Part 1: Building Your Ice Cream Cake—Subpart A: Preparation
Helloooo, cakers! If you are all “subpart what now?” after seeing the post title, here’s the deal: I wrote out everything you need to know about getting ready to make an ice cream cake and then actually making one, and it was a lot. I want to explain everything in detail so there’s no mystery, but I don’t want to make you go bonkers from too much scrolling. So, subparts (but only two! [so far]).
Onward, to our annotated list of equipment and materials:
I recommend a round or square metal pan that’s 2"–3" deep. You will build the cake—two layers of ice cream and two layers of the baked good—directly inside this pan. A simple shape (as opposed to, say, a resting baby lamb) will make it easy to get the ice cream spread into every edge and corner. If you’re thinking 2"–3" sounds kind of short, note that bigger is not necessarily better in this realm; ice cream cake is very rich compared to baked cake, and the taller you make the cake, the harder it will be to decorate and to slice. Finally, the diameter or area of the pan you use should depend on how many people you want to feed—check out our menu for the number of servings you can get out of 5 popular cake sizes.
The plastic wrap is used to line the pan so that the ice cream is easy to remove after it’s frozen into the shape of a cake. You can put ice cream directly into a pan and then run water over the bottom of the pan to melt it out later, but I find that messy, and you lose some ice cream to melting. I don’t love single-use materials like plastic wrap, but so far I haven’t found a better way to get my cakes out cleanly.
The ice cream can be store-bought or homemade. Either way, here’s how to figure out how much you’ll need: Fill the cake pan with water, then pour the water into a measuring cup to see how many liquid ounces it takes to fill the pan. Since there are two layers of ice cream, each layer will need around half that many ounces of ice cream. (You’ll also be putting some baked goods into the pan, so you can round down a bit.) A quart of ice cream is 32 liquid ounces; a pint is 16. Buy or make a relatively high-fat, premium or superpremium ice cream; the higher fat and lower air content will help keep the cake solid when you’re decorating it. If your cake will be dairy free, I strongly recommend using dairy-free ice cream rather than sorbet, for the same reason. Coconut-based ice cream is especially handy for cakes because coconut fat has a high melting point.
Can you use two different flavors of ice cream, since there will be two layers? Oh my goodness, yes. (Combining flavors gives me LIFE.) Some of my favorite combos: caramel and coffee, coffee and peanut butter, peanut butter and chocolate, chocolate and coconut ... and on the chunky side, cookie dough and cookies and cream, cookies and cream and mint chocolate chip, mint chocolate chip and sugar cone crunch (or whatever the other brands call their version of ice cream with chocolate-covered sugar cone pieces in it).
As for the baked good, I like to work with things that can be crumbled or chopped into chunks without turning completely into crumbs, so that you can get some toothsome bites to provide a nice textural contrast to the ice cream. Chewy cookies, brownies, or blondies work well. For vegan ice cream cakes, I like to chop up sandwich cookies like these or crumble up a rich vegan cake made with vegetable oil or coconut oil. You can also use butter-based baked cake as a layer in a dairy ice cream cake—I’d pick a recipe that gets extra moisture from buttermilk or sour cream, so the crumbles in your ice cream cake won’t be too dry.
The type of spatula you want depends on whether you’re using store-bought or homemade ice cream. If it’s store-bought, you’ll want something heavy and strong to handle that firm ice cream—this tool is the best kind I’ve used, but a regular ice cream scoop or any inflexible spatula can also work. If it’s homemade ice cream, you’re going to pour it into the cake pan right after you make it, so it will be a much creamier soft-serve consistency, and you can use any spatula to just nudge it into place and smooth it out.
Finally, the wax paper will cover the surface of the cake while it’s sitting in your freezer to harden. When ice cream is exposed to air, moisture in the air condenses onto the surface of the ice cream and freezes, forming ice crystals, which are non-yummy. You can protect your ice cream against the air in your freezer by sealing it off with wax paper. This will seal out any weird freezer flavors too, which can creep into your ice cream after a day or two of exposure. (Pro tip: Stick a square of wax paper inside any partially eaten pints of ice cream in your freezer and keep them from getting freezer-burned too!)
Now that we have our mise en place, haw haw haw *twirls French mustache*, we’re ready to make the cake. Unless you have questions! If so, you’re more than welcome to email me or leave a comment or DM on Instagram or Facebook. Your questions will make these blog posts better, so don’t hold back!