Since today is Ben & Jerry’s free cone day, I’ve got ice cream on my mind. I couldn’t quite face the idea of braving the lines to get a free cone today. So even though it is only 3 pm, I just resorted to a bowl full of peanut butter ice cream, which I topped with leftover hot fudge. So much for laying off the sugar this week.

But, that ice cream and hot fudge is leftover from our birthday cookout awhile back, and it is hard to be good when temptation is lurking in your freezer (or fridge, as the case may be). Anyway, back when I was planning Maureen’s party, I decided to make the sundae toppings, even though, as I mentioned in another post, Maureen wanted things simple. My solution: do the toppings in secret.

When I told Marc my plan to make sundae toppings on the sly, he rolled his eyes, and exclaimed, “But you can easily buy all of those.” My response: “Yes, but they aren’t the same.” My dad had a similar reaction, when I told him I had made my own caramel sauce, he asked, “Did you buy caramels and melt them down?” and then added “Can’t you buy that in a jar?” Yes, you can buy caramel sauce in a jar, you can even melt caramel candies (a good quick way to make caramel apples, by the way), but neither of those tactics will get Keme to exclaim “I don’t normally like caramel, but this is amazing.” Also, salted butter caramel is not quite the same as regular caramel. After John tried some, he declared “this is better than sex.” So, if you are putting together a sundae bar (or feeling a little lonely), consider making your own toppings, if you never have before, you will be pleasantly surprised both by how easy most toppings are to make, and how much better they taste without preservatives.

These are of course the tip of the iceberg when it comes to topping possibilities. On our sundae bar, we also had Spanish peanuts and maraschino cherries. But you can also candy your own nuts, chop up candy bars, buy sprinkles, macerate strawberries, make a raspberry sauce, toast coconuts, really, the possibilities are endless.

Salted Butter Caramel (makes 2 cups)
from The Perfect Scoop

This caramel is the perfect blend of sweet and salty and shines when used as the sole topping on good vanilla ice cream. It also stands up well to chocolate, and doesn’t get lost in the mix when used in combination with other toppings. Making caramel takes a little patience, as you need to let the sugar turn a deep golden brown before taking it off the heat to get a full-bodied sauce. At the same time, you don’t want the sugar to burn, so pay close attention.

6 tablespoons butter, salted or unsalted
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt

1. Melt the butter in a heavy duty saucepan or dutch oven.
2. Add the sugar and stir frequently, until the sugar is a deep amber color and starts to smoke.
3. Remove from heat, and wearing an oven mitt, immediately whisk in half of the cream until smooth.
4. Stir in the rest of cream.
5. Add the vanilla and salt.
6. If there are lumps in the caramel, heat on low while whisking gently until they are dissolved.

Can be stored for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator. Rewarm in the microwave or over low heat on the stove.

Hot Fudge (makes 2 cups)
from The Perfect Scoop

I had never made my own hot fudge sauce before, and there are so many different recipes out there by great chefs, that one of these days I might have to have a hot fudge sauce competition too. One thing to think about when working with any chocolate recipe is the chocolate itself. Because of the inadequacies of my local grocery store, I used Baker’s semi-sweet in this recipe (my Publix doesn’t carry any other bar chocolates, which was shocking to me as it is generally a pretty good grocery store). Baker’s chocolate, of course, is an American standard, and the resulting hot fudge sauce is classic, but if you play with different chocolates you will find that the same recipe can yield very different flavors.

3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/2 cup light corn syrup
6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon salted butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. In a large saucepan, mix the cream, sugar, cocoa, and corn syrup.
2. Bring to a boil and cook for 30 seconds, stirring frequently.
3. Remove from heat and add the chocolate and butter, stirring until melted and smooth. Add the vanilla. serve warm.

Can be stored for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator. Rewarm in the microwave or over low heat on the stove.

Whipped Cream (makes 2 cups)
from The Perfect Scoop

This is barely a recipe, but since I am always turning to a cookbook or to the internet to remind me approximately how much vanilla or how much sugar to add to the heavy cream, I figured I might as well share. I like lightly sweetened whipped cream, especially when used on something very sweet (like sundaes). But with whipped cream there is lots of room to play, you can add liquors, more sugar, citrus zest, or juice, or even stir in melted (cooled) chocolate.

1 cup heavy cream
1 to 2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Beat the cream until it starts to hold its shape. Add the sugar and vanilla and adjust to taste. Continue beating until soft peaks form.