There's an old absurdist play I love by Eugene Ionesco called Amédée, or How to Get Rid of It, about a man named Amédée and his wife discussing what to do with a mysterious body in an offstage room of their apartment. We never learn who the corpse is or how it got there, but one thing is clear: The corpse is growing. Eventually it grows so large it spills out onto the stage, a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade float-size foot creeping into the living room. The apartment is transformed into a phantasmagoric space of otherworldly wonder and looming dread.
I don't have a stiff in the guest bedroom like Amédée does, but it's been a supremely weird year, and eight months in I've just decided to roll with it. I say it's time to embrace the weird and commemorate this bananas time with a banana split of an evening. So, let's have ice cream for dinner.
America's first recorded ice cream social was hosted in 1744 by Thomas Bladen, the governor of Maryland. Since then, the ice cream social has become a fixture of national culture, popular with churches and aspiring politicos. In recent decades the ice cream social has fallen out of popularity. Too quaint, maybe. No gender to reveal. Perhaps it's time to revive the ice cream social in a new form, a stranger one. It's not like your typical dinner party menu is built around a nutritionally complete meal anyway, so why not embrace the absurdity of the time and roll with something that makes everyone happy? With its portable and precooked ingredients, an ice cream dinner party is perfect to hold outdoors, and I can think of no better way to befriend the neighbors than with a homemade scoop.
I've been making dinner party-size batches of ice cream for years now-as wedding gifts and for private events-so believe me when I say that ice cream for dinner, even for a crowd, is much more achievable than you may think. And it's a lot of fun. So here's how.
Homemade ice cream isn't necessary for a good ice cream social-especially considering the boom in super-premium ice cream brands over the past decade-but there's nothing like freshly made ice cream flavored exactly the way you like it. Cuisinart's no-frills freezer-bowl model is the gold standard for entry-level machines and makes excellent ice cream. However, if you aspire to make gallons at a time, rather than quarts, you may want to consider a machine with a built-in compressor that allows you to churn batches back-to-back. The versions by Cuisinart and Breville will do you right.
Ice cream can be made in advance, which makes day of prep a breeze, but I like to churn as close as possible to a big event to keep the ice cream at its freshest. The night before is ideal to preserve its light and fluffy texture with minimal ice crystal formation.
As for how much ice cream you need, a full scoop is around three ounces, which comes to about 10 servings per quart. If you bank on one to two servings per person and are inviting 15 people to a backyard party, two quarts should be fine. If you're like me, however, you don't know when to quit. Encourage your guests to bring a pint of their favorite store-bought ice cream for kicks. Unlike that weird relative who insists on serving potato salad with raisins at every family get-together, no one can screw this up.
For your own ice cream making, keep it simple. Two flavors is plenty to provide interest without palate fatigue. I usually make one neutral, easygoing flavor as a crowd-pleaser and one "weird" flavor to show off. Bi-Rite Creamery's cookbook, Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones, has a simple but rapturously good buttermilk ice cream recipe that takes well to toppings and screams fresh dairy. The gentle tart kick will keep you intrigued scoop after scoop, and if you swirl in a bit of your favorite jam as you transfer the freshly churned ice cream to a storage container, you won't be mad.
As for "weird" ice cream, look, you should own Dana Cree's Hello, My Name Is Ice Cream for a lot of reasons, none the least of which is that it'll teach you more about frozen desserts than you ever thought possible, and Cree gives you all the tools you need to extemporize your own dream flavors. Then again, her bourbon butterscotch recipe is worth the price of admission all on its own. Use the fanciest dairy you can afford for this one; the caramel, oak, and subtle smoke flavors in the recipe-thanks to the brown sugar and bourbon-absolutely shine with quality milk and cream.
Now, the difference between "ice cream for dinner party" and "I forgot how food works" lies in making sure you and your guests face a bafflement of toppings. I'd also suggest leaning on sweet-meets-salty items to keep sugar shock at bay. For me, that means chocolate-covered pretzels, Heath bars, caramel corn, corn nuts, quick-pickled strawberries, even potato chips and Takis. Cubes of this cream cheese pound cake add a nice homemade touch and will pair well with most ice cream flavors.
Then there are the classics no sundae should be without, such as homemade whipped cream and hot fudge sauce. If homemade hot fudge isn't in the cards, go buy Herrell's, which is the chewiest, fudgiest fudge sauce money can buy. I'm also gonna ask you to seek out Luxardo cherries instead of the traffic-light-red ones from the supermarket; their rich cherry flavor and luxurious syrup are well worth it, and leftovers are perfect for an old-fashioned.
Lastly, and this one is nonnegotiable, you have to get these Norwegian snacks called Smash!, which are basically Fritos shaped into cones and coated in chocolate. I have never met a better ice cream topping. The salty-sweet balance is perfect, the crunch immaculate. You can even use a Smash! as a tiny ice cream cone. I am willing to stake my journalistic reputation on the statement that a bowl of Smash! will make your bananas ice cream dinner party a particular night to remember.