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Gal Sundae

September 09, 1998|NANCY SILVERTON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

I grew up eating ice cream sundaes at Will Wright's and C.C. Brown's, two of Los Angeles' famous ice cream parlors that no longer exist. At home I'd try to make my own sundaes using bottled sauces and supermarket ice cream. But they were never the same.

Even so, I came to develop strong ideas about ice cream sundaes at a fairly young age. I knew pretty quickly to avoid marshmallow sauce; it was always too sweet, and I never liked the consistency of it. And I knew why bottled hot fudge sauces were inferior to the ones at Will Wright's and C.C. Brown's: They were brown and not black; too creamy and not sticky. Proper hot fudge should be thick, and it should be bitter.

My favorite sundaes were ones with the right balance between sweet and bitter (the sweetness of vanilla ice cream against the bitterness of good hot fudge) or even sweet and salt (the salty peanuts in tin-roof sundaes against the ice cream, sauce and whipped cream). I loved the sensation of taking a bite of cold ice cream and hot fudge, and the way the warm sauce would start to melt the ice cream. I loved the crunch of the nuts--whole almonds with the skins left on are best--that contradicted everything else in the dish.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday September 16, 1998 Home Edition Food Part H Page 2 Food Desk 1 inches; 21 words Type of Material: Correction
The name of a famous Los Angeles ice cream parlor, now defunct, was misspelled in "Gal Sundae" (Sept. 9). It should have been Wil Wright's (not Will).

As I later learned when I started to make desserts for a living, it's the contrast of hot and cold that keeps a dessert interesting. And in every dessert I make, I look for what I think of as "the crunch," the last detail that makes or breaks a dish.

Much of my time in my early career was spent making tarts and tortes and other French pastries. Ice cream was meant to be served on the side or alone. But I gradually worked many of my childhood obsessions into my professional cooking, from chocolate chip cookies to Blum's coffee crunch cake and, yes, ice cream sundaes.

The problem with many hot fudge recipes, I discovered, is that they have too much cream. And most of them don't have enough chocolate or cocoa powder. I like my hot fudge to taste of chocolate, not corn syrup. I also don't use butter; to me butter is for chocolate sauce, not for real hot fudge.

I even found a recipe for marshmallow sauce that I liked. I based it on an Italian meringue. Without the artificial sweeteners and stabilizers that have to go into bottled versions, marshmallow sauce became something I actually liked.

For the sundaes we serve at the restaurant, we layer the ice cream and sauce in a glass and top them with whipped cream and whole unblanched almonds, which I think of one of the most important parts of the sundae. I like the look of the skins and the way they protect the almonds from getting soggy. I lose that cherry part of the sundae, by the way; it's one detail I can live without.

Recently, I've been obsessed with the combination of salty peanuts and caramel. L'Orangerie makes a salty caramel ice cream that sounds delicious to me. But instead of re-creating his idea, I wanted to do something a little different. I made a caramel ice cream with a salty peanut swirl that was fantastic. It's a difficult ice cream to make, however. The swirl solidifies almost immediately, which makes the ice cream hard to scoop.

Then I started thinking about restructuring the ice cream as a sundae--caramel ice cream with a salty caramel peanut sauce instead of the swirl. I changed the caramel ice cream from my standard one by adding a little creme frai^che to smooth the burnt sugar edge from the caramel--a better contrast for the stronger sauce to come. The sauce has a toastiness from the peanuts, which is amplified by vanilla bean, and just enough salt to stand up to the sugar.

It's everything a good sundae should be--salty and sweet, warm and cold, crunchy and smooth. Whipped cream is optional, and as for that cherry, forget about it.

Nancy Silverton is co-owner of Campanile restaurant in Los Angeles and co-founder of La Brea Bakery. She is co-author of "The Food of Campanile," "Nancy Silverton's Breads From the La Brea Bakery," "Mark Peel and Nancy Silverton at Home" and "Desserts."

SALTY PEANUT CARAMEL SAUCE

2 3/4 cups unsalted, unroasted, peeled peanuts, preferably Virginia (1 pound)

2 tablespoons peanut oil

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon salt

1 large plump or 2 thin vanilla beans, split lengthwise

1 3/4 cups heavy whipping cream

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

1/2 cup corn syrup

1 1/2 cups sugar

Toss together peanuts, peanut oil and salt in small bowl. Sprinkle peanuts only (not excess salt from bowl) onto baking sheet. Toast at 325 degrees until lightly colored, about 10 minutes. Set aside.

Scrape vanilla bean seeds into small saucepan, then add pods. Add cream and butter and heat over medium heat until butter melts. Remove from heat and set aside.

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