Serendipity, the Upper East Side eatery known for its over-the-top ice cream sundaes, is a very New York sort of upscale kitsch. The cookbooks produced by the restaurant's owners are filled with cringey name-dropping, and the ostentatious $100 gold-leaf sundae, eyebrow-raising in the nineties, seems a demure luxury today. But still, Serendipity—technically, Serendipity 3, though no one has any idea what happened to 1 and 2—is a stop you have to make with your kid at least once. Or, bring it home to them by sticking some bananas horn-like into a massive banana split sundae.
This post is part of the Eating New York series.
The ice cream
The signature banana split at Serendipity is straight-up classic. You're going to need vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry ice creams. I bought a package of neopolitan ice cream (the chocolate/strawberry/vanilla in one tub), because sometimes my grandiose visions of making everything from scratch meet their fate in the graveyard of perfectionism. You could go homemade, of course, and I applaud you. Okay, fine, I'm jealous, it's killing me, and the likelihood of me deciding on a whim to hand-make three flavors of ice cream in one go at some random point in the near future is high. Deep breath. Any ice cream you like will work. At least three flavors, and the aforementioned three flavors if you're keeping things trad.
If we're going by the book, by which I mean literally the recipe for the banana split in the Serendipity Sundaes book, you can have your choice of toppings. I think the archetypically correct choices are hot fudge, wet walnuts, and strawberry, so that's what we'll be working on today. You're also required to procure a maraschino cherry for the top. The cookbook actually includes a recipe for making your own candied maraschino cherries from actual real cherries, which, as you might have noticed, is totally up my alley. Sadly for me, it is not cherry season and I had to avail myself of chemistry to achieve the proverbial but also so incredibly literal cherry on top. Oh, and while the recipe says to include whipped cream, there is no whipped cream on the sundae in the book photo. I decided to add some to the base of the sundae inside the cup and a decorate frill on top.
All you have to do to make those ice-cream-shop wet walnuts is dunk some walnuts in syrupy stuff. Prep includes chopping the walnuts, and though it's annoying, I highly recommend straining out the small bits of pulverized walnuts that always happen when you chop walnuts. Once you have fairly uniform pieces, spread them all out on a lined baking sheet and roast in the oven for 5 minutes.
While they're still warm, you'll fold the toasted nuts into maple syrup. The recipe in the Serendipity book specifically includes a small amount of corn syrup. I'm not sure what this does for the recipe, maybe just adds some viscosity? I was going by the book, so I did it. If you're opposed to corn syrup, I think you could try it without, or try golden syrup (light treacle) instead.
The Serendipity strawberry sauce recipe is a winner, with just the right texture for spooning over ice cream and a nice orange kick that comes from ornage zest and juice used to cook down the strawberries. You can use fresh or frozen strawberries here.
Hot fudge sauce
The Serendipity hot fudge recipe takes a kitchen-sink sort of approach, throwing all sorts of good ideas for a chocolate sauce into one recipe: chopped chocolate and cocoa powder, butter and cream. It's easy to make--you just melt everything together--and has all the important properties of hot fudge, namely providing a temperature contrast and pooling deliciously in the bottom of the dish.
Choose your vessel
No decorative sidekick, the vessel is a vital component of making your kids' eyes pop out of their heads when presenting them with the Serendipity experience. You'll need a whopping big glass footed vessel, ideally. A bowl, especially a glass one, could work as well. Or you could shell out for a branded 20 oz. Serendipity ice cream bowl (that's over half a liter, for those of your who wisely don't do ounces).
In case you're wondering exactly what kind of schmuck would purchase a Serendipity 3 ice cream bowl, you're looking at her. I mean, my kids are never going to have an actual Serendipity sundae, seeing as we keep kosher and live on the West Coast. It's also surprisingly pricey to get an oversized footed glass ice cream bowl on Amazon. So yeah.
