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The sundae: one or more scoops of ice cream, topped with one or more syrups (chocolate, caramel, or fruit). These days a whipped cream topping is essential, as are some kind of textured topping, alone or in combination (candy sprinkles, nuts, and—occasionally—canned or fresh fruit). And a sundae wouldn’t be a sundae without a crowning maraschino cherry.
Who invented the ice cream sundae? That’s a matter of opinion, fueled by local pride. Some say the first sundae was dished in Ithaca, New York, in 1892. Two Wisconsin towns—Two Rivers and Manitowoc—have competing claims. Buffalo, New York, has stepped up. Same with Norfolk Virginia and Plainfield, Illinois. Oh, and don’t forget Evanston, Illinois, Cleveland, New York City, and New Orleans. What seems clear is that the sundae was the creation of late 19th-century America, either as a simple dish of scooped ice cream doused in fruit syrup, or an ice cream soda (ice cream and syrup) without the fizzy water, since in some places (Illinois, for instance) the drinking of soda was illegal on Sundays.
By the early 1900s the sundae was an inevitable weekend treat in soda fountains. Fancy variations sprang up, thanks to inventive fountain owners and enterprising jerks. Wikipedia lists the Robin Hood sundae, Cocoa Caramel sundae, Black Hawk sundae, Angel Cake sundae, Cherry Dip sundae, Cinnamon Peak sundae, Opera sundae, Fleur D’Orange sundae, Knickerbocker sundae, Tally-Ho sundae, Bismarck, and George Washington sundaes, and that’s only a small, random listing.
Black and White
Vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce and chocolate ice cream with marshmallow sauce
A peeled and split banana with three scoops of ice cream, each with a different flavored sauce, crushed pineapple, whipped cream, nuts, and maraschino cherries
Ice cream, warm chocolate sauce, whipped cream, nuts or sprinkles, and a maraschino cherry
Vanilla ice cream with chocolate and caramel sauces, whipped cream, and chopped, toasted pecans
On a base of brownies, vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, peanuts, and whipped cream
1. Strawberry S’mores Sundaes
The basic elements of a s’more plus strawberry ice cream. It’s an indulgent tower of broken-up graham crackers, scoops of ice cream, hot fudge sauce, marshmallow topping, almonds, fresh strawberries, and a charred marshmallow topknot. Get our Strawberry S’mores Sundaes recipe.
2. Caramel Sundae with Cinnamon-Sugar Chips
A sundae inspired by flavors found in many Tex-Mex desserts. The Caramel Ice Cream is a bit salty, the chocolate sauce is slightly bittersweet, and the Cinnamon-Sugar Chips are a riff on the churros commonly seen in Mexican markets. Get our Caramel Sundae with Cinnamon-Sugar Chips recipe.
3. Grilled Fig and Orange Blossom Sundaes
This Middle Eastern–inspired ice cream sundae is a cool way to end a meal of grilled kebabs on a hot summer night, but instead of chocolate sauce and caramel, try topping your ice cream with grilled fresh figs. Get our Grilled Fig and Orange Blossom Sundaes recipe.
4. Easy Chocolate S’mores Sundaes
Gooey enough to satisfy kids, architectural enough to appeal to adults, this ice-cream-sundae take on classic campfire s’mores is literally over-the-top. Get our Easy Chocolate S’mores Sundaes recipe.
5. Chowhounds’ Most Unusual Sundaes
From bittersweet fudge and smoky almonds to habanero chile–pineapple sauce, we’ve got 14 unusual yet delicious sundaes, as described by the Chowhound community and photographed by Chris Rochelle. Browse our sundae toppings gallery.
6. Chocolate Shell Ice Cream Topping
Combine chocolate with a little vegetable oil (nearly any type of chocolate—milk, bittersweet, or semisweet, but not unsweetened—will work). It’s a fun and easy way to fancy up your next ice cream sundae. Get our Chocolate Shell Ice Cream Topping recipe.
7. Basic Caramel Sauce
This recipe is really just a matter of using your eyes to judge when it’s done (no fancy thermometer required). When the sugar and water turn a, well, caramel color, you know it’s ready! Get our Basic Caramel Sauce recipe.
8. Traci Des Jardins’s Caramel Sauce
This luxurious recipe is from a san Francisco chef famous for her indulgent French-inspired cooking. Get Traci Des Jardins’s Caramel Sauce recipe.
9. Bittersweet Chocolate Sauce
More bitter than sweet, this intense chocolate sauce is the perfect pairing for your next ice cream sundae. Get our Bittersweet Chocolate Sauce recipe.
10. Marshmallow Sauce
A warm, drippy marshmallow sauce may be the underdog topping when compared to chocolate sauce, but it adds a little texture and sweet vanilla pop to an ice cream sundae. Get our Marshmallow Sauce recipe.