Manhattan Sundae Melodrama

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Manhattan SundaeI know this is going to sound crazy, but I love ice cream. I also happen to have an deep affection for Manhattan cocktails. So one evening after a rather unpleasant night at work, I came home, plopped myself in a comfy chair, and thought to myself:

"What'll it be, Michael? Ice cream or alcohol?"

And then, feeling that I needed a double dose comfort after dealing with puffed up politicos and sleazy guests who ask me to feel up parts of their bodies in front of their co-diners, I thought again:

"Why not have both?" To borrow a phrase: Why can't I have my drink and eat it, too?

And so the idea was born.


My original idea was to make a sort of milkshake: ice cream, bourbon, a little milk, and then whirr in the blender. Though delicious-sounding, it felt like a rather desperate concoction-- something made by an alcoholic who had lost his teeth from neglect and a diet consisting solely of rot gut. Besides, it doesn't exactly scream Manhattan, but I'll be damned if I'm going to add sweet vermouth to a milkshake for any reason. And there is no way on God's green earth that I would ever subject good and drunken Morello cherries to the blender's chopping blades.

No thank you.

Tired and stymied, I drank a large glass of water, crawled into bed, and filed the idea away in my now-hydrated brain.

It was a few days later at work that the solution presented itself in the form of a hot fudge sundae I was delivering to a table populated by a name-dropping, bring-your-own-wine family of four.

"What if I made a sweet vermouth caramel sauce?" I asked myself as I pretended to find the father's joke about the hugeness of their dessert both amusing and original. "Would it be disgusting?" There was only one way to find out.

Back at home the next morning, I made three batches of Cinzano caramel sauce: one that burned when answering the phone, another that was entirely too boozy, and a third that both looked and smelled right. I stuck my (clean) finger in.

Sweet Vermouth Caramel

It was, mercifully, just right: Excellent color, not boozy at all, but with enough of a little something-something that one who was not clued in might ask, "What is that flavor? I can't quite make it out." I was so proud of myself for achieving a rare (for me) state of subtlety, that I gave myself a little pat on the back.

And then I had to go change my shirt because I'd forgotten that my fingers were sticky with said subtlety.

Making the ice cream base was a breeze. I knocked it out on Tuesday morning and placed it in my refrigerator to chill overnight. Everything was clean and ready for the big chill the next morning.

Everything, that is, except my ice cream maker.

I didn't see it coming. I got out my trusted little Krups machine, set it on the counter and... nothing happened. This, I thought, was a device made by the same company that powered the Imperial German Army's war machine. This simple piece of equipment, I believed, was created by the very same organization that came up with the Big Bertha (in honor of the Krupp munitions heiress)-- the largest siege gun known to man (circa 1914). I'd even named my ice cream machine "Little Bertha" in its honor, because it had knocked out so many batches of frozen cholesterol bombs in my previous life as a dessert maker.

Where did I go wrong? I wondered if perhaps it wasn't a matter of machinery at all but, rather, generalship. I had in common with the Germans an over-confidence in superior equipment, but whereas the Imperial command overtaxed and exhausted its army, mine merely suffered from neglect. It had been nearly six years since I'd bothered to turn the damned machine on.

How could a company that helped pummel the Belgians and lay waste to northeastern France let me down with a simple machine that had only one switch? I was mortified.

And then I realized something.

There's only one "p" in the brand name of my ice cream maker. I went online to double check for misspelling. The Krupp family, it turns out, had absolutely nothing to do with the making of Krups kitchen appliances. My little machine was in no way connected to the outfitters of death and destruction.

I returned to the machine and stared at it. I really didn't have the money to purchase a new one and told it as much (yes, I do sometimes speak to inanimate objects). Whether it was my pathetic plea of poverty or its sudden realization that it had been cleared of any and all war crimes against the Low Countries, the machine came to life.

It was a bloody miracle. Since there is no official patron saint of ice cream, I have decided to place my offering of thanks at the altar of St. Honoré of Amiens who, though his home town was in the path of Big Bertha, now felt free to bless Little Bertha, since it was discovered that they were in no way related.

Little Bertha still makes a lovely batch of ice cream. I placed the freshly-churned batch of bourbon-vanilla in the freezer to firm up, assembled all the components of the sundae, photographed it, and set about writing up this piece for you today.

And then, as I was saving this charming, completed bit of food blogging confection at 3:55 pm, WordPress decided to log me out of my account resulting in the loss of almost the entire post. So here I am, finally home from an unpleasant night at work, re-writing the whole thing. It is now 2:03 am.

It has been a Manhattan Sundae melodrama indeed.

Thank God it's delicious.

