There are a few general rules to bear in mind when making an ice cream cake, so let’s start with those. First, DON’T LET THE ICE CREAM MELT. Ice cream that melts and refreezes forms large new ice crystals that feel grainy on your tongue. It can also get discolored, become gummy, lose any distinct swirls it may have had—you see why I had to use all caps up there. Soft ice cream is fine; liquid ice cream isn’t ice cream anymore. (If Bartleby’s grows to the point where multiple employees are making ice cream together, I'm *sure* they will make fun of me behind my back by mockingly repeating that sentence.)
Second, to avoid letting the ice cream melt, work as fast as you can whenever you have ice cream out of the freezer. If you can’t finish whatever you’re working on before the ice cream starts to melt, stop working and put it back in the freezer until it’s frozen again. Which leads us to the third rule: there will be downtime! Since you have to keep sticking the cake back in the freezer and waiting for it to harden, you’ll have some time on your hands to do other things. Plan to use this time to prep for the next step in the procedure, or wash dishes, or get some fresh air, or stretch your aching lower back (just me?). You can always leave the ice cream in the freezer for longer than strictly necessary if you need to take more downtime to do something else—there’s nothing wrong with frozen ice cream, after all.
OK, now let’s start building!
1. Line the pan with plastic wrap. Use multiple pieces, layered crosswise, if needed to cover the whole inside surface of the pan (any exposed metal will stick to the ice cream and make it hard to get the cake out later). Make the pieces long enough to leave an overhang of about 2" around the sides of the pan.
2. Add the first layer of ice cream, filling the pan approximately halfway up.
—Store-bought ice cream will need to be softened slightly so you can scoop and reshape it. The best way to soften it is to put it in your fridge for around 15 minutes. Give it a squeeze every 5 minutes; it’ll be ready to use when it has a little give. A shortcut is to microwave it on 50% power for 15–20 seconds, but be careful to stop before you see any melting. When the ice cream is scoopable, take it out of the original container and pack it tightly into the cake pan. Spread it evenly without leaving any gaps or cracks.
—Homemade ice cream should be poured directly into the pan as soon as its freezing cycle is done. Spread it around evenly with the spatula to make sure it’s level.
Press a piece of wax paper firmly onto the surface of the ice cream and put the pan in the freezer to let the ice cream harden before the next step. This will take anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes, depending on how soft the ice cream was when you put it in.
3. While the ice cream is in the freezer, prep your baked good by tearing or chopping it into small chunks. When the ice cream is firm, pull the pan out of the fridge and spread the baked good chunks in an even, tightly spaced layer on the surface of the ice cream, leaving a small gap around the edge of the pan—this will ensure that no pieces are sticking out the side of the cake when you’re trying to spread frosting on it later.
Put the pan back in the freezer to firm up the ice cream before adding the next layer. If the first layer is too soft, it will squirt up around the sides and mingle with the second layer while you’re pressing it in, and they won’t so much be layers anymore.
4. Add the second layer of ice cream. Fill the pan up all the way with this layer. Cover the ice cream with wax paper and put the pan back in the freezer for 20–60 minutes to let it firm up.
5. Apply the second layer of baked good, following the same method as in step 3. Press the baked good chunks firmly into the ice cream to make sure they won’t fall off when you invert the pan to get the cake out. Cover the cake again and put it back in the freezer.
And that’s it! You have a cake. Now let that little cutie freeze until it is nigh unto a diamond (SO so hard) before you move on to frosting it. But that’s another post for another day. Meanwhile, do you have questions? Comments? Observations? Hit. Me. Up!
Remember, we’re still selling t-shirts and gift cards to help raise money to bring Bartleby’s back when the quarantine is lifted—and 15% of all sales will be donated to support Block Club Chicago, which continues to provide essential coverage of the coronavirus and everything else happening in Chicago. I’d also be thrilled if you gave to Block Club directly, if you don’t need a shirt or a gift card. Just please let me know if you do!