Summer ice-cream essentials put to the taste test (plus the scoop on sundaes)

Here comes the sun, and with it, the perfect excuse to grab an ice-cream.
Here comes the sun, and with it, the perfect excuse to grab an ice-cream. Photo: iStock

There has never been a better time to buy ice-cream and gelato in Australia. Independent gelaterias are booming across the country, some dazzling with flavours such as bush honey and truffle; others quietly honing their pistachio and hazelnut staples. Pick up a small-batch chocolate sauce if they're rocking one, too.

The freezer section in your local supermarket is also bursting with a dazzling array of frozen treats.

The huge selection makes it a tough aisle to navigate, so here's our guide to ice-cream essentials, whether you are buying your tubs from a gelateria or supermarket.

Plus ice-cream sandwiches, because who doesn't love 'em?

The tasting panel

Mark Megahey and Sean O'Brien Co-owners of Ciccone & Sons, an artisan gelato store in Redfern, Sydney.

Callan Boys National food and drink writer for Good Food.

Vanilla ice-cream

Low-res composite image for Good Food Magazine sundae taste test - vanilla ice-cream.

From left: Street Blue Ribbon; Haagen-Das; Connoisseur. Photo: James Brickwood

Streets Blue Ribbon Signature Buttermilk Vanilla, 1 litre, $6.00

Score: 2.5/5

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"This uses reconstituted buttermilk, but I don't mind it," says Megahey. "For a supermarket ice-cream, it's pretty dense; some of those big-brand tubs are too full of air." The texture, though, is too "gummy" for O'Brien. "I don't get a lot of vanilla flavour out of it either," he says.

Haagen-Dazs Vanilla, 457ml, $7.00

Score: 3/5

Made in France by an American-owned company, this Haagen-Dazs standard features a big waft of vanilla. "The strong flavour is a little bit sickly," says O'Brien. "Although, to its credit, this is the only ice-cream using vanilla extract. The others only list 'vanilla flavour'."

Peters Connoisseur Classic Vanilla, 1 litre, $11.00

Score: 3.5/5
Good Food Taste Test Award: Bronze

"The vanilla is much more pared back compared with the Haagen," says Megahey. There's also a nice amount of fat, with 34 per cent cream sourced from sustainable Victorian dairy farms. "This definitely wins on flavour and texture," says O'Brien.

Waffle cones

Low-res composite image for Good Food Magazine sundae taste test - waffle cones.

From left: Altimate; Coles; Brookdale. Photo: James Brickwood

Altimate Large Traditional Waffle Cones, 170g, $5.49

Score: 4/5
Good Food Taste Test Award: Silver

"Altimate supplies cones to a lot of gelaterias," says Megahey. "These have a good structure and won't break under the pressure of a scoop." Importantly, the flavour is relatively neutral. "Ideally, you want a cone that won't interfere with the ice-cream's flavour," says O'Brien.

Coles Plain Waffle Ice-Cream Cones, 170g, $3.20

Score: 3/5

Coles' cone tastes like a digestive biscuit. "I don't love the density and thickness either," says Megahey. "I think you'd struggle to eat the whole cone with ice-cream."

The retail giant also sells a house-brand gluten-free waffle cone made in Indonesia that smacks strangely of cornflakes.

Brookdale Waffle Cones, 170g, $2.69

Score: 3/5

The Brookdale brand is Aldi's entry into the waffle cone market. "They look quite toasted and taste a little overcooked too," says Megahey. "The flavour is very neutral, though. I think these are fine." O'Brien is less convinced. "For me, these are a bit too brittle."

Chocolate sauce

Low-res composite image for Good Food Magazine sundae taste test - chocolate sauce.

From left: Cottee's; Hershey's; Barker's. Photo: James Brickwood

Cottee's Thick 'N' Rich, 615g, $3.20

Score: 1/5

"Sweet" is an understatement for Cottee's made-in-New-Zealand topping. "I don't think I can taste chocolate," says O'Brien. "What's in this?"

A lot of sugar and only 2 per cent cocoa powder, is what. Other toppings tasted contained 8 per cent, while homemade chocolate sauce may sit at about 40 per cent cocoa mass.

