Ice Cream/Frozen Desserts

9 Sundae (Funday) Sauces for Even Better Ice Cream

That pint in your freezer has never, ever tasted so good.

May 27, 2021
Photo by Rocky Luten. Prop Stylist: Veronica Olson. Food Stylist: Samantha Seneviratne.

We’ve teamed up with our friends at All-Clad to bring you Pans With a Plan—a series sharing smart techniques, tasty recipe ideas, and all sorts of handy tips for cooking novices and seasoned pros alike. Here, food writer and recipe developer Posie Brien shows us how to level up our summer dessert spreads with homemade ice cream sauces (all of ‘em come together like a dream in All-Clad’s D3® Stainless Sauce Pan).

I can feel summer’s heat beckoning from just around the corner. The days are already warm enough for T-shirts, and my kitchen is taking a cue from the weather. As soon as spring starts its gentle turn toward the hot, syrupy days of summer, my meals—and my cooking—begin to follow suit. As a nearly fanatic lover of ice cream, the time has come for frozen desserts.

While I’ve never shied away from making my own ice cream (past favorites include coconut ginger and no-cook blackberry lemon), I'm also all about store-bought options. These days, the ice cream aisle has everything from interesting flavors to small-batch artisan brands to simple classics—basically, whatever you’re into, it’s covered.

A good pint, scooped into a bowl and eaten in the waning summer sunshine after dinner, is always an excellent move. But if you want something a little more deliberate—perhaps for the upcoming Memorial Day Weekend— I recommend starting with store-bought ice cream as your base and taking things up a notch with the sauces.

By making sauces from scratch, you get the fun and satisfaction of a homemade dessert (plus, the end result is much more enjoyable to eat than ice cream on its own). Another bonus: You can easily make sauces ahead of time, as they keep beautifully in the fridge. Choose one that complements your meal, or make a few and set them out with some slightly softened ice cream for a DIY sundae bar of sorts.

You know the classics: chocolate sauce, strawberry sauce, caramel sauce, and so on. Those are nice, and certainly staples in my house. But with a few little tweaks, you can take them far beyond the ordinary. For inspiration, here are a few of my favorite sauces, along with ideas for pairings.

But first, a word about sauces in general: Many of them (particularly caramel sauces) can burn easily and quickly. I highly recommend using a sturdy, well-made saucepan, like All-Clad’s D3® Stainless Sauce Pan—the three-ply construction (two layers of stainless steel, one of aluminum) conducts heat quickly but evenly, which helps prevent burning. Regardless of what you use, keep a close eye on your burner to make sure things don’t get too hot.

Dreamy, Drizzly Ice Cream Sundae Sauces

Photo by Rocky Luten. Prop Stylist: Veronica Olson. Food Stylist: Samantha Seneviratne.

1. Salted Date Caramel Sauce

This one’s easy: Just combine about 15 to 20 Medjool dates with 1 cup of milk or heavy cream (non-dairy milk also works well) in a saucepan. Heat gently until it simmers and the dates soften, then transfer carefully to a blender. Add a generous pinch of flaky sea salt and blend on high speed until very smooth. Add milk, as needed, until the sauce is thick but pourable.

Pair it with: vanilla, chocolate, or pistachio ice cream.

2. Poppy Seed Lemon Curd

Lemon curd, while completely delicious, is one-note in texture. Adding poppy seeds gives the curd some crunch, and also calls to mind every excellent lemon poppy seed cake you’ve ever had. It’s easy to do by whipping up your favorite lemon curd recipe and adding 1/4 cup poppy seeds at the very end.

Pair it with: vanilla ice cream, lemon gelato, or pistachio ice cream.

3. Jammy Strawberry Basil Sauce

The ripe taste of strawberries practically sings of summer, so adding fresh basil for an herbaceous green note heightens the experience. To make it, mix together 3 tablespoons of water with 1 tablespoon of cornstarch to form a slurry. Add to a saucepan with 1 pound of hulled strawberries (fresh or frozen) and 1/4 cup of sugar. Cook at a simmer for about 5 minutes, mashing the berries as they break down. Remove from the heat and add a handful of chopped fresh basil and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

Pair it with: vanilla, strawberry, or pistachio ice cream.

