
Pinch of fine sea salt
3 1/2 ounces/100 grams bittersweet chocolate
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cubed
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, or 1/2 tablespoon brandy or rum
2 bananas, halved lengthwise and peeled
2 pints ice cream, any flavors
Whipped cream, for serving
Cherries, for garnish (optional)
1. Prepare the walnuts: Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread walnut halves evenly on a baking sheet and bake for 8 to 12 minutes, or until nuts smell toasted and are slightly darker in color. Transfer to a rack to cool.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together maple syrup, honey and salt. Add nuts (it’s OK if they are still hot) and stir to combine.
3. Prepare the fudge: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the cream, sugar, honey, cocoa and salt to a simmer, whisking until the sugar dissolves and the mixture thickens slightly, about 5 minutes.
4. Stir in the chocolate and let cook until the chocolate melts, about 2 minutes. Stir in butter and vanilla (or liquor). Let cool slightly. Serve warm, not piping hot. If the fudge sauce begins to separate, vigorously whisk in 1 tablespoon hot water. Fudge sauce can be made up to 2 weeks ahead and stored in the fridge. Gently reheat before serving.
5. Line a banana split bowl or other bowl with the banana halves. Top with scoops of ice cream, hot fudge and walnut sauce. Cover with whipped cream. Top with a cherry, if you like. Serve immediately.
Fruity Ice Cream Sodas
Using homemade berry or cherry syrup adds a colorful, fruity take on the usual chocolate or vanilla ice cream soda. Feel free to play with the different combinations of syrup and ice cream. Some great ones include chocolate ice cream or fudge ripple ice cream with cherry syrup; salted caramel ice cream with blackberry syrup; and vanilla or strawberry ice cream with raspberry syrup. A froth of whipped cream on top makes them even more ethereal.
Yield: 4 servings
Total time: 20 minutes
For the berry syrup:
20 ounces/567 grams (about 4 to 5 cups) fresh or frozen berries or cherries (pitted sweet cherries, raspberries, blackberries or blueberries)
3/4 to 1 cup granulated sugar
1 to 3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice or balsamic vinegar, more to taste
1 to 2 liters plain seltzer
1 to 2 pints ice cream
Whipped cream (optional)
1. In a large saucepan, heat berries (or cherries) and sugar over medium heat (use 3/4 cup sugar for cherries or blueberries, and 1 cup for raspberries or blackberries). Bring to a simmer and let cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the syrup is thick and the fruit has begun to fall apart. Use a fork or potato masher to mash the fruit thoroughly.
2. Place a fine sieve over a bowl and strain the syrup, using a flexible spatula to push the purée through the sieve. Stir in lemon juice (or vinegar), starting with a teaspoon and adding more to taste. The syrup should be tangy-sweet.
3. Fill the bottoms of 4 tall glasses with syrup and stir in seltzer until the glass is two-thirds of the way full. Add scoops of ice cream to fill the glass, stir and top with whipped cream, if using. Serve immediately with a straw.
Chocolate Chip Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches
Homemade chocolate chip ice cream sandwiches are the ultimate summer treat, and they’re not that hard to make. To keep things as streamlined as possible, these sandwiches are made from one giant cookie that’s halved, filled and sliced into squares. Sprinkling some flaky sea salt into the mini chocolate chip coating at the ice cream’s edges makes everything taste more intense. You can prepare these a week or two in advance; just store them in an airtight container in the freezer, taking them out about 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
Yield: 12 chipwiches
Total time: 1 hour, plus at least 3 hours’ cooling and freezing
3 cups/390 grams all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons fine sea salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
15 tablespoons/213 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup/150 grams granulated sugar
1 cup/200 grams dark brown sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
12 ounces/340 grams bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chunks or chips (about 2 cups chips)
Flaky sea salt, for sprinkling
1 1/2 pints vanilla ice cream, softened (or use your favorite flavor)
10 ounces/283 grams mini semisweet chocolate chips (about 1 1/4 cups), for garnish
1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 13-by-18-inch rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda.
3. In a large bowl using an electric mixer, beat the butter until creamy, 1 to 3 minutes. Add the granulated sugar and brown sugar, then beat until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the egg until smooth. Beat in the vanilla extract until just combined.
4. Reduce mixer to low speed and beat in the flour mixture. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl, making sure everything is incorporated. If not, beat it again for a few seconds. Beat in the regular (not mini) chocolate chips.
5. Place dough on the prepared baking sheet. Using your hands or a rubber spatula, spread the dough in an even layer about 1/4 inch thick, almost to the edges of the pan (it won’t quite reach). Sprinkle generously with flaky sea salt. Bake until the edges turn golden brown, about 17 to 20 minutes. The center will still be quite soft, but the dough will firm up as it cools. Transfer the baking sheet to wire racks to cool slightly.
6. Trim the ragged edges of the cookie to make a neat rectangle (this is the cook’s snack). Cut the cooled cookie in half so that you have two squares. Flip one square over so that the bottom is now facing up. Spread the softened ice cream over the flipped square, then place the second square on top of the ice cream, chip side up. Transfer to a parchment-lined plate and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Place in the freezer to harden, about 11/2 to 2 hours.
7. Remove the plate from the freezer. Once the cookie is soft enough to cut (5 to 10 minutes), cut into 12 squares. A warm knife (run it under hot water) will help with this. If the ice cream starts to melt or spread, place the chipwiches back in the freezer to firm up.
8. Pour the mini chocolate chips into a shallow bowl or plate and sprinkle chips with flaky sea salt. Press each side of the sandwiches into the chocolate chip-salt mixture. Refreeze for at least another 1 hour so the chips adhere. Remove from the freezer 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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