How to Make a Beer Ice Cream Sundae, the Perfect Boozy Dessert
After demolishing an ice cream sundae at Andrew Carmellini’s latest New York restaurant, Little Park (review here), my only regret was that I shared it with a friend. The beer ice cream, which tasted of malty chocolate and coffee, was drizzled with a translucent sour-vanilla-caramel sauce, then finished with a sprinkling of crispy puffed bulgur. It was a symphony of contrasts: hot and cold, smooth and crunchy, sweet and bitter.
It was bliss.
Jennifer Luk, Little Park’s professorial pastry chef, offered to feed my ice cream habit and show me how the sundae comes together. I squeezed in next to Luk in the cramped basement kitchen, which at 8 o’clock in the morning was already bustling with excitement. Over the drone of the Imperia pasta maker and a mallet pounding tuna into carpaccio, I struggled to hear.
The dish, Luk explained, came from an unlikely source of inspiration: wintry nights at Smith College, where she dipped tortilla chips into applesauce and washed it down with beer.
“At first, beer tasted like dirty socks. But as I got older, I started to appreciate its bitterness,” Luk said. Now she enjoys combining salty, sweet, and sour to balance bitter in her desserts. She does this in part by serving her beer sundae with a scoop of apple sorbet and garnishing it with thinly sliced apples. But I was more interested in the malty flavor of the beer ice cream and the sweet, salty, and slightly sour bulgur and caramel.
Luk adapted the ice cream base from one published online at America’s Test Kitchen in 2012. It uses heavy cream instead of whole milk and yolks instead of whole eggs to create a rich base that can withstand less viscous beer. But don’t use heavy cream that contains stabilizers, such as carrageenan. “They wreak havoc on ice cream,” Luk said as she broke the eggs, one against the other and into a large bowl. One by one, she pulled each yolk from the whites and transferred them to another bowl.
She then suggested buying only pasteurized, not ultrapasteurized, cream. Ultrapasteurized, which has been heated at a high temperature, often tastes cooked and loses its natural whipping power.
The frenetic glimpse into Luk's morning routine was well worth the trip. Her ice cream is a beer lover’s dream dessert—malty mocha with a burst of brewed tang to finish.
But selecting the beer proved the trickiest part of adapting this recipe for the home kitchen. Luk uses Renaissance Elemental Porter Ale from New Zealand, but it can be hard to find in retail shops. She recommends a porter or stout with hints of chocolate, malt, coffee, and berry. The flavors intensify with cooking, so avoid beers with notes of licorice, spice, and hops (hops become bitter when simmered). Since alcohol doesn’t freeze easily, choose one with a low ABV (alcohol by volume), ideally around 6 percent. I had great success with Left Hand Brewing Company’s Milk Stout.
For me, the dessert’s showstopper is the final topping of puffed bulgur—a cereal made from the hulled kernel of wheat, usually durum. My extensive ice cream experience has seen cacao nibs, caramel popcorn, and toffee substitute for the M&M’s and sprinkles on the sundaes of my youth, but bulgur was genuinely new. Luk got the idea from a colleague, who was munching on what looked like Kashi cereal. It turned out to be fried bulgur, which Little Park's sous chef had picked up earlier, in the kitchen at Eleven Madison Park. Luk tried it and knew it was destined for the top of a sundae.
Just before serving the dessert at Little Park, Luk drops dried bulgur into hot oil until it puffs up, then tosses it in a sweet-and-sour mixture of maple syrup and Balconville’s apple vinegar, and more salt than you thought was kosher. If you can’t find the apple vinegar, which is closer to a balsamic glaze than cider vinegar, Luk suggests using boiled cider instead. I think an aged balsamic would also work well. The puffed bulgur is everything Luk strives for in her desserts—sweet, salty, sour—and plays well with the slight bitterness of the ice cream.
For big kids like me, I’m delighted that sundaes have finally grown up.
