Going Beyond Vanilla: À la Mode Alternatives


Vanilla ice cream with pie is a classic combination, but why not try something different?

My three favorite words in the language of desserts are à la mode. In fact, I love ice cream so much that I frequently wish I could invert the formula, as in, "I'll have three giant scoops with a sliver of pie on top." But when it comes to the dizzying array of cakes, crumbles, and crostatas made from all sorts of ingredients—chocolate, coffee, fruit, nuts—why do we so often limit ourselves to crowning our sweets with dollops of plain old vanilla?

Don't get me wrong—I have nothing against vanilla ice cream. I just don't understand why it is the end all be all flavor for spooning over baked goods. There are so many other enticing, rich, and exciting options out there. Sure, vanilla is a classic pairing that won't interfere with, say, the lavender essence in your pound cake, or the toasted walnut crunch mounded inside your roasted apple, but it might not be your dessert's best compliment either.

I've spent the past week developing and compiling a small collection of recipes for à la mode alternatives—ice cream flavors that, while delicious enough to stand on their own, are even better when paired with tortes, brownies, and the like, because they enhance the dessert's primary flavors. Check out my recommendations after the jump.

Lemon Sherbet

David Lebovitz's recipe for lemon sherbet is an obvious choice for anything made with strawberries, raspberries, or seed cakes such as poppy or sesame.

Maple Ice Cream

Maple ice cream is perfect for anything baked with blueberries or apples. I can't wait for fall when I'll pair this flavor with pumpkin and pecan pies. You could also try it over brownies—the maple flavor is bold enough to stand up to chocolate's intensity.

Cinnamon Ice Cream

Cinnamon ice cream is a terrific compliment for anything made with stone fruits, such as peach cobbler or cherry pie. I think it would also work well with dark, juicy berries like blackberries or boysenberries.

Coconut Sorbet

Michael Lomonaco's coconut sorbet would provide a light, tropical note to rich chocolate cakes and ganache-filled tarts.