The Art of Building the Perfect Ice Cream Sundae

Ice-cream wizard Nicholas Morgenstern breaks things down into six simple steps

The Hot Tin Roof sundae at Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream. (Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream)
The Hot Tin Roof sundae at Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream. (Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream)
Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream

Though a debate still rages between the cities of Two Rivers, Wisconsin, and Ithaca, New York, over where it was created, it is generally agreed upon that the first ice cream sundae was served in the late 1800s. But that’s where their sympathies begin and end: so vehement is their dispute over sundae ownership that the two cities aren’t even aligned on what, exactly, makes a sundae.

“Two Rivers claims it’s the chocolate. We claim it was the fruit, that cherry on top,” former Ithaca Mayor Carolyn K. Peterson told The New York Times in 2006. “And it came from here first. We have the historical documents and they don’t.”

Though he doesn’t name one city or the other, Nicholas Morgenstern, the owner and founder of Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream in New York City, has some thoughts on the matter.

“It is hotly debated where it came from and who did it first and all of that, but it is agreed that the first ice cream sundae was ice cream — probably vanilla or sweet cream ice cream — with some kind of a blackberry sauce on top,” he tells InsideHook. “That was the first version of someone saying, ‘Oh, that’s a sundae.’ Just sauce and ice cream.”

Morgenstern serves his Hot Tin Roof sundae with Madagascar Vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, chopped Picoso’s peanuts and fudge with a cherry on top, and says he wouldn’t do it any other way. “The hot fudge sundae is my favorite sundae,” he says. “I think it’s the most important sundae in America. Everyone knows what that image is and it’s very distinctly an American thing. There are versions of it you can get at places like Dairy Queen that have really carried that tradition on. It’s something that’s an important experience to have, just like having a slice of pepperoni pizza or eating a hamburger.”

Morgenstern’s owner and founder Nicholas Morgenstern. (Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream)

It’s also an experience you may want to have without leaving your home at the moment, and Morgenstern has some tips about how to make that happen. Here’s his advice for building the perfect sundae at home, broken down into six easy steps.

Step 1: Check Your Fridge

“Look in the door of your fridge,” Morgenstern says. “If you have any half-eaten jam or jelly or any kind of sauce that might even lean slightly sweet or even spicy, that makes a great addition. Any kind of soft dairy product, whether it’s sour cream or yogurt, obviously whipped cream, crème fraîche or any of the cultured yogurts, anything like that can make a great condiment on top of your sundae as well.”

Step 2: Check Your Pantry

“From the pantry, I really love any kind of crispy chip or cracker,” Morgenstern says. “I love Saltines. I love Ritz crackers. I love the Club cracker from Keebler. I think it’s nice with three elements. If you have vanilla ice cream and you put Mike’s Hot Honey on top, that’s going to be delicious. It’s going to be even better if you crush Ritz crackers on top.”

Step 3: Lay On the Layers

“I always think you should put some sauce in the bottom of the glass first, and then alternate your layers,” Morgenstern says. “I really like to do ice cream first, whipped cream or another creamy element second, sauce last or sauce next, and then a crunchy part as the last thing on top. That goes for whether or not you could put another scoop of ice cream on top of that. I think the general rule of thumb is doing your ice cream, then your creamy part, then your sauce, then your crunchy. It’s a good way to enjoy all of those elements together one after the other. I think freezing or chilling your glass or bowl is also always a good idea.”

Step 4: Stick to Two Scoops

“At home for a sundae, other than a banana split, you should use two scoops,” Morgenstern says. “A typical scoop of ice cream is about 2 or 2.5 ounces, so I think two is the appropriate portion. I think 4 to 5 [total] ounces of ice cream is enough, especially if you’re adding sauces and/or creams on top.”

Step 5: Get Your Garnish

“The cherry is really the move, but any kind of fresh fruit that’s fun and adds height and a little bit of volume is okay,” Morgenstern says. “Even if you put one Club cracker sticking out of the top and drizzle a little bit of sauce on top, that’s going to add that extra flourish on the top. The thing with the maraschinos is they have the stem and the stem allows you to pick up the cherry, eat it, and discard the stem. I think that’s what has made it something that has withstood the test of time.”

Step 6: Select Your Spoon

“A long spoon is nice. Not required, but nice,” Morgenstern says. “I like a long teaspoon. You can enjoy it more. You can get all the different things on one spoon. A nice teaspoon is great.”


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