Thursday, August 26, 2010

That's Entertaining: You're Invited to an Ice Cream Sundae Party!

by Barbara Burtoff

Confession: I have never given an ice cream sundae party. I've been invited to a few, but haven't been able to attend -- until last week.

I learned that they are about a lot more than just dessert. Here you see the same kind of fun that young children have when supplied with an assortment of finger paints and told to go make a picture. That's unbridled creativity to the nth degree, appealing to the artist in all of us. For most, it also becomes a chance to relax and forget about the clock. That's what people seem to do while they focus on putting together their edible masterpieces.

For the host and hostess, this is an easy form of entertaining. It does not require lots of planning. Invitations can be sent by email or done by phone. Dress is casual. And if it is pouring rain at party time, no one will care. With weather as hot as it has been in DC these last two months, you probably expected to hold this indoors anyway.

To organize your party room, you'll need to set up two areas: One is for the ice cream and the other is for the toppings. Allow room between the two areas so that those reviewing choices of toppings can take their time.

For the ice cream area, your first decision is whether you want guests to help themselves or have a server scooping ice cream to each guest. You'll need napkins, spoons and bowls. If you have collected sundae dishes over the years, show them off. If you haven't, use your everyday cereal, soup or salad bowls or
buy sturdy plastic or biodegradable cups at a local party goods or paper goods store. The visual stars of this display are the ice creams and sorbets. Provide a scoop for each flavor. Ask a few friends to bring theirs if you don't have enough. Keep flavors of ice cream and sorbet plain and simple so they work well
with the sauces and toppings. Vanilla, chocolate, coffee, butter pecan ice cream plus orange or raspberry sorbet are good choices.

At a second, separate area, set up the sauces such as hot fudge, caramel, strawberries (the sweetened ones found in the frozen foods aisle of the supermarket need to be thawed ahead and make their own sauce) and, perhaps, marshmallow. There are so many choices for toppings. Pick a few but not all: chopped peanuts or pecans, small chunks of pineapple, colorful sprinkles, grape nuts (yes, this is a cereal), Rice Krispies, coconut flakes, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, raisins soaked for an hour in orange juice or rum (if no children will be at your party), dried cranberries, crushed Heath bars, M&Ms. Rounding up the offerings: freshly whipped cream, canned whipped cream or frozen whipped topping and maraschino cherries.

Beverages: Coffee or decaf, iced tea, sparkling water, milk if there are children included.

The ice cream sundae party I attended was catered and took place in the party room of a local condominium. With a line item in their budget for gatherings a few times a year, their social committee could contact a company that specialized in ice cream sundaes with all the fixings and have them do it. It was held on a weeknight from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. Scoops2U, based in Springfield, VA but working throughout Washington, DC, nearby VA, MD as well as Baltimore (email:, 703-536-3131), provided four flavors of ice cream (host's choice), plus one containing artificial sweetener, one frozen yogurt, one sorbet, toppings, sauces hot and cold, whipped cream and cherries, biodegradable paper cups large enough to hold two scoops, napkins, and plastic spoons. The deal included a server; she did it standing behind an umbrella-topped cart with a menu board nearby. It was a happy reminder of the ice cream trucks that used to visit neighborhoods on summer evenings. The social committee served hot decaf and cookies. They had heard of this vendor from someone at another condominium who had used the company. Minimum service is 85 so this business appeals mainly to large firms in office buildings and apartment houses.

Plenty more choose the Do-It-Yourself Party: Cookbook author CiCi Williamson and her husband, John Kelly, are blessed with a large family living nearby. Counting children and grandchildren, there are 20. A few times a year, they gather at CiCi's and John's McLean, VA home for ice cream sundaes and banana splits. The desserts serve as a backdrop for the real activity of the day: catching up on what's going on in their lives and seeing how much the grandkids have grown. CiCi stocks up on vanilla, coffee and butter pecan ice cream at the supermarket.

She takes pride in making her own sauces, hot fudge sauce, caramel-pecan and another fruit-based. For the grandchildren, looking at the array of toppings and deciding what they want has got to be the best part. Camera, anyone?

For those with ice cream machines nothing less will do than homemade flavors when they have a sundae party.

Considerate hosts/hostesses need to keep in mind that some people can't eat ice cream, rich, creamy, sweet and loaded with calories and cholesterol. Be a good friend and purchase at least a pint of the following: ice cream made with sugar substitute, ice cream with Lactaid for the lactose intolerant, low fat or no fat
ice cream and frozen vanilla yogurt. Add to this, bowls of berries, slices of melon and cut up fruit for those who appreciate your invitation but prefer to keep calories to a minimum.

One final point: An ice cream sundae party isn't just for hot weather. After trick-or-treating on Halloween, for example, children are wound up with excitement. Calm them down by ending the evening with a gathering at your place with their friends and the parents. All the ice cream companies have flavors that only a child could love. This would be a fun time to have a few of these specialties.

When a child returns from the hospital, from something not-too-serious, such as a broken arm or leg and now sporting a cast, cheer him or her up by inviting in the friends to sign the cast and have a mini sundae. Giggles and cheer all around.

Here is CiCi Williamson's recipe for Hot Fudge Sauce. It was easy to make and tasted better than the one the caterer offered and the one I tried at an ice cream specialty store.

CiCi Williamson's Hot Fudge Sauce

1 can (14 ozs.) sweetened condensed milk
1 cup Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 ounce (1 square) Baker's unsweetened baking chocolate squares
1/4 cup water (4 tbsps.)

Combine ingredients. I tried the recipe twice. One time I used a microwave-safe Pyrex 32-oz. measuring cup. Another time, I used a wider-topped Pyrex bowl. I preferred the measuring cup. Microwave for three minutes on high. Stir with wire whisk. Then microwave one minute more again on high. Stir again. Use of the
whisk will make the sauce smooth and glossy.

Microwave one final time, 30 to 60 seconds until mixture starts to bubble. Stir one last time. Sauce has now thickened. Let it cool for a few minutes before transferring to a sauce boat or small pitcher that can hold hot foods. Makes enough for eight or more.

CiCi Williamson's most recent book is The Best of Virginia Farms: Cookbook and Tour Book: Recipes, People, Places published by Menasha Ridge Press, 2008, paperback edition.


(c) 2010 Barbara Burtoff

Barbara Burtoff spent 10 years as a food writer and editor for the Boston Herald daily newspaper. She visited farms and markets, attended culinary schools and cooking contests, and covered parties of all sizes from large, gala fundraisers to small gatherings at home. She then left to finish an M.S. Education degree,
expanded from one paper to national syndication focusing on consumer/shopping issues, nutrition and psychology of eating topics.

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