One of the problems I have with hiking in bear-prone areas (other than the possibility of exiting pursued by a bear) is remembering to be loud.
I’m typically a quiet hiker, letting my train of thought veer off track as I hoof it up the trail, soaking up all the natural wonder as I scan for the next photographable moment).
But when in bear country, it’s highly recommended to let the bears know you’re coming up the path by announcing your presence as you walk: clapping your hands, shouting “hey!”, or singing loudly every few yards (a good time to practice your Hamilton memorization).
I forget this, and I keep loping along, then realize I might be setting myself up for a big bear surprise.
So during our trip to Montana and Glacier National Park this August–one of the top-ranked national parks where you’re most likely to be killed by a bear!–I tried to remain vigilant by speaking my thoughts instead of just letting them flow quietly.
And what did I talk about as I let myself ramble out loud? Well, I’m always thinking about what I’m going to eat at the end of the hike, but this time instead of just talking about how much I love reubens and chili and fries and beer, I went a little sweeter.
On our way up Grinnell Glacier, we ended up inventing an epic sundae inspired by the landscape (and wildlife) of Glacier National Park. Here’s the rundown of all the ingredients we dreamed up on our hike and turned into reality once we got home.
What Goes Into an Epic Glacier Ice Cream Sundae
Rich dark chocolate ice cream forms the sundae base, piled high like the peaks jutting across the more than 1 million acres that encompass the national park. Feeling Close Encounters-y? Mold your sundae after your favorite mountain, like Swiftcurrent or Bearhat.
Marshmallow fluff running down the craggy chocolate mountainsides represents the glaciers of the park. Glacier once had 150; now only 26 meet the criteria. So pour out some fluff in honor of our lost glacial homies, like little Gem.
Huckleberry compote is a nod to those rumpy, plumpy bears’ favorite food, with huckleberry bushes growing throughout the park. If you’re not blessed with a local huckleberry patch, sub in blueberries, black raspberries, or blackberries in the recipe below. I personally think huckleberries taste closer to blackberries–at least the red huckleberries–but there’s no bad choice here.
It wouldn’t be a Glacier sundae without those bears… and mountain goats… and moose too! Sugar cookie animals of the park’s famous wildlife adorn the peaks of the sundae, thanks to mini cookie cutters that are perfectly sized for the task. Find yours at cookiecutter.com.
Crunchy shards of cinnamon-ginger toffee accent the rockiness of the cliffs and shorelines where the mountains meet the glacial lakes of the park. They’ll tumble down your chocolate mountain and get covered in fluff, just like the avalanches in Glacier.
A few fresh mint leaves at the base of the mountains are there for visual fun: you gotta have a little green scenery when you’re in the woods!
Finally, a few cloudy dollops of whipped cream top the peaks like fresh snowfall. Glacier’s high elevation means it might snow at pretty much any time of year, even in the middle of August! We didn’t experience that during our trip, but the gusty winds on the way to Hidden Lake gave us a taste of how quickly the weather can shift.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, we saw five bears total during our four days in Glacier, but all from relatively safe distances. That black bear rooting his rump around the Rising Sun Motor Inn cabins was a friendly, but surprising, visitor on our way down the path to dinner–if I had seen him again the next morning, I might have invited him over for coffee with a view of Sleeping Bear Mountain.
One Small Batch of Sugar Cookies
- 4 tablespoons (2 ounces; 57 grams) unsalted butter, softened
- 1/2 cup (2 ounces; 57 grams) confectioner's sugar
- 1 egg yolk from 1 large egg (save the egg white for the marshmallow fluff below)
- 1 teaspoon light corn syrup
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 pinch salt
- 105 grams all-purpose flour
- 8 tablespoons (4 ounces; 113 grams) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
- 1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces; 100 grams) granulated sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- Maldon salt for sprinkling
- 6 ounces huckleberries (or blueberries or blackberries)
- 3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces; 150 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 small cinnamon stick
- 4 large egg whites (saved from the sugar cookies and any homemade ice cream)
- 1 cup (7 ounces; 200 grams) granulated sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 quart dark chocolate ice cream (store-bought or homemade; I like Ample Hills Creamery's dark chocolate, see notes below)
- 1/2 batch marshmallow fluff
- 1/2 cup huckleberry compote
- fresh mint leaves
- whipped cream
Make the sugar cookies:
- With a stand mixer or electric hand mixer, beat the butter, sugar, egg yolk, corn syrup, vanilla, and salt on medium speed for 2 minutes until creamy and fluffy.