Hershey's Chocolate Syrup, 680g, $5.00

Score: 3/5

"You can definitely taste the cocoa in this one," says Megahey. "In terms of bang for your buck, it's not bad – fine for a straight-up chocolate sauce." The US topping lists corn syrup as its main ingredient, meaning it's runny at fi rst but thickens on contact with cold ice-cream. 

Barker's Rich Chocolate Sauce, 365g, $5.00

Score: 3.5/5
Good Food Taste Test Award: Bronze

"It's a lot thicker than the other two," says Megahey of this New Zealand number. "Oddly, a bit smoky, too, almost like barbecue sauce. Overall, a good chocolate flavour in comparison. I'd choose this out of the three, maybe on a sundae with some caramel."

Ice-cream sandwiches

Good Food magazine, ice-cream essentials. Reese's Ice-Cream Sandwich. Photographed Thursday 15th October 2020. Photograph by James Brickwood. SMH GOOD FOOD.

Reese's ice-cream sandwich. Photo: James Brickwood

Reese's Peanut Butter Chocolate Sandwiches, 441ml, $8.50

Score: 2.5/5

The orange packaging is striking, but it's hard to get excited about what's inside. Made under licence by Bulla in Victoria for the US brand, Reese's ice-cream sanger is structurally sound but too sweet to enjoy, with all its chocolate-biscuit flavour masked by sugar.

Good Food magazine, ice-cream essentials. Aldi Polar Bar. Photographed Thursday 15th October 2020. Photograph by James Brickwood. SMH GOOD FOOD.

Aldi Milfina Polar Bar. Photo: James Brickwood

Aldi Milfina Polar Bar Cookies & Cream, 440ml, $2.69

Score: 3/5

Looks like a Peters Monaco Bar; tastes like two claggy biscuits and cheap ice-cream. "The cookie's really doughy," says Megahey. "There's not a lot to recommend." Cookie pieces through the ice-cream add texture at least, but if you can track down an actual Monaco, buy that instead.

Good Food magazine, ice-cream essentials. Bulla Icre-cream Sandwich. Photographed Thursday 15th October 2020. Photograph by James Brickwood. SMH GOOD FOOD.

Bulla ice-cream sandwich. Photo: James Brickwood

Bulla Creamy Classics Vanilla Ice-Cream Choc Cookie Sandwiches, 560ml, $8.50

Score: 3.5/5
Good Food Taste Test Award: Bronze

"It looks good," says O'Brien. "The ice-cream remains a lot colder than the biscuit, which doesn't take long to come to room temperature. The biscuit reminds me of a Choc Ripple from the Arnott's family pack."

The scoop on sundaes

Two scoops, chocolate sauce and a cherry on top, please.

Sundaes are a ferociously simple dessert, but there are still key tips to make your sugar mountain the best it can be. That cherry should be a Luxardo-brand maraschino, for instance, and whether you're scooping ice-cream or gelato, more whipped cream is always a good idea.

"Fresh whipped cream will give your sundae a completely different texture and temperature," says O'Brien. "Its lightness will also break up heavier components such as sauce and syrup."

On top of (and in between) gelato and cream, Ciccone & Sons sundaes feature caramel sauce, crushed peanuts and a house-made, hard-setting chocolate.

"Incorporating many textures is important," says Megahey. "You want to create something that will hold your interest until the very last spoonful."

Megahey suggests removing ice-cream from the freezer 10 minutes before serving. "The more ice-cream warms up, the better it tastes. The flavours really start to shine."

Lilly Stuckings, from Melbourne's Gelato Papa, says gelato has less fat and air than ice-cream, and isn't as cold, so the flavour is more intense.

For her, the ultimate sundae involves a ripe banana, peanut butter gelato, chocolate fudge sauce and roasted crushed peanuts. But definitely no sprinkles. "I prefer the crunch of nuts."

Real-deal vanilla in ice-cream has become a rare treat. Crop-destroying storms in Madagascar, producer of 80 per cent of the world's vanilla, are to blame.

"The vanilla crop was pretty much wiped out two years ago," says O'Brien. "It used to cost $200 a kilogram, but now the price is closer to $1200. It's just not economical for us to use vanilla beans until they get back to the same level of quality and production." 

Good Food Taste Test Awards

Look out for the Good Food awards logos on winning products in supermarkets and grocery stores – your guide to the best available.

Gold Score 4.5/5

Silver Score 4/5

Bronze Score 3.5/5