Ice cream without toppings is like a salad without dressing, burger without fries, chips without salsa. It just should not be.
Toppings add pizazz to an ice cream — whether it is in a cup or cone — and oomph to any water- or dairy-based ice pop. Even ice cream desserts like banana splits, sundaes and rose-flavored faloodas get better with an extra garnish.
They, however, are not just sidekicks. Toppings have their own personalities and add to a frozen treat's flavor profile. Sometimes it is a little crunch or unexpected chewiness. Sometimes it is a burst of fruitiness or a floral note. Then there are times when a warm spirit rises up in a rum or bourbon butter-laced sauce.
Ice cream shops usually offer an array of saucy, fruity, nutty and sweet and sour toppings. They run the gamut from soft and hard candies to wildly colorful sprinkles, from broken pretzel bits, dried apricots and granola to toasted coconut flakes and pecans, pistachios and walnuts.
With a little creativity, you can do even better. Here are a few suggestions to take your icy treat over the top:
Spiked mangoes: In a saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat and add 4 tablespoons of light brown sugar. After the sugar dissolves, add 1 cup of diced mango cubes and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn the heat off and add 1 tablespoon of spiced rum. Stir well and let the mangoes cool.
Best with: tropical-flavored ice creams like banana, coconut and passion fruit and sorbets like rhubarb-hibiscus and lemon. Also works well on good old vanilla ice cream.
Sweetened citrus peel: Cut the rind of one orange and one lemon into matchsticks without too much of the pith. In a medium-sized pot, bring water to a boil. Add the orange and lemon peel and cook for 15-30 seconds. Drain through a sieve. Return the matchsticks to the pot and add 6 tablespoons of granulated sugar and 5 tablespoons of water. Bring to a boil and cook for 8-10 minutes, until the liquid is syrupy. Remove the peel from the pot and place on a wire rack to cool. (Inspired by "The Big Book of Amazing Cakes" from "The Great British Baking Show")
Best with: orange sorbet, ginger, chocolate and vanilla ice cream drizzled with Grand Marnier.
Cherry compote: In a medium saucepan, combine 2 cups of frozen pitted cherries, 1/2 cup of sugar and 1 teaspoon of water over medium heat. Cook, stirring often, until mixture is thick and syrupy. Add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and cook for 2 more minutes. Remove from heat and serve warm or at room temperature.
Best with: panna cotta or spiced chocolate ice creams and studded ones like cookies and cream, Moose Tracks and butter pecan.
Hot fudge sauce: In a saucepan, combine 3/4 cup of sugar, 1/2 cup of evaporated milk, 2 tablespoons of salted butter, 2 tablespoons of light corn syrup and a pinch of sea salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar is melted. Add 1/2 cup of milk chocolate chips and stir until melted. Remove from heat and drizzle over ice cream when the sauce is still warm. (From "Magnolia Table: A Collection of Recipes for Gathering" by Joanna Gaines.)
Best with: mint, black raspberry, peanut butter and, of course, coffee, vanilla and chocolate ice creams. Dip fruit ice pops like strawberry and blueberry into it, too.
White chocolate sauce: In a heatproof metal or glass mixing bowl, add one (7.5-ounce) jar of marshmallow creme, 3 ounces of chopped good white chocolate, 1/4 cup light corn syrup, 2 tablespoons heavy cream and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Place the bowl in a medium-sized pot that has about 2 inches of simmering water. Stir the ingredients until they melt and become smooth. Take the bowl off the heat and add 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Stir to combine. (From the blog "Baked Bree.")
Best with: Chocolate and coffee ice cream. Also stands out on brightly hued sorbets like strawberry, grape, orange and mango.
Nutella hot fudge sauce: In a small saucepan over medium heat, add 1 cup of heavy cream, 1/4 cup of corn syrup and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Cook until just simmering, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and whisk in one (13-ounce) jar of Nutella and 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract. After a minute or so, the Nutella should melt into the cream and become a thick, smooth sauce. Serve warm over ice cream. (From the blog "Lauren's Latest.")
Best with: banana, chocolate chip, butterscotch, cotton candy and cake batter ice creams. Also complements strawberry and orange-banana ice pops.
Cinnamon pistachios: Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. In a saucepan, add 1/4 cup of water, 3/4 cup of granulated sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 3/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon and a pinch of cayenne over medium heat. Let the syrup boil, stirring occasionally until the foam subsides and it thickens. Remove the saucepan from heat and add 11/2 cups shelled pistachios. Stir until the nuts are evenly coated with the sugar syrup. Spread nuts on a parchment-lined baking sheet for about 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and let them cool completely.
Best with: cinnamon, banana, rum-raisin, chocolate and strawberry ice creams.
Mocha sunflower seeds: This is a riff on the Mocha Pepitas from Taste of Home. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. To a coffee grinder, add 6 tablespoons of sugar, 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder and 1 tablespoon of instant coffee granules. Pulse until finely ground and transfer to a bowl. Whisk one large egg white in a bowl until frothy. Stir 2 cups of salted sunflower seeds into the egg white. Gently stir the mocha mixture into the egg white to coat the seeds evenly. Spread in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 15-17 minutes, stirring after 7 minutes. Cool completely in the pan.
Best with: banana, sweetened cream, orange, chocolate and cherry ice creams.
Candied bacon: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a bowl, coat four strips of bacon, which are about 1/4-inch thick, with 8 teaspoons of light brown sugar and 2 teaspoons of bourbon (optional). Place the strips on a parchment-lined baking sheet and top them with the sugar remaining in the bowl. Cook for 20-25 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through. The bacon is cooked when the sugar is melted and the strips are deep brown in color. When the strips are cool, dice them into small bits.
Best with: maple-walnut, chocolate, salted caramel and pistachio ice creams.
Quick dulce de leche: In a large pot, bring water to a boil. Remove the wrapper of an unopened can of sweetened condensed milk and immerse it completely in the water. Reduce heat to a low boil. Cover and cook the condensed milk for 3 hours, making sure that the can is always covered by water. After removing the pot from heat, carefully take out the can, allow it to cool completely to room temperature before opening and drizzle it over ice cream.
Best with: Chocolate, vanilla, cookie dough, coconut and coffee ice creams.
Marsala sauce: In a medium saucepan, bring 1/2 cup unsalted butter and 1 cup of packed light brown sugar to a boil, stirring constantly for about 2 minutes. Add 1/4 cup sweet Marsala wine and cook until the sugar dissolves and the sauce is smooth.
Best with: Rhubarb, strawberry, peach and vanilla ice creams.
Strawberry sauce: In a medium saucepan, combine 2 cups hulled and thickly sliced strawberries, 1/3 cup sugar and 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice over medium heat. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Remove from heat and let the sauce cool. It will thicken more.
Best with: pure vanilla, mocha, Rocky Road and chocolate fudge brownie ice creams.