So, you have a frozen confection made of layered ice cream and a crumbled baked good. You could stop right there and call it an ice cream cake! But you could add even more flavor, color, texture, and visual pizzazz by frosting it, and that’s what we’re going to talk about in the next two posts. This one’s about the setup for frosting, and the next one will walk you through the process.
For this stage of construction we have a new list of equipment and materials:
Electric mixer (stand or hand)
Large mixing bowl
Liquid measuring cup (or kitchen scale) and spoons
Heavy cream or coconut cream
Other flavorings, food coloring (optional)
Fine mesh sieve (for coconut cream only)
Decorating turntable (optional)
The cake plate is what your cake will sit on from the time you remove it from the pan until you finish eating it. I like greaseproof cardboard pads like these—cardboard is lightweight but sturdy and can survive many trips in and out of the freezer, and greaseproof means you can wipe most drips right off without leaving a stain. But any flat plate that fits in your freezer can work. Just make sure the plate you use is a bit bigger than the cake, to leave room for frosting around the sides, especially if you want to add a decorative border.
Unfrosted 6" cake on an 8" cake circle
I highly recommend using an electric mixer, rather than whisking by hand, especially if you’re making dairy whipped cream. Cream takes roughly a year to whip up by hand, but only about 5 minutes with an electric mixer. Coconut cream does whip up a bit faster and might be more feasible to whip by hand, though I haven’t tried. As for the mixing bowl, I recommend using a large one with high sides to catch any spatters. And for measuring, I’ll give you ingredient quantities by both volume and weight, so it’s not essential that you have a kitchen scale. For some recipes, the kind of accurate measurement you can only get with a scale is muy importante, but whipped cream is pretty forgiving.
The main ingredient of my ice cream cake frosting is cream. It sticks well to ice cream (unlike buttercream, which tends to solidify on contact and then fall right off the surface of the cake), it spreads nice and smooth, it tastes delicious, and it’s simple to make. When buying dairy cream, make sure you pick heavy cream or whipping cream—something with 30–40% butterfat. If you want vegan frosting, use coconut cream, which is just a higher-fat version of coconut milk. Coconut cream and coconut milk both separate in the can into a fat layer and a water layer, and the fat is the only part you’ll use for the frosting, so it’s more efficient to buy the cream. But not every grocery store carries coconut cream, so use the milk if that’s all you can find. You’ll need roughly one can of coconut cream or two cans of coconut milk for a small or midsize cake.
Powdered sugar and vanilla extract are the basic flavorings for the frosting; plain cream, whether dairy or coconut, is pretty bland, and these ingredients add a nice, neutral sweetness. You can add other flavorings if they go well with the flavors in your cake. I like to use cocoa powder to make chocolate whipped cream and pulverized freeze-dried strawberries to make strawberry whipped cream. You can also add color; this gel food coloring provides the strongest color you can get without watering down the frosting. (Sidebar: I’ve tried various natural food colorings for various uses, and a lot of them have been disappointing. This brand’s natural food coloring is my favorite so far, but I haven’t actually tried it in whipped cream.)
Frosting made with freeze-dried strawberries—subtle berry color, strong berry flavor
For general scraping and scooping, a flexible rubber spatula is indispensable. For spreading frosting smoothly on a cake, however, the tool you need is an offset spatula. I’m not going to go too deep into the whys and wherefores of cake decorating—the internet is RIFE with tutorials—but the upshot is that this type of spatula gives you the best control for creating a smooth finish. Quick note on the fine mesh sieve for coconut cream: this will allow you to strain out any stubborn chunks of solid coconut fat that refuse to get mixed in, which, in my experience, happens every &*#$ time.
Finally, the decorating turntable can be a very helpful piece of equipment for getting a smooth finish, especially on round cakes. Using a turntable, you can heap a dollop of whipped cream on your cake, hold your offset spatula stationary on the dollop, spin the cake, and end up with a smooth, fully covered top or side. It’s the bees’ knees. This one is my fave. However, you can certainly frost a cake without one. With a little more effort, you can get a smooth finish by sweeping the frosting in long, gentle, continuous strokes across the top and sides of the cake, rotating the cake plate between strokes—or you can not even sweat it and go for a more naturalistic rough finish.
Frosted without a turntable
Onward to the frosting process!