Baking for Bookworms: Homemade Ice-Cream Floats from The Secret History by Donna Tartt


The food in Donna Tartt’s book is an interesting mixture of the decadent (roasted lamb, exotic mushrooms, souffles, foie gras) and the hopelessly mundane school cafeteria food and bad coffee. Food helps delineate separate worlds of influence and privilege. As the protagonist, Richard, is largely an outsider, he notices the discrepancies between the displays of wealth shown by his classmates (even those that are not rich) and his own working class background. But this is still college, and many of the foods are comfort food or are “prescriptive” for things like hangovers. These ice cream floats are no exception:

“Charles closed the screen door behind him and wandered listlessly onto the porch in his red-striped bathrobe. ‘What you need,’ he said, ‘is an ice-cream float.’

‘You and your ice-cream floats.’

‘They work, I tell you. It’s very scientific. Cold things are good for nausea and…

‘The ice cream slows down your digestion. The Coke steles your stomach and the caffeine cures your headache. Sugar gives you energy. And besides, it makes you metabolize the alcohol faster. It’s the perfect food.'”                                                                                                  95-96

I won’t hazard a guess whether Charles is correct in saying that Coke floats are the perfect hangover cure, but it certainly sounds better than eating raw eggs.


You can use any soda you want for your floats, but this particular ice cream goes better with the darker colas because of the added brown sugar. If you don’t add the brown sugar, you can put it with orange soda or anything else that strikes your fancy.

Homemade Vanilla Ice-Cream

This simple recipe is meant to be used in an ice cream maker. If you don’t have an ice cream maker, you can still use this recipe, just use a freezer gallon sized bag, put the mixture inside, and then mush it around every 20-30 minutes until its the right consistency.

  • 1 cup whole milk (whole milk really does work best, I wouldn’t use lower than 2%)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla paste (if you don’t want to use this specialty ingredient, just use about 2 tablespoons of vanilla extract total, but I like the little vanilla bean flecks without having to use a whole bean)
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

My ice cream maker requires me to freeze the insert 24-48 hours ahead of making ice-cream. If yours is the same, make sure you do this first.

Whisk whole milk together with the sugar and salt until the sugar dissolves.

Add in the cream and vanilla and whisk to combine.

Put in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours to let all the flavors come together and so the mixture can chill.

Make the ice-cream using your machine. Instead of spreading the ice-cream out in a tupperware container, I like to use a 8×8 inch pyrex baking dish so that it freezes faster. You can put whatever container you’re using in the freezer so that the ice cream doesn’t melt right away.

Freeze for at least another hour before eating.

To make the floats, scoop out some ice cream, add soda, and enjoy!


What’s your favorite hangover cure? or if you don’t drink, what’s one food that always makes you feel better? Let me know in the comments!

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