I’ve been having a lot of thoughts and feelings lately about the way food and cooking is portrayed on the internet. I love to scroll through Pinterest and save images of enormous farmhouse sinks and perfectly-styled bowls of fruit and granola as much as the next person, but I also hate myself a little every time.
Early this year, I made a decision to commit to making food, writing about food, and therefore by default, photographing food, the focus of my creative practice. What I continue to struggle with is the suspension of disbelief between what my cooking process looks like and what “drives traffic” and helps to “grow a following.”
I hate stopping in the middle of what I’m doing to fuss over how ingredients will look through the lens of my iPhone, and I also hate making something solely for the sake of photographing it. I want to share what is really happening in my kitchen, because I know that whoever is reading these recipes is not going to stop and make their cutting board look cute. I’d rather celebrate the surprising moments, the ones where you look at a pile of chopped vegetables and are forced to pause because they’re actually just so damn pretty.
So today, I’m sharing this no-recipe recipe for an dessert that’s not super photogenic, but is absolutely delicious. It’s inspired by Stewart’s Peanut Butter Pandemonium ice cream, which is almost always in our freezer upstate — except for the one time it wasn’t.
Stewart’s Shops are located in upstate NY and southern VT, and I’d never been to one until I started visiting my husband’s family outside of Albany. Stewart’s is a standard American gas station/convenience store that’s known for its ice cream. In 1921, the Dakes brothers decided to expand their dairy operation to include Dakes’ Delicious Ice Cream, but Stewart’s was born in 1945, when the Dakes purchased an ice cream facility from Donald Stewart.
Almost three-quarters of a century later, I was looking for that signature golden box filled with vanilla ice cream swirled with fudge, strata of crisp peanut butter, and miniature peanut butter cups. But there was only, inexplicably, Stewart’s French Vanilla ice cream to be had, nary a peanut or peanut butter cup in sight.
The first time I made Almond Butter Pandemonium, it was in a state of emergency. I microwaved chocolate chips and half-and-half to make a sort of ganache, and poured some of that over the vanilla ice cream with a healthy spoonful of almond butter. It was good, maybe even better than Peanut Butter pandemonium. But the French Vanilla ice cream was a little cloying, and the ganache tasted too heavily of chocolate chip rather than chocolate. I knew I could do better.
Back in Brooklyn a week or so later, we found ourselves again with only vanilla ice cream. I like to keep a quart of Haagen-Dazs vanilla on hand at all times because I bake a lot, and believe that all warm baked things taste better with vanilla ice cream. There was a jar of Trader Joe’s almond butter in the cupboard, and next to it — a jar of coconut oil. That’s when it occurred to me that there was a better answer than ersatz fudge. Magic shell.
This dessert comes together in about two minutes, feels a little fancy, and is hands-down my favorite way to eat vanilla ice cream. I use my stainless steel measuring cups to make small quantities of magic shell on the stove (we don’t own a microwave in the city), but you can also make a bigger batch, store it in the fridge, and melt as-needed.
Almond Butter Pandemonium
- Your favorite vanilla ice cream
- Almond butter — any kind works, but I like the smooth, salted variety
- Coconut Oil
- Chocolate chips, or chopped fancy chocolate — whatever you have on hand.
- In a small saucepan, melt your coconut oil and chocolate. I usually make about 1/2 cup at a time, using 4 tablespoons of chocolate chips and 1 tablespoon of coconut oil. You can scale this up or down as you like. Stir until smooth.
- Scoop your ice cream into a bowl, cup, or preferred vessel. Spoon magic shell over the ice cream and wait for it to harden. Drizzle with almond butter. Die of happiness.