Photo by Rocky Luten. Prop Stylist: Veronica Olson. Food Stylist: Samantha Seneviratne.

4. Red Wine Fudge Sauce

Red wine and chocolate are a natural pairing: both are rich and robust. The wine adds just a faint booziness to the sauce, and a hint of something complex and spicy. Make a batch of your favorite fudge sauce, subbing red wine for half of the cream.

Pair it with: vanilla or chocolate ice cream.

5. Orange-Fennel Caramel Sauce

Caramel sauce? Already pretty fantastic. But add zesty, bright citrus to cut through the sweetness and toasted fennel for an anise-flavored crunch, and suddenly you have a very memorable, very sophisticated topping for dessert. It sounds fancy, but all you have to do is follow a good caramel sauce recipe, adding 1 teaspoon fresh orange zest, 1/2 teaspoon ground fennel, and 2 tablespoons toasted fennel seeds at the very end.

Pair it with: vanilla or caramel ice cream.

6. Coffee & Cardamom Caramel Sauce

I love adding cardamom to my coffee; the gentle, warm spice is a gorgeous foil for all the foamed milk I like to pour in at the end. That combination of creaminess and spice with coffee inspired this ice cream sauce, which you create by starting with a basic caramel sauce recipe, and adding 1 teaspoon each espresso powder (or instant coffee) and ground cardamom at the very end.

Pair it with: coffee, chocolate, caramel, or peanut butter ice cream.

7. Triple-Ginger Coconut Sauce

Mix a can of coconut milk with a pinch of salt and cook until simmering. Then, add 1 tablespoon each of tapioca starch and sugar, along with 3 tablespoons of water and a 1-inch slice of peeled fresh ginger. Simmer for 5 minutes or so, then remove from the heat and discard the ginger. Stir in minced candied ginger and ground ginger. (I like about 2 tablespoons of candied ginger and 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, but adjust to your taste.) Let cool; it’ll thicken nicely when you chill it overnight.

Pair it with: coconut ice cream, lemon gelato, or pineapple sorbet.

8. Minty Cacao Nib Sauce

Mint chip is one of the darlings of the ice cream world. Channel that combination in your sauce by making a batch of chocolate fudge sauce, adding 1 teaspoon peppermint extract and 2 tablespoons cacao nibs at the very end.

Pair it with: mint chip, vanilla, or green tea ice cream.

9. Earl Grey Custard Sauce

Tea is a subtle flavor, so it’s best highlighted in a simple medium, like custard. If you’ve never thought about topping ice cream with custard, that changes now. Creaminess + creaminess = dessert bliss. Start by making a batch of basic custard sauce. Before you add the cream, infuse it with Earl Grey tea by placing the cream in a saucepan with 5 tea bags. Bring to a simmer and heat for 5 minutes, then remove from the heat and discard the tea bags. Once the cream is infused, proceed with the recipe.

Pair it with: butter pecan, vanilla, or coffee ice cream.

Of course, these are just a start. Think of all the flavors that you like, from passion fruit to cinnamon to cayenne to peanut butter—you can make use of them all if you’re armed with a couple of solid base recipes and a reliable saucepan. A few parting ideas: add tahini to your caramel; mix thyme into a blackberry sauce; stir crushed pretzels into whipped cream.

The options—and sundaes—are endless, so let the Summer of Ice Cream commence.

What’s your favorite ice cream sundae topping? Tell us in the comments!

In partnership with All-Clad we're bringing you tips, techniques, and lots of delicious recipe ideas for every piece of cookware in your kitchen—from sauté pans to sauciers. Need to stock up on some new cooking equipment, or upgrade your current collection? All-Clad's lineup of D3® Stainless cookware has all the essentials you need to turn out a variety of yummy dishes—from dreamy sundae sauces to golden skillet focaccia to the creamiest-ever scrambled eggs.

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I like warm homemade bread slathered with fresh raw milk butter, ice cream in all seasons, the smell of garlic in olive oil, and sugar snap peas fresh off the vine.