Building the sundae
This is sort of funny now, in the way that what you thought a baby would be like before actually having one is funny, but: when I first unboxed my official Serendipity ice cream cup, it seemed a bit small to me. When I went to build the sundae, I started to realize how woefully I'd been mistaken. This thing is a monster. In the picture above, you can see four full ice-cream-scoop-sized scoops of vanilla ice cream already smothered in hot fudge and whipped cream. Yes, what would in itself qualify as a family-sized sundae does not even fill up the base of the dish. Judging from the photos in the Serenedipity Book, they must use a specially made, massively big ice cream scoop to get softball-sized balls of ice cream for their in-house sundaes. I used four scoops of a normal ice cream scoop for each one that they have, and even so I didn't get the height. Honestly, theirs must have the whole gallon of ice cream in one dish (I used about half). It's...bananas.
Anyway, I decided to follow the official picture and did vanilla on the bottom, with plenty of strawberry sauce and hot fudge. The second layer (also four scoops, all piled up) was chocolate, with hot fudge sauce, and strawberry, with strawberry sauce, plus wet walnuts over everything. I stuck in the bananas early to anchor them, but I would actually recommend doing the second flavor (chocolate) before inserting the bananas for maximum effect.
It's not complicated, but it is pivotal: you must slice the banana in half widthwise (not lengthwise as you would for a standard-issue banana split), and then you must, words I did not imagine I would find occasion to write, insert the banana halves into the outrageous pile of ice cream so that they arch up and out ceremoniously in the manner of horns.
Serendipity Banana Split Ice Cream Sundae (dairy)
- 1 banana, ripe but firm
- 1 cup vanilla ice cream
- 1 cup chocolate ice cream
- 1 cup strawberry ice cream
Hot fudge sauce:
- 2 Tbsp butter
- 1 ½ oz semisweet chocolate - 45 g
- 2 Tbsp cocoa powder
- 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
- ¼ cup cream
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
Wet walnuts topping:
- 1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
- ⅓ cup maple syrup
- 2 Tbsp light corn syrup
- pinch salt
- 1 cup frozen strawberries
- 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
- ¼ cup orange juice
- 1 tsp orange zest
- 1 tsp cornstarch
For the whipped cream:
- ¼ cup cream
- 1 Tbsp powdered sugar
- 1 maraschino cherry
Make the wet walnut topping:
- Preheat the oven to 350F / 180C.
- Chop the walnuts and spread them in a single layer on a lined sheet pan.
- Roast the nuts in the oven for 5 minutes, until fragrant and beginning to brown.
- Remove the nuts from the oven and set aside to cool slightly.
- While still warm, combine the nuts with the maple syrup and corn syrup. Set aside.
Make the strawberry sauce:
- Place the frozen strawberries in a small pot. Pour the orange juice over, along with the zest, sugar, and cornstarch.
- Place the pot over medium heat and bring to a boil. Keep at a boil, stirring often, until the mixture has thickened, 5-7 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
Make the whipped cream:
- Whip the cream until it holds still peaks, 5 minutes or so. Beat in the powdered sugar. Place into a piping bag fitted with a star tip.
Make the hot fudge sauce:
- Combine all ingredients in a small pot. Over medium heat, bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Continue to heat until slightly thickened, another minute or two.
- Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.
Assemble the sundae:
- Place the vanilla ice cream, rounded with a scoop, into the ice cream dish. Add some of each topping around the base: wet walnuts, strawberry sauce, and hot fudge. Fill any gaps with whipped cream.
- Mound the strawberry ice cream on top of the vanilla, poking out of the bowl. Top with strawberry sauce.
- On top of the strawberry ice cream, mound the chocolate. Pour hot fudge sauce on top.
- Pipe a round of whipped cream atop the chocolate scoop. Sprinkle with wet walnuts and top with the maraschino cherry.
Add the banana:
- Peel the banana. Cut in half widthwise. Immediately insert into the base of the sundae, arching out like horns.