The Great Ice Cream Topping Experiment

Everyone knows that hot fudge, chocolate syrup, caramel, and fresh fruit are amazing on vanilla ice cream. But what if you are out of all of the old standbys? And what if you only have that boring, healthy version of vanilla ice cream that lacks the amazing, creamy flavor you crave? Now what?! This may have happened to me. Okay, it did happen, and I had to scour the kitchen for something to complement my blah ice cream and satisfy my killer sweet tooth after mothering three children all day (after the glass of wine, of course!). So I got creative and used whatever I found lying around my kitchen to give my basic ice cream a little snazzle-dazzle. I’ll be exploring more gourmet homemade toppings later this week, but here’s how my first stab at unconventional toppings went:

  • The Great Ice Cream Topping Experiment 1 of 16
    ice cream toppings
  • Grape Nuts 2 of 16

    This is where my experiment began. I didn't have any Grape Nuts around the house (we don't eat cereal), so I went and bought some. As a kid, I used to eat a bowl of Grape Nuts with milk and about 8 teaspoons of sugar...seriously. I would let it sit and soak for a few minutes until the Grape Nuts softened a bit and the milk was a sweet syrup. Mouth. Watering. I stopped drinking milk and having it with cereal when I was in the single digits, yet I remember this breakfast like it was yesterday.

    The excitement of recreating this with ice cream got me all giddy. My bowl was filled with ice cream, and I sprinkled on some Grape Nuts and took a bite. Wow — they were very crunchy. I decided to wait and stir up the mixture to soften them. Still too crunchy. I was not giving up, so I decided to mix some cereal with melted ice cream and refreeze it to lessen the crunch. Didn't work. I think they must have changed the formula in the last 20...okay, 30 years. I would consider letting them sit in the fridge in a bowl of milk, but I'm not a milk lover and the thought grosses me out. Anyone have any ideas as to how I can get my Grape Nuts to soften? 

  • Sweetened Flaked Coconut 3 of 16

    If you like coconut, you will love this ice cream topper. I recommend adding a tablespoon or so of flaked coconut to your ice cream and stirring it in so you get just a hint of coconut flavor. After it's mixed in, sprinkle a bit more on top. I will be using this topper in the future, as well as coming up with a more gourmet way to use coconut.

  • Light Buttered Popcorn 4 of 16

    Yumola! I love this, but I tend to love all things savory-sweet. The popcorn had a light butter flavor and complimented the vanilla creaminess perfectly. Plus, it really added a fun texture. I left the popcorn it sprinkled on top of the ice cream so it wouldn't get sogged out.

  • Life Cereal 5 of 16

    My neighbor got wind of my Grape Nut topping and decided I needed to try her favorite, Life Cereal, so she brought some over. It was really good and soaked up just the right amount of melted ice cream to let the flavors marry without getting soggy. We don't keep cereal in the house, but I imagine there are lots of sugar-coated cereals that would be good on ice cream.

  • Glazed Donut 6 of 16

    My kid had a party at school, and one of the parents brought donuts. I brought multi grain blueberry pancake muffins...guess which one got eaten up first? I think two kids ate my muffins, but the adults (who can no longer just chow down on a donut) devoured the healthier option. I brought home a glazed donut and decided to try it with some ice cream that night. How could you go wrong? It's a donut with ice cream!

  • Cayenne Pepper 7 of 16

    Use this sparingly if you have a wimpy tongue like me, although the creaminess of the ice cream really helps to mellow the sting. The cayenne didn't add much flavor — just gave it a kick, which was kind of fun.

  • Peanut Butter 8 of 16

    We always have peanut butter around the house. In fact, we always have a back-up jar, so this was an easy option for me. The combination was good, but I think it can be even better. I'm definitely going to do some peanut butter experimenting with my gourmet toppings.

  • Balsamic Vinegar 9 of 16

    No. I thought it might be tasty, because I've got this really good and sweet balsamic. But I was wrong — VERY wrong. Ewww, don't do it!

  • Chocolate Cake Mix 10 of 16

    I found an almost expired box of chocolate cake mix lost in the back of my pantry and thought it might be a great substitution for my childhood fave: Nestle's Quik. When I was a kid, my mom always kept our house stocked with Hershey's chocolate syrup and Nestle's Quik. I went for the Quik powder to add to my vanilla ice cream. I'd sprinkle it over the top and stir and stir until my vanilla was transformed into chocolate. My fingers were crossed that cake mix would do the same. I was wrong. It was good, but a bit too floury.

  • Honey 11 of 16

    I actually didn't love honey as a topping, and I'll only go here again if I'm totally desperate. If you are a honey lover, then give it a go. I think I'll keep my honey with my morning tea instead of evening ice cream.

  • Pretzels 12 of 16

    LOVE. This was so good. There was just the right amount of salt and crunch to give it some texture. The pretzels didn't get soggy, but instead became the perfect softness that I was hoping the Grape Nuts would become. I will be adding pretzels to my ice cream often.

  • Caramel Corn 13 of 16

    Not as good as popcorn; I guess I really prefer the salty-sweet combo. If you like to keep your sweets sweet, then this is a great option for when you have some leftover Cracker Jacks from a baseball game like we did. I liked the caramel mixed with the vanilla ice cream, and the popcorn stayed crunchier (as it's coated in sugar), so I got a nice texture. Also, I imagine other more gourmet caramel corn would be amazing. Harry & David's Moose Munch comes to mind as a good one to try, but I used what I had on hand.

  • Cornbread Mix 14 of 16

    Why did I have to get all weird?! I'd rather have plain vanilla ice cream than some with cornbread mix sprinkled on top.

  • Sea Salt 15 of 16

    Back to the savory-sweet: I decided to go with your basic salt, and it was...really good! I highly recommend using a twist of freshly ground sea salt and only putting it on the top of the ice cream, not mixing it in. If it's on top, you get your creamy sweetness with a tiny burst of saltiness — like chocolate-covered caramels with a sprinkling of salt on top. Mixing it in creates a different flavor with less sweetness, as the sweet and salty compete against each other instead of complimenting each other.

  • Salt + Pepper 16 of 16

    Taking it one step further, I added a grind of fresh ground pepper. I liked the salt only option better, but this added a nice kick to it. So if you need a touch of heat, go for it!

Tell me: what’s your unexpected favorite ice cream topping?

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