Beer Ice Cream With Apple-Vanilla Caramel and Puffed Bulgur Wheat
Adapted from pastry chef Jennifer Luk of Little Park, New York
Serves 6 to 8
Active time: 1½ hours
Total time: 5 hours
For the Beer Ice Cream
¾ vanilla bean
2 cups heavy cream
6 large egg yolks
¾ cup minus 1 teaspoon sugar (150 grams)
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
12 ounces porter ale (about 6 percent ABV, with notes of chocolate, coffee, malt, and without licorice or spice)
For the Bulgur Topping
¾ cup dried coarse bulgur wheat
1½ cups water
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons apple vinegar, such as Balconville (substitute boiled cider or aged balsamic)
About 2½ cups vegetable oil, for frying
For the Apple-Vanilla Caramel
¼ vanilla bean
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon, plus 1½ teaspoons apple vinegar, divided
¼ cup water
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
¼ cup, plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream, divided
2 tablespoons crème fraîche
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
1. Make the beer ice cream: Fill a large bowl with ice water. Have a medium bowl that fits into the ice water bath on hand, as well as a fine-meshed sieve; set aside.
2. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape its seeds into a medium saucepan. Add the split vanilla bean and heavy cream and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking the vanilla seeds into the cream; remove from heat.
3. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar, and salt together until combined and lighter in color. (It should be about the color of lemon curd.)
4. While whisking, slowly pour half of the hot cream into the egg mixture to warm it, then whisk it back into the saucepan. Set the saucepan over medium-low heat and stir constantly in a figure-eight pattern until the custard coats the back of a wooden spoon, 8 to 13 minutes. (The bubbles along the pan’s edge will disappear when the custard is done.) Immediately strain the mixture through the sieve and into the medium bowl. Set it over the ice bath to cool completely.
5. Place 5 ounces (2/3 cup, once the froth settles) of beer in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Gently boil over medium-high heat until reduced by half, 3 to 6 minutes. Refrigerate until cool.
6. Whisk together the cooled beer reduction and custard, along with the remaining 7 ounces (scant 1 cup) of beer. Process it in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to an airtight container and freeze until firm, at least 6 hours. It will keep frozen for as long as 5 days.
7. Prepare the bulgur topping: Preheat the oven to 200F or have a dehydrator on hand.
8. Rinse bulgur until water runs clear; strain through a fine-meshed sieve.
9. In a medium saucepan, bring the bulgur, a pinch of salt, and water to a boil. Simmer, uncovered, over medium-low heat until most of the water has evaporated, 15 to 20 minutes. Test the bulgur to make sure it’s done, adding more water and simmering longer if needed.
10. Spread the cooked bulgur on a large baking sheet and set in the oven, stirring it or crumbling it in your hands once hardened every 30 minutes until void of moisture, about 4 hours. (Or, dry bulgur using a dehydrator.) Dried, unfried bulgur will keep for about two weeks in a sealed container.
11. In a medium bowl, combine the maple syrup and apple vinegar; set aside.
12. Fill a medium saucepan with oil and bring it to 400F. Turn the heat to low and carefully lower ¼ cup of the dried bulgur into the oil. Fry until puffed and golden, about 30 seconds. Using a small sieve or slotted spoon, transfer the bulgur from the oil to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Repeat with the remaining dried bulgur; set aside.
13. Prepare the caramel: Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the seeds into a small saucepan. Add the sugar, split vanilla bean, 1 tablespoon of the apple vinegar, and ¼ cup of water and whisk over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Raise the heat to medium-high and boil, without stirring, until dark amber, about 10 minutes. (Dip the whisk into the caramel, and use the color on the whisk as a guideline, not the color in the pot.)
14. Turn off the heat and whisk in the cold butter, a few pieces at a time. (Be careful when adding butter, as the caramel can bubble.) Whisk in ¼ cup of the heavy cream, then chill.
15. Once cool, whisk in the crème fraîche, salt, 1 tablespoon of remaining heavy cream, and the remaining 1½ teaspoons of apple vinegar. Season to taste with more salt and vinegar as needed.
16. To serve: Toss the puffed fried bulgur in the maple-apple mixture. Sprinkle with ½ teaspoon of kosher salt and toss again. Taste, adding more salt as needed (you should be able to taste the salt).
17. Scoop ½ cup of ice cream into each bowl. Top with 1 to 2 tablespoons of caramel and ¼ cup of glazed-puffed bulgur.
Correction: A previous version of this story indicated that Luk's colleague picked up the technique for fried bulgur from Noma. She got it from Eleven Madison Park.