And so, my friends, I'm going to leave you with a clip from the film Manhattan Melodrama*. As far as I can tell, no sundaes were consumed in the making of this 1934 gem, but two of its stars-- Myrna Loy and William Powell-- went on to make a series of delightful Thin Man films in which they solve crimes and drink a hell of a lot of cocktails-- Manhattans included.

Manhattan Sundae

Like all sundaes, this is a dessert of components. Both the ice cream and caramel sauce can be made well in advance of company, which gives you plenty of time to drink a real Manhattan or two (sans ice cream) either with your guests or before they arrive, depending upon the sort of company you keep.

Makes about six charming little sundaes.


For the Bourbon Ice Cream (I used Lucy Baker's [of Serious Eats] adaptation of Bill Addison's recipe):

1 3/4 cups heavy cream

1 1/2 cups whole milk

1 vanilla bean

7 egg yolks

3/4 cups sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup bourbon

For the Sweet Vermouth Caramel Sauce:

2 cups sugar

1/2 cup water

1 tablespoon light corn syrup

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup sweet vermouth (Cinzano or your preferred brand, if you even have one)

For the Whipped Cream:

1 1/2 cup heavy cream, chilled

3 tablespoons sugar

For Garnish:

Brandied Cherries (I used Morello. You can certainly make your own, if you like. If you are the type of person who actually likes maraschino cherries, I would keep that to yourself, if I were you).


To make the ice cream:

1. Combine cream and milk in a medium-sized saucepan. Slice vanilla bean in two lengthwise, scrap as many seeds as you can from the pod, and add both the seeds and the pod to the mixture.

2. Bring mixture to just below boiling point, then remove from the heat, and cover. Let steep for about 20 minutes.

3. Whisk the egg yolks together with the sugar and salt until it becomes roughly the color of this skirt. Slowly whisk about 1/2 cup of the hot cream into the egg mixture to temper, then add egg mixture to the saucepan with the rest of the cream. Cook over medium heat until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon without running all over the place.

4. Strain mixture through a fine-meshed sieve, which can be rather a pain but, texture-wise, is well worth the effort. Add bourbon and vanilla.

5. Deposit ice cream base (covered) in a refrigerator for at least 4 hours or over night, then freeze in your (hopefully) operational ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. You do still have the instruction manual, don't you? It's more than likely in your junk drawer underneath those half-used packs of birthday candles and Chinese take away menus. I'm happy to wait while you look.

For the Caramel:

1. In a medium saucepan (if you are using the same sauce pan you used for the ice cream base, please have the good sense to wash and dry it first), add sugar, salt, corn syrup, and water. I prefer to let these ingredients sit together for a minute or two to let the water disperse itself evenly. Bring to a boil over high heat, brushing the sides of the pan with a clean wet brush to wash down any stray bits of sugar as often as needed. Continue to cook, without stirring, until the color of the sugar begins to turn a charming amber color. Remove from heat immediately.

2. Carefully stir in the cream. Do not under any circumstances stick your face into the pan to find out if your concoction smells nice and caramel-y, since this will more than likely lead to painful sugar burns and permanent facial scarring. Let cool for about 1 minute, then stir in the vermouth. Bring the caramel to a boil once again, but this time over medium heat. Transfer caramel to a heat-proof bowl and reserve.

For the Whipped Cream:

I feel mildly ridiculous telling you how to whip cream. If you find these instructions necessary, you should really re-assess your fitness to make ice cream. And you really, really aren't ready for caramel-making.

1. Whip chilled cream until it thickens. Add sugar before the cream has achieved soft-peak stage. Continue to whip until cream holds stiff peaks, but not long enough so that it in any way resembles butter. Transfer whipped cream to a pastry bag that has been fitted with a star tip.

To Assemble the Sundae:

These sundaes should be served in martini glasses for one obvious reason. If you do not know the reason, I again urge you not to make this dessert. If you are the type of person who prefers his Manhattans on the rocks, you should also abandon this endeavor.

1. Place martini glasses in the freezer for several minutes to chill.

2. Warm your bowl of caramel sauce in a microwave on low setting (or whatever it's called on your machine) or in a pan of hot (but not boiling) water. Keep warm.

3. Insert 2 medium-sized or 3 small scoops of ice cream into each glass.

4. Spoon two heaping tablespoons of warm caramel sauce over the ice cream, pipe in as much whipped cream as your doctor will allow, drizzle a little more caramel over the top (for color), and garnish with brandied cherries.

5. Serve immediately to your guests. Regale them with stories of everything you went through in order to make this special dessert for them.

6. Pour yourself a shot of bourbon for accompaniment.

7. Pour yourself a second shot. You've earned it.


*If you didn't know this already, Manhattan Melodrama was the film Public Enemy #1 John Dillinger had just emerged from seeing when he was shot to death outside the Biograph Theatre in Chicago, Illinois exactly 76 years about this week. Happy Deathday, John!