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You know how much President Joe Biden likes ice cream? Well, I’d say that my late dad loved it even more. The man would look at an ice cream cone with unbridled, childhood joy. He’d sometimes pretend like the car was being pulled, beyond his control, into an ice cream parlor parking lot while we’d be driving by. (“Oh well, guess we should get some while we’re here!” he’d say.) He’d pile his family into the car for a 45-minute drive to the shore just to get scoops from a place he liked. And he got really into making his own ice cream at home, particularly black sesame ice cream after he spent some time living in Singapore.
Why am I telling you so much about my dad and his penchant for cold treats? Because he’s the one who taught me to look beyond the usual cookies and cream. He loved all the flavors. And he loved to tinker. So, many years ago, when I was at a work event with the founders of Big Gay Ice Cream, and they started talking about putting olive oil on ice cream, I was all ears.
During the early days of their business, when they operated out of a single truck, they did a lot of tinkering. “We basically would shop everywhere except the ice cream aisle of the supermarket, for what to do,” they told Fast Company in 2014. They experimented with ground-up wasabi peas, ginger syrup, olive oil, and more. Turns out, vanilla ice cream + olive oil + sea salt = a winner. It’s sweet! It’s savory! It’s salty! It’s surprising and unlike any cup or cone I’d had before!
I couldn’t wait to make it for my dad. I planned it for our Thanksgiving menu that year and he loved it. I’ve been making it for myself ever since (my dad had even been recreating it for himself, too), and I have a few tips to share.
1. Get good-quality olive oil.
This is important! The olive oil becomes the star of the show here, so you want it to be good. I’ve tested lots of different olive oils in this equation and Brightland definitely shines the, um, brightest. I always have The Duo on hand and both are great on ice cream. If you only want one bottle, get ALIVE, which has nutty, green pear vibes going on. Go with a less-great bottle and the contrasting flavors might be a bit more dull. Or worse, you’ll end up with a greasy bowl of ice cream. Pro tip: If you go with Brightland, be sure to get this spout, too, which makes for drip-free drizzling.
The flakiness of the salt is important. Anything too small will just dissolve into your ice cream, creating a very salty dish. You want big flakes that crunch when you eat them. And so you want Maldon. I find that I can easily use up this entire bucket surprisingly quickly, but if you want something smaller, here you go. Also, the bucket makes a great engagement gift. Just saying.
3. Any vanilla ice cream will do.
I remember it tasting best on my dad’s homemade vanilla ice cream, but I’ve done this with Ben & Jerry’s, Häagen-Dazs, even ice cream from a local dairy in upstate New York where I live. As long as you have that good-quality olive oil and flaky salt, it almost doesn’t matter what ice cream you use as the base.
My dad passed away suddenly last year during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and while I miss him terribly, I feel like he’s nearby any time I make this simple three-ingredient dessert.
Have you tried this? What are your go-to ice cream toppings?