Ice cream treats are a popular dessert in most world cultures, which means that the range of options tends to be quite large. Simple cones, sandwiches, and sundaes are often the most easily recognizable, but bonbons, cakes, and even freeze-dried scoops are popular in many places. Creative cooks and home chefs can do a lot with even very ordinary ice cream, which makes the range of possibilities quite expansive.
Hard Versus Soft Ice Cream
One of the first parts of identifying ice cream treats comes in understanding the difference between “hard” and “soft” versions. So-called “hard” ice cream is what is normally available in grocery stores and scoop shops. It is usually packed in cartons or buckets, and is best removed with a strong spoon or specially designed ice cream scoop.
“Soft” versions, on the other hand, are much silkier and smoother. The ingredients are usually about the same as hard versions, but the manufacturing process is quite different. Rather than packing things into a carton for freezing, soft ice cream makers put everything into a specially designed soft-serve machine. The machine keeps things constantly agitating, which prevents the sort of hard freeze that would require scooping. Most soft-serve treats are made to order, since they must usually be eaten right away.
By far the most common treat with either hard or soft cream is the cone. Cones are typically made from a wafer-like cookie, though variations like waffle or chocolate are also popular in many places. People can customize their cones by mixing different ice cream flavors together, adding toppings like sprinkles or fudge sauce, or stacking scoops on top of each other. Specialty shops and gourmet cooks might also dip filled cones in chocolate or butterscotch sauce. When done properly, this can form something of a “shell” over the ice cream. These sorts of dipped cones can sometimes also be pre-made, individually packaged, and sold commercially as a frozen food.
Milkshakes are another very popular type of treat. The simplest shakes are little more than ice cream and milk, usually combined together in a blender or stirred quickly with a spoon. The drinks can be thick or thin depending on proportions as well as any other additions like fruits, flavored syrups, or sweet treats like cookies or candies.
Floats are a similar concept, but do not involve blending. People make floats by placing a few scoops of ice cream in the bottom of a glass, then filling it with soda or some other carbonated beverage. The bubbles in the liquid cause the ice cream to float up to the top, which is where the drink gets its name. Root beer floats are usually the most popular in the United States, but different cultures have different variations. Using blackcurrant soda is common in the United Kingdom, for instance, and drink makers throughout Asia use a range of juice-based beverages. Some bars will even go so far as making “beer floats,” where different brews serve as the main ingredient.
Sundaes, Splits, and Creative Presentations
Ice cream sundaes are common desserts, as well. These typically begin with a simple dish of ice cream that is topped with a range of different things like caramel and fudge sauces and crushed nuts, particularly peanuts. Most restaurants and sweet shops will serve sundaes with whipped cream and a maraschino cherry, though other fruits like strawberries or pineapple can also be used. The main idea is usually to load the ice cream with a range of things the consumer finds appealing. In very fancy versions, the ice cream sits on top of a brownie or piece of cake.
Many people view the “banana split” as a sundae variation. For this dessert, a banana is split in half, then topped with two or more scoops of ice cream, whipped cream, and sauces. Some dinnerware manufacturers make special banana split dishes designed particularly for this sort of treat.
Splits and sundaes are common features on dessert menus in restaurants, but they are also very easy to make at home. People will often set up “build-your-own” stations at parties or big events to give guests the chance to make individual creations. These sorts of set-ups usually have a few flavors of ice cream along with a selection of different toppings that people can choose between.
Sandwiches and Pops
Ice cream sandwiches are some of the most popular commercially-available treats, though these, too, are relatively easy to make at home. The main concept here is to “sandwich” ice cream between two cookies. The most common version involves vanilla ice cream and chocolate cookies, but there are a lot of different options. Home cooks often use chocolate chip cookies, for instance, and different flavors of ice cream can add different dimensions to the overall flavor.
Pops and stick-based confections are common ice cream treats, too. These often come individually packaged like sandwiches, but are usually designed to be held up on a wooden or plastic stick rather than hand-held. The simplest pops are little more than a brick of ice cream that has been covered in chocolate or some other firm shell. Fancier versions involve various flavors, and may come coated in chopped nuts or small candies.
Cakes and Small Confections
Many bakeries and sweet shops sell ice cream cakes or cupcakes, which are popular treats particularly for children. Most of the time, these creations combine pre-made cake with ice cream, often in layers with the ice cream is often used as a filling, the same way frosting or fruit preserves would be. Once everything is in place, the whole thing is re-frozen and decorated as usual.
Ice cream also lends itself well to a number of smaller filled confections. Bonbons, for instance, are simple drops or scoops of ice cream that have been covered in chocolate or some other coating and served as bite-sized treats. It is also possible to encase ice cream bites in simple dough or sticky rice casings, as is the case with mochi, a popular treat throughout Japan.
Freeze-Dried and Fried Treats
So-called “astronaut ice cream” is a popular and very portable ice cream treat, as it does not require freezing and will not melt. As its name suggests, it was designed for astronauts to bring aboard space ships, and was accordingly designed to have a very long shelf life. It has been freeze-dried, a process that removes all moisture and leaves behind a crumbly, spongy substance. This sort of treat is commonly sold in space-related gift shops, and may also be available from some specialty grocers.
At the other end of the spectrum is ice cream that has actually been cooked, as in the popular Baked Alaska and Mexican Fried Ice Cream dishes. Both of these require the flash-frying and baking of ice cream, tasks that both must be completed quickly and with a certain amount of kitchen skill. Most of the time, the ice cream is coated in some sort of batter or meringue before cooking, and the result is a crunchy, warm exterior with a cool, usually still-frozen center. These desserts are often considered quite special, and are usually only made by experienced chefs or served in fancy restaurants.
Delivery and Door-to-Door Sales
Most ice cream treats are available in regular grocery stores, else easily homemade. In some places, though, special vendors sell these sorts of treats out in public, particularly during the summer months. It is common to see treat stands in parks and public squares, for instance, and ice cream salespeople may also drive treats through neighborhoods in special insulated trucks to make local sales. These trucks often play music to alert residents that they are nearby.