- Scrape the bowl down and reduce the mixer speed to low.
- Add the flour in batches, stirring just until completely incorporated.
- Transfer the dough to a large piece of plastic wrap. Pat the dough into a disc and refrigerate for 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat.
- Divide the chilled dough into 2 pieces; you'll only need 1 half of the dough for the sundaes, so feel free to wrap and freeze the remaining dough or make other cookies with it. (You'll get about 2 dozen cookies using 1 1/2 inch cookie cutters from a half batch of dough.)
- On a well-floured surface, roll the dough out until it's no more than 1/4 inch thick.
- Use your mini animal cookie cutters to stamp out shapes. Carefully transfer to the prepared baking sheet, using a small offset spatula if necessary.
- Bake for about 10 minutes, until the cookies are matte and just starting to turn golden at the edges.
- Cool completely on a rack.
- Repeat with any remaining cookie dough. (Cookies will keep for up to 1 week in a well-sealed container at room temperature.)
Make the toffee:
- Place a greased piece of parchment paper or a Silpat on a rimmed baking sheet.
- Melt the butter in a deep, heavy 1-quart pot or saucepan over medium heat.
- Whisk in the sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and salt and bring to a boil, whisking occasionally as the sugar dissolves.
- When the liquid begins to froth and foam, whisk constantly for 5-7 minutes, until the color deepens from buttery yellow to pale cream to deep golden. If the emulsion breaks while whisking, just keep going and whisk the butter back in, but do it carefully so you don't splash molten sugar on yourself.
- Remove the pot from the heat and VERY CAREFULLY pour the toffee onto the parchment/Silpat.
- Gently tilt the pan from side to side to spread the toffee evenly in the pan.
- Let rest for 4-5 minutes, then sprinkle the toffee with Maldon salt.
- Allow the toffee to cool completely, then break into pieces. (Toffee will keep for up to 1 week in a well-sealed container at room temperature.)
Make the huckleberry compote:
- Heat the huckleberries, sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a high-sided, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat.
- Gently stir occasionally to help the sugar dissolve. The berries will start to release their liquid as the mixture heats as well.
- When the liquid comes to a simmer, continue to cook and stir occasionally for about 8-10 minutes, until the liquid is sticky and syrupy and the berries are very soft.
- Discard the cinnamon stick and transfer the compote to a Mason jar. (Compote will keep for up to 1 week, refrigerated in a sealed container.)
Make the chocolate ice cream base...
- if you're doing homemade ice cream, and churn in your ice cream maker. While the ice cream is churning...
- Make the marshmallow fluff:
- Fill a small saucepan halfway with water and bring to a bare simmer over medium-low heat.
- Add the egg whites and sugar to a heatproof bowl (preferably stainless steel) that will fit over the mouth of the pan without touching the water.
- Place over the simmering water and whisk continuously for 2-3 minutes, until the sugar dissolves and the liquid is warm to the touch.
- Remove the bowl from the heat.
- With an electric mixer (fitted with the whisk attachment if your model has one), beat the warm egg whites on medium-high speed until whipped glossy, about 2-3 minutes.
- Add the cream of tartar and vanilla, and beat for 3-4 minutes more, until the marshmallow fluff is thick and starting to stiffen into ribbons.
- Refrigerate in a sealed container until ready to use. (Fluff can be made up to 3 days in advance.)
Gussy up the ice cream:
- Scoop 1/3 of the ice cream into a large freezer-safe container and top with 1/2 the marshmallow fluff.
- Scoop another 1/3 of the ice cream over the fluff and top with 1/3 of the huckleberry compote.
- Scoop in the final 1/3 of the ice cream, and use a large spoon to gently fold and swirl all the layers together.
- Refreeze for at least 4 hours.
Time to assemble the sundae!
- Scoop ice cream into your bowl of choice. Make it as big and mountainous as you want.
- Press toffee shards into the ice cream near the base of the mountain.
- Add mint leaves near the mountain bases as well if desired.
- Drizzle marshmallow fluff and huckleberry compote generously down the sides of your ice cream scoops.
- Populate the ice cream mountain with sugar cookie animals. Go wild with mountain goats near the peaks and bears and moose around the lakes that are no doubt already starting to form.
- Finally, top with sweet spoonfuls of whipped cream.
- Eat immediately, as if you were pursued by a bear!