Among the twists, dips, and banana splits on the menu board of soft-serve ice cream stands of Central New York you'll also find something called a Mexican Sundae—vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, whipped cream, and Spanish peanuts. There are variations to this formula: sometimes you'll see coffee or cinnamon ice cream, or hot fudge standing in for the thinner chocolate sauce. But the only thing "Mexican" about this seemingly politically incorrect sundae is the Spanish peanuts.
Tracking down the history of the Mexican sundae proves elusive. There are many recipes online for the Mexican sundae that include caramel and sugar-dusted tortillas, and there's only one mention of it among the obsessed eaters on Chowhound. And the Mexican sundae isn't to be confused with the corn flake-crusted, deep-fried, honey-and-cinnamon glazed sundae you'll sometimes find among the dessert offerings at some Mexican restaurants.
Ice cream aficionados will note that the ingredients of the Mexican sundae sound awfully close to a Tin Roof sundae: vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, whipped cream, and peanuts. The Tin Roof is another dessert whose name lacks an agreed-upon origin story, though most lead toward the sound the peanuts make when rattling around in their can, like rain on a tin roof.
I think the last time I had a Mexican sundae was years ago, served in a miniature batter's helmet at a Syracuse Chiefs game, so I decided to make one at home. To amp up the "Mexican" flavor I considered using cinnamon, or even cinnamon-dulce de leche ice cream, but in the end I stayed true to the vanilla base. I then made a quick chocolate sauce using Mexican chocolate and warm heavy cream. Spiked with cinnamon, sugar, and sometimes ground nuts, Mexican chocolate is really granular and reveals a pebbly cross-section when you cut into it. I finished the sauce by stirring in a knob of butter, a pinch of salt, and four dashes of Fee Bros. Aztec Chocolate Cocktail Bitters.
Finding the Spanish peanuts was harder than you might think. After hitting five different grocery stores, I was this close to throwing on some beer nuts, but I finally found some skin-on salted peanuts at the New York's Red Hook Fairway.
And to continue the Mexican, Spanish, Aztec culinary mix-up, I couldn't resist lining the bowl (in this case, a Mason jar) with a drizzle of warm dulce de leche from Argentina. And I topped things off with lightly sweetened whipped cream and an amarena cherry.
Have you ever had a Mexican sundae, and what was in it?
About the author: Brad Thomas Parsons is a Brooklyn-based writer who has interviewed many of the food world's biggest names, including David Chang, Anthony Bourdain, Mario Batali, Danny Meyer, Ina Garten, Jamie Oliver, Paula Deen, and Giada De Laurentiis, among others. He is currently at work on his first book, Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, with Cocktails and Recipes.