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Share a Coke Float... With Martha

By:  Jay Moye Aug 27, 2014
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Martha Stewart's Coke Float

For well over a century, Coke Floats have delivered cool, creamy refreshment on a hot day. And while the most common recipe for the soda fountain favorite consists simply of Coca-Cola poured over a few scoops of vanilla ice cream, creative chefs and everyday fans alike continue to experiment with ingredients, flavors and presentation.

Take Martha Stewart, for example, who put her signature spin on the classic concoction while growing up in the tiny, tree-lined township of Nutley, N.J. -- about a half-hour drive from her company’s offices in New York City. With Labor Day weekend signaling summer’s end in just a few days, we asked Martha to share with us her Coke Float story, plus a few tips and recipes.

Do you have an earliest Coke Float memory?

I was one of six children. My mother was a sixth-grade teacher, and my father was a pharmaceutical salesman. We really didn’t have enough money for Coca-Cola, but my friend down the street, her father worked for Coca-Cola. They had a refrigerator on their little back porch that was always filled with bottles of Coca-Cola!

In May or June, when the weather started getting hot, we would walk to my friend’s house after school, fill glasses with ice and pour Coca-Cola over the cubes. Then we would take whipped cream -- at that time it was Reddi-wip -- and squirt it all over the top. We’d drop in a straw and have the best time enjoying our Coke Floats.

Then I started making them with my own homemade whipped cream. We also froze Coca-Cola in ice trays and made Coca-Cola ice cubes to drop in the glass -- so there was no dilution. And later, when I found out about granite, or granita, we would freeze a dish with about two inches of Coca-Cola in it, then scrape it and make a granita, which is like delicious fluffy ice, to serve with a big dollop of whipped cream.

Martha Stewart's Coke Float
So your Coke Float recipe evolved over the years?

It did. It got more and more sophisticated. The videos we just filmed for my website feature three Coke Float recipes. Each one is progressively more modern.

Were your Coke Floats an immediate hit with friends and family?

Oh, gosh yes. Everybody loved the granita, and they still do. The tradition of handing down recipes is fun for me. Everyone loves to get new ideas.

Why did you use whipped cream instead of vanilla ice cream?

Back in those days, people didn’t keep ice cream in their freezers. But everyone always had heavy cream for their coffee… and it’s very easy to whip up cream. Like Coca-Cola, ice cream was a very special treat. Now it’s of course much more common. We always used whipped cream in our Coke Floats, and we loved it so much!

In terms of presentation, is there a proper way to serve a Coke Float?

I like to use a traditional Coca-Cola glass. Growing up, one of my friends actually had an ice cream parlor in her basement, with the tall ice cream soda glasses. Those were perfect for our Coke Floats. But they look really good in any tall glass.

Martha Stewart's Coke Float
What about a garnish? Do you add anything?

No, just a straw and a long spoon.

Which do you prefer?

Both, because you have to scoop out the whipped cream with a spoon. You can also pick it out with a straw, of course, but that can take longer.

What foods pair well with a Coke Float?

As kids, tomato sandwiches were one of our favorite things to make and enjoy with our Coke Floats. We would take white bread, which was really good back then, and add sandwich spread -- mayonnaise filled with relish -- and a big slice of one of my father’s tomatoes. He was famous for the tomatoes he grew in our backyard. As we got older, we added cucumbers to the sandwiches. 

Over the last few years, chefs and bartenders have introduced some pretty interesting interpretations of the Coke Float. In fact, I recently saw one with bacon. How daring are you when it comes to desserts?

I guess I’m more restrictive (laughs). Years ago, we featured a ham basted with Coca-Cola on my TV program. Jane Heller, my banker, it’s her favorite ham glaze. And it’s delicious! But for a sweet dessert, I like to keep things simple.

Our readers are gearing up for Labor Day. Any words of advice for cooking and entertaining over the holiday weekend?

Ease of preparation. You can cook out or have a picnic. Memorial Day, for me, heralds the beginning of summer, and Labor Day is the dead-end of summer. We’re not really looking forward to it this year because we’ve had such a nice summer! My family, we’re outdoor people, so we spend as much time outside as we possibly can. I plan to be in East Hampton (New York) and go to the beach and enjoy the last swimming of summer because it will be getting cold soon. Labor Day in East Hampton will be festive, with lots of dinner parties and afternoon gatherings. People are still entertaining, which is very nice. I love that.

Watch Martha prepare three versions of her Coke Float.