Nothing quite says summer like a trip to your favorite ice cream parlor (preferably via bicycle and still in your swimsuit). The sound of the truck rumbling down your street is another sure sign that a cool and creamy treat is in your future. But what if I told you that whipping up a big ol' batch of ice cream bars at home is not only easy and fun, but also takes about as much time as the journey to and from the neighborhood scoop shop?
Yes, the bars will need to set up in the freezer for a few hours, but these cool, creamy, crunchy, salty-sweet warm-weather treats are 100% worth a little delayed gratification. Moreover, if, like me, you have fond memories of a Dairy Queen soft serve ("A twist with a chocolate dip, please") — or really anything related to DQ or [insert name of your forever fave ice cream spot], these particular bars will give you all the nostalgic feels, but in a slightly more grown-up package.
A recipe for a "Dilly Dessert," a magnificent combo of two different Dairy Queen bars — the Dilly, vanilla ice cream on a stick dipped in chocolate; and the Buster, the Dilly plus peanuts and swirls of fudge — inspired these dreamy ganache-coated pretzel peanut ice cream bars. I learned about this DQ bar amalgam from a friend who clipped the recipe from her local Midwest newspaper, and I was instantly smitten with both its whimsical name (I mean, who doesn't want to make a dessert with the word "dilly" in it?) and how easy it would be to execute.
In my version, softened store-bought vanilla ice cream is spread over an easy, no-bake, slightly salty, pretzel crust. The original recipe called for an Oreo cookie crumb crust, but this pretzel one adds a salty, snacky dimension to these bars that is not to be missed; it helps cut the sweetness of the ice cream and ganache — which your grown-up self will probably appreciate. You then press chopped roasted and salted peanuts into the ice cream (like in the original recipe), pour a slightly chewy, soft ganache over that (the ganache is a slightly more elevated take on the original's chocolate/evaporated milk topping), and finish with a sprinkling of crushed pretzels and more peanuts.
After a few hours in the freezer, the result is a tray of treats that has your new "go-to, make-ahead summer-dessert-for-a-crowd" written all over it.
Here are a few of my ice cream bar assembly tips for perfect parlor-worthy treats every time.
Pretzel crust-making 101: A food processor is the best tool for grinding up your pretzels, but a plastic zip-top bag and a rolling pin will do the trick in a pinch. When grinding, your aim is a combo of tiny little pretzel bits and pretzel dust. You don't want all dust, as the bits add nice texture and help with the crust's structure. After stirring in the butter, sugar and salt, you will know your mixture is good to go when you squeeze a little in your hand and it holds together. Firmly and evenly press the crust into your prepared pan, so it is solid and will not only remain firm and crunchy when covered in ice cream but will also, once frozen, slice nicely without cracking or crumbling. And if a chocolate cookie crumb crust is more your speed, you can use this one by increasing the ingredient amounts by one and a half.
Streamlining the assembly of the bars: To minimize downtime when assembling the bars, follow this timeline: When you finish making the crust and place it in the freezer, take the ice cream from the freezer to soften.
The crust benefits from a 20- to 30-minute rest in the freezer so that it firms up and is less likely to crumble when you spread it with the ice cream. And, as luck would have it, the ice cream softens to a nice spreading consistency in about the same time. This timing might differ a little depending on the temperature of your kitchen, but I'm confident that by the time your ice cream is ready to be spread, your pretzel crust will be ready to receive it.
Next, you'll press the peanuts into the ice cream and return the pan to the freezer for another 30 minutes (so the softened ice cream has a chance to firm up again before being coated in ganache.) At this point you can make the ganache — or even before, while you're waiting for the chilled crust and soft ice cream — as it, too, takes 20 to 30 minutes to come to room temperature.
Thus, in an ideal ice cream bar-making world, the ganache will be cool enough to pour over the ice cream around the same time the ice cream has rehardened enough so the ganache spreading is a foolproof task.
How to bring ganache to room temperature quickly: To further streamline the assembly of these bars, stop melting your chocolate, be it on the stovetop or in the microwave, when you can still see chunks of solid chocolate in the mix. Stir the chunks into the ganache off the heat, until melted and smooth. Melting those last small chunks off heat will help bring down the temperature of the melted chocolate. The ganache will need to cool further on the counter, but you will have a head start on getting it to room temperature.
Following these tips will not only up your ice cream bar game, much to the delight of your family and friends, but will also allow you to get the bars in their hands as quickly as possible; and for that they will love you forever.
