Ice Cream/Frozen Desserts

How to Photograph That Ice Cream Sundae (Before It Melts)

July 22, 2018

We've partnered with Bloomingdale's to share recipes, tips, and videos to help you master the art of styling your favorite summer dishes for photo-ready perfection.

If you’re eating ice cream, it’s likely hot out. Melt, spillage, and hasty scooping are all probable. Grabbing a photo of your treat before it starts to sag? The chances are slim, no matter how many summers you spent scooping ice cream as a teenager.

A hybrid bowl-plate is often the best vessel for a sundae—it's big enough to hold multiple scoops and toppings, and can catch any drips of melting ice cream. Photo by Ty Mecham

Even for food styling experts, it’s hard to do. I’m only happy with about one out of every five scoops I make (why can’t every scoop look like this frozen yogurt?). But there are some hacks that improve my odds. They came in handy when I styled and shot 60 ice cream recipes for the Food52 cookbook Ice Cream & Friends during the summer—a very hot summer, with shaky air conditioning, and one freezer. (Cue laughter.)

Always pre-scoop.

So that scoops are super solid, I recommend scooping ice cream onto a baking sheet and letting them freeze for as long as possible. Not only does this reduce the chances of instant melting, but it also allows for time to inspect the scoops and pick the ones that turn out the nicest. Then, pick your favorite specimens and spatula them into a bowl or into a cone.

Store-bought ice cream is a more patient model.

If you get to choose where your ice cream comes from, opt for store-bought over homemade ice cream when it comes to presentation (not necessarily taste!). Because store-bought ice creams have stabilizers, they don’t melt as quickly as homemade ice creams, some of which truly seem to melt the moment they touch the scooper. Find the brand that cooperates best for you; higher-fat ice creams will produce smoother scoops.

Chill the bowl or plate in advance.

When you’re shooting ice cream, you want everything to be as cold as possible: the ice cream, the air, your hands—and the prop the ice cream will be photographed on. So we often stick the bowl or plate into the freezer or fill it with ice before adding ice cream to it. In the case of the brioche and caramelized citrus sundae below (and pictured above!), we wanted a vessel that was big enough for the brioche but that would also catch any of the citrus syrup. As is usually the case, a blate (bowl-plate) was the way to go.

Use toppings to cover up boo-boos.

That awkwardly placed cherry, river of chocolate sauce, all those sprinkles...chances are whatever’s beneath all those toppings is not the cutest. It might be a dent in the scoop, a fingerprint, or the start of a messy melt. But you’ll never know!

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At the same time, sometimes garnishes are worthy of highlighting in the image or at the dinner table: A big bowl of caramelized citrus or a little bowl of sprinkles implies that people can help themselves to more and lets them create their ideal sundae.

Always try a bite.

While we do always strive for perfection in our photos, it can be boring to look at scoop after scoop of smooth spheres of ice cream (yawn). In order to break up the monotony, it’s fun to let the ice cream soften a little and take a bite out of a scoop—you might find some nice texture or a cute chocolate chip beneath. (And even if you don' still get to eat a bite of cream.)

Use a straw to clean up spills.

When your ice cream has gotten away from you, instead of trying to clean up an unappealing melt with a paper towel or spoon, simply drink up the spillage with a straw. It can get to each little crevice around your ice cream easier and quicker than a spoon (or even your tongue) could.

While people will look at your funny if you take a straw to your ice cream at the dinner table, there’s a lesson here for all of us: When it comes to ice cream, plan ahead and then don’t hesitate. Dig in!

What's your favorite way to top a sundae? Share it with us in the comments below!

Don't forget to snap a photo before your ice cream becomes a melted mess! Our partner Bloomingdale's has everything you need to scoop and style the perfect summer sundae, from charming dessert bowls to every size spoon you can think of.

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Editor/writer/stylist. Author of I Dream of Dinner (so You Don't Have To). Last name rhymes with bagel.