I grew up by the seaside. More precisely, I grew up near South Shields, on the north-east coast – somewhere which is British summer beach country for one, maybe two days a year, and salt-lashed and grey for the rest of it. But come rain or shine, ice cream is a permanent fixture.
Ice cream was such an important part of life that the first school trip I ever went on, aged three, was to an ice-cream factory. I remember being handed an ice cream as big as my (admittedly then quite small) head, and vehemently declining the bright red sauce offered, known locally as ‘monkey blood’. A kindly nursery nurse reassured me it was just raspberry sauce, but I simply wasn’t taking the risk.
But while ice cream by the beach was a deliciously regular occurrence, it was always a passing one. Often it was a 99 on the way home; sometimes it was my favourite, an oyster – a shell-shaped wafer, half coated with chocolate and desiccated coconut, with a lining of mallow encasing Mr Whippy. Ice creams were taken from hatch windows and whisked away to our next destination, the wind gluing hair to sticky faces.
It was rare that we would sit in at one of the ice cream cafés. Perhaps that’s why, when my grandparents took me and my sister, it seemed like such an occasion that I felt compelled to ordered the knickerbocker glory. I can still picture the moment the enormous sundae was presented to me: perfect balls of pale ice cream piled up in tall glass, balancing alongside fruit and nuts, jelly and cream. It felt terribly, terribly glamorous. To my shame, I was quickly out-faced, handing it over to my grandpa to polish off – but then, the knickerbocker glory isn’t a small or subtle dish. That’s probably why I like it so much.
The name is, well, glorious: as much of a mouthful as the ice cream itself. A pleasure to say as well as to eat. Its origins are unclear, although they are likely American – possibly named after Manhattan’s pink-and-white Knickerbocker Hotel, or after the garment itself, which tended to be worn above striped socks that look a little like the raspberry sauce swirled inside the sundae glass. But even if its birthplace is American, its heart is indisputably British.
I like to think of it as a choose-your-own-adventure pudding: it is not prescriptive. As long as you have a flurry of textures and flavours, you can play around with it. A knickerbocker glory should be fun. In that spirit, you can go for whichever ice cream flavour you fancy, but I’d argue for vanilla. The charm of the knickerbocker glory is its chaotic maelstrom of elements, all jostling for attention but none shouting down the others: vanilla allows for a busy but happy coexistence.
I’m certainly not going to tell you to make your own ice cream here. I’m not even going to tell you to make your own jelly – the packet stuff is quite good enough. Even the fruit I use is tinned: a throwback to the heyday of the sundae. Nuts are a must, but for me, brittle is far too fancy. I like nubbly, chopped almonds, toasted to bring out their flavour, sprinkled throughout the glass. In my version, little pops of jelly nestle alongside crunches of meringue, ensuring that every mouthful is slightly different.
A knickerbocker glory must be topped with softly whipped cream (that’s what makes a sundae a sundae, rather than just a collection of ingredients), and the raspberry sauce should be swirled around the inside of the glass, creating a bright pink helter-skelter running down the height of the sundae.
Serving in a proper sundae glass, with those distinctive long spoons, adds a certain elegance to what is, really, a child’s treat, but it also serves a deeply practical need –helping you get to the bottom of the glass. Although if I am scrupulously honest, I often assemble and serve them in large highball glasses. Top with a wafer fan (optional) and a long-stalked maraschino cherry (obligatory).
- 400g tinned fruit cocktail, drained
- 50g chopped almonds
- 2 meringues, broken into rough pieces
- 60g fruit jelly cubes (I like black cherry)
- 1 pint vanilla ice cream
- 100g frozen or fresh raspberries
- 1 tbsp icing sugar
- 1 tablespoon caster sugar
- 150ml double cream
- 4 maraschino cherries
- 4 fan wafers
- First, make the jelly according to packet instructions, and leave to set in the fridge.
- Put the almonds in a small pan over a medium heat, and cook until they start to smell toasty – don’t walk away, as nuts can burn quickly.
- Make the raspberry sauce by whizzing together the raspberries and icing sugar in a blender until smooth; you can sieve out the seeds, or leave them in. When you’re ready to assemble, drizzle the sauce around the inside of each glass creating a bright red swirl.
- Place a scoop of vanilla ice cream in the base of each glass. Dot little pieces of jelly, fruit and meringues on top of it, and sprinkle on some of the almonds. Repeat twice more, with two more scoops of ice cream, and the rest of the jelly, fruit and meringue.
- Whisk together the double cream with the caster sugar, stopping as soon as the whipped cream can hold its own weight, and dollop a generous spoon on top of each sundae.
- Drizzle with the remaining raspberry sauce, sprinkle with the last of the nuts, and top each glass with a maraschino cherry and a wafer.