Chocolate Pretzel Peanut Ice Cream Bars
Active time: 45 minutes | Total time: 3 hours 45 minutes
If the combination of cool and creamy vanilla ice cream, fudgy, thick chocolate ganache, salty pretzels and crunchy peanuts sounds like something you can get behind, this easy ice cream bar dessert is for you.
Inspired by two Dairy Queen treats, the Dilly Bar (vanilla ice cream dipped in chocolate) and the Buster Bar (vanilla ice cream, plus peanuts and swirls of fudge dipped in chocolate), cookbook author Jessie Sheehan's snack bar dessert is all that, and then some. The no-bake pretzel crust is layered with softened store-bought ice cream (Sheehan likes vanilla here, but you do you), followed by a layer of coarsely chopped, roasted and salted peanuts and topped with a silky chocolate ganache.
To finish, Sheehan sprinkles more chopped peanuts and crushed pretzels over the chocolate, giving the bars extra salt and crunch. After a few hours in the freezer, the dessert is sliced into bars to satisfy all the salty, sweet, creamy, crunchy or chocolate-y cravings.
Make Ahead: The crust can be wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen for up to 3 days.
Storage Notes: The bars can be frozen in a zip-top bag for up to 2 weeks.
For the crust and filling:
• 1 c. (8 oz./226 g) unsalted butter, melted, plus more at room temperature for greasing the pan
• 2 1/2 c. (8 oz./226 g) finely ground pretzels (about 4 1/2 c. whole pretzels, ground in a food processor or crushed in a zip-top bag with a rolling pin; see NOTE)
• 6 tbsp. (75 g) packed light brown sugar
• 3/4 tsp. fine salt
• 1 1/2 quarts (27 1/2 oz./783 g) store-bought vanilla ice cream
For the ganache topping:
• 9 oz. (255 g) chopped semisweet chocolate or chocolate chips
• 1 c. (240 milliliters) heavy cream
• 2 tbsp. light corn syrup
• 2 c. (about 9 oz./254 g) roasted and salted peanuts, roughly chopped
• About 1 tbsp. each finely chopped peanuts and crushed pretzels, for sprinkling
Make the crust: Grease the bottom of a 9-by-13-by-2-inch pan with softened butter. In a large bowl, combine the ground pretzels, melted butter, sugar and salt and mix with a flexible spatula (or your hands) until the butter and sugar are fully incorporated and the mixture is the consistency of wet sand. Scrape into the prepared pan and, using your hands or the back of a dry measuring cup, press into the bottom of the pan, creating a solid, flat layer. Freeze for about 30 minutes.
Make the ganache: In a medium heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water (make sure the bottom of the bowl doesn't touch the water) combine the chocolate, heavy cream and corn syrup and warm until about three-quarters of the chocolate melts, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally with a flexible spatula. Remove from the heat and stir until the chocolate melts completely. (Alternatively, you can microwave the chocolate, heavy cream and corn syrup on HIGH in a microwave-safe bowl, in 30-second bursts, for about 90 seconds, stirring in-between bursts, until a thick and glossy sauce forms.) Let cool completely.
About 20 minutes before you're ready to assemble, transfer the ice cream to the counter to soften. Using an offset spatula or a large spoon, evenly spread the softened ice cream over the frozen pretzel crust, then sprinkle with the peanuts, pressing them gently into the ice cream.
Transfer to the freezer until firm, about 30 minutes (even if your ganache has completely cooled, it's a good idea to let the ice cream and peanuts harden in the freezer, for about 20 minutes, before adding the ganache).
Pour the ganache over the peanuts and evenly spread with an offset spatula or the back of a large spoon until smooth. Sprinkle with the finely chopped peanuts and crushed pretzels and return to the freezer until firm, at least 3 hours and preferably overnight.
Using a sharp chef's knife, cut the bars into 16 or 24 squares, taking care not to score the bottom of the pan. Run the knife under hot water and dry it after each slice. Use an offset spatula to lift the bars from the pan.
NOTE: The finely ground pretzels should be a mixture of tiny crumbs, as well as dusty bits - you want to avoid straight-up dust.
Nutrition information per serving (one 2-by-3-inch slice) | Calories: 501; Total Fat: 35 g; Saturated Fat: 18 g; Cholesterol: mg; Sodium: 72 mg; Carbohydrates: 43 g; Dietary Fiber: 3 g; Sugar: 25 g; Protein: 8 g
This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian's or nutritionist's advice.