This was probably our easiest “what should we make from the Bon this month?” decision ever. It wasn’t even a discussion–as soon as we saw the recipe for ABC Kitchen’s salted caramel popcorn sundae, it was a done deal. Witness our text exchange (on a day when Jessica had already gotten some different great news):
In other words, we were psyched. We first had this sundae on Memorial Day weekend 2010, which was Laura and Ed’s first couple-trip to NYC (or anywhere). The three of us had an early dinner at ABC after seeing a Sunday matinee performance of Next Fall. We were high off of seeing a great play and the food at ABC pushed us even higher. The crab toast, the mushroom pizza with a farm egg, the cheeseburger–all of it exceeded our expectations. We capped it off with a dessert that Laura has since described (rightly) as a “crack-laced bowl of opium.” It’s salted caramel ice cream, candied peanuts and popcorn, fudge sauce, and whipped cream, and the two of us ate it like we’d never see food again (Ed liked it, but wasn’t quite as entranced). We’ve discussed this particular treat not infrequently over the past three years, and jumped at the chance to recreate it at home.
Jessica’s Take: I’ve had the salted caramel sundae at ABC five times, and I’d eat it right now (slash anytime) if you put it in front of me. I don’t think anyone is really amazed by how well the combination of sweet and salty works in this day and age, but this particular combo REALLY works. And while I hope to have this dessert in the restaurant several more times, I loved the idea of being able to have it minus the trip into the Flatiron district. Before attempting this recipe I had never made caramel let alone caramel corn, so I was also happy to have the push. On the whole I was really happy with the end result…tho I don’t think it *quite* reached the heights the in-house sundae does.
As excited as I was to try this recipe, I kept not actually doing it. I finally made it late one Saturday night, pretty sure that I was going to make more of a mess than a tasty treat. Laura and I had agreed that how brief and breezy the directions were was alarming–surely this was going to be fairly complicated. But I found that it came together surprisingly easily. And I was so pleased when my caramel actually started to look like caramel! For what felt like way too long it stayed a (fairly icky, if I’m being honest) very pale color, but it did finally turn the “deep amber” the recipe had promised. Poured over dry roasted peanuts and popcorn it made a caramel corn that looked better than I could have hoped for…but, weirdly, I didn’t think it was quite sweet enough. Given that it’s just butter, corn syrup, and almost a full cup of sugar I wouldn’t have been surprised by too sweet, but no. Once it was combined with the other sundae ingredients I loved it, but on it’s own I think it could have used a little pinch of salt to bring out the flavors. Or maybe I needed saltier peanuts? Next time.
I had the opposite experience with the chocolate sauce–I was totally happy with the taste, but had a problem with the process. I just didn’t think it was thick enough. I did a quick google to see what to do about a thin chocolate sauce, tossed in some more chocolate, felt like it didn’t make a difference…and then just gave up and used the thin (delicious) sauce. Laura and I talked about it later and think it might be meant to be thinner, for more drizzle factor. When I had a second sundae with leftovers the next day, the refrigerated sauce was (to me) a perfect thickness, but was a bit grainy. Still, the taste was there. I think when I make the sundae again–and I definitely will–I’ll make it at a more reasonable hour of the day, so I can give the chocolate sauce some time to set off of the heat and thicken up a bit more. Not that having a middle of the night sundae feast wasn’t fun, of course…
Altogether, I was pretty thrilled with how the sundae turned out both the first night and next day–ABC is really on to something with the combo of dulce de leche ice cream (tho I imagine they use some spiffy secret homemade version, which I of course did not), chocolate sauce, and caramel corn. Sweet, salty, melty, chocolate and caramel goodness. While my attempt certainly wasn’t an exact replica of the original sundae, it was delicious. And I’m more than happy to have an excuse to go back to the restaurant and do more research.
Laura’s Take: Caramel corn is one of my weaknesses. It’s a fault I inherited from my father, who loves it almost as much as I do. We cannot stop ourselves when it comes to Crunch ‘n’ Munch, Poppycock, beachy tubs o’ corn from Fisher’s, the INSANE midwestern caramel corn from places like Garrett (a discovery I’ve only made in recent years, thanks to falling for a midwestern guy), or pretty much any other variety of c-corn. My dad and I even tried once to make it from a microwave DIY caramel corn kit. It turned out gritty and messy, but still pretty good, if you’re a junkie. All of this to say that when I saw the caramel corn sundae on ABC’s menu, I knew I had to have it.
I cannot describe to you how delicious that sundae was. I haven’t had it since May 2010, but it stands out as one of the best desserts I’ve ever had. I’ve had a couple of ABC sundae knock-offs at DC restaurants and they pale in comparison. I think the magic is in the salty, butteryness of the caramel, but the peanuts themselves tasted extra special, too. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t scarfed the sundae so fast…maybe I’d remember the details better.
I loved the way my home version turned out, but it was not quite in the realm of the original. Per Jessica’s suggestion, I added a big pinch of salt to the caramel and it cranked up the sweet and salty flavors to a very pleasant level. The candy-coated popcorn and peanuts were delicious on their own and it kept very well in an air-tight container (but be warned, it’s addictive: I snacked on so much of it that I only had enough for two sundaes). Ed and I were both struck by how much better the sundae components tasted on the second day. The first night we had the sundae, we thought it was good, but on the second night, we couldn’t get enough. I highly recommend making the ingredients at least a day in advance.
Final Thoughts: While this at-home sundae might not have hit quite the heights of the restaurant version, we both really enjoyed it. And since you can make both the caramel corn and fudge sauce in advance, we think it could make a great dessert for entertaining.