An ice cream cake is the ultimate showstopping dessert for any summer party. It combines everyone’s favorite things — rich, melting ice cream and soft, fluffy cake — in one perfect package, and it’s easy to customize with your favorite flavors. Here, Williams-Sonoma Test Kitchen cook Melissa Stewart shares her tips for making it at home. (Scroll down for recipes — 4th of July inspiration!)
Bake your cake. You can use whatever cake you like as your base. “I’ve even used brownies,” says Melissa. Since you’re freezing the cake, pretty much any recipe will have enough structure to stand up to the weight of the ice cream. To save time, use a store-bought cake or a mix.
Bake and assemble in the same pan. For easy assembly, use the pan you baked the cake in to build the finished masterpiece. Since the cake shrinks up a little bit during baking, it’s the perfect size; the pan will keep the layers from sliding, and it will be easy to remove after freezing. You can use a loaf pan or a regular round cake pan; Melissa recommends one with straight sides so you can easily stack the layers.
Mind your cake-to-ice cream ratio. For the best bites, create thin layers of cake — that