If you’re stumped on which dessert to serve at your next summer party, consider setting up an ice cream sundae bar. Ice cream is exactly what most people want when temperatures are climbing, thus making it the perfect solution. Even picky eaters love a good bowl of vanilla with sprinkles on top. Perhaps the biggest draw is that building them requires little to no effort for the host. All you have to do is lay out the ice cream flavors, toppings, sauces, bowls, and cones, and let your guests do the work.
1. Keep the flavors nice and simple.
Your instinct might be to serve a ton of different flavors, but Mohan Kumar, co-owner of New York-based ice cream shop Oddfellows, tells Chowhound that when it comes to ice cream, less is always more.
“You don’t want to have more than two to three flavors,” he explains. “The flavors should be the base, but the toppings should be the highlight.”
Stick to the classics. Strawberry and chocolate are popular ice cream flavors that will always be hits. You might also want to serve a dairy-free option in addition to the basics, just in case you have any lactose-intolerant friends.
“Vanilla bean is a must,” says Kumar. “But in general, keep it simple.”
2. Having bowls and cones on hand is key.
“I believe a great ice cream sundae is the vessel we serve it in,” says Yolanda Diaz, head pastry chef at Geraldine’s in Austin. “It’s about the whole experience.”
Providing good serving “vessels” is the one step that’s going to require a bit more effort on your end. Sure, you could just set out a stack of red Solo cups and call it a day, but that’s going to impress no one. Instead, invest in a few nice bowls. They can be glass, but if you don’t want to spend too much money, there are plenty of stylish paper or plastic options you can find online or at party stores. Personally, we like these cone-inspired creations:
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I scream, you scream, we all scream for these adorable bowls.
Our experts were divided on whether or not to offer actual cones. Kumar advises against it if your intention is purely sundaes.
“Sundaes should be in a bowl,” he explains. “That way you can get all your ice cream, toppings, and sauces in one bite with a spoon.”
Diaz thinks having cones on hand is a good option, in case your guests don’t want to go the full sundae route. At the end of the day, it all comes down to preference. Decide which experience you want your party-goers to have and stick to it.
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3. Feel free to get crazy with your toppings—you can never have too many.
When we asked Diaz which toppings we should serve, she was nervous to recommend anything.
“Everyone has their own palate,” she says.
If you have a wide array of sweet, salty, and spicy offerings, there will be something to please everyone. Need inspiration? Some of Diaz’s favorites include chocolate-covered gummy bears, corn nuts, potato chips, sprinkles, and fresh fruit.
Read More: Our Favorite Savory Ice Cream Toppings
4. Offer a mix of crunchy and chewy toppings. The more texture, the better.
A great example would be a base of vanilla ice cream, salty nuts, caramel sauce or fudge, all topped with whipped cream.
5. Whatever you do, don’t forget the sauces.
Sauces are the glue that brings an ice cream sundae bar together. Without them, your toppings and ice cream won’t meld the way they should. Kumar says you absolutely have to have at least one caramel offering, one chocolate offering, and whipped cream. From there, he recommends serving seasonal fruit compotes (a summertime peach or berry sauce would work perfectly).
If you really feel like getting adventurous, Diaz loves more exotic offerings like chocolate curry sauces, orange blossom whipped creams, and sesame caramels. As long as you have a few basics, you can get as kooky as you want. You can even try making your own Magic Shell style topping to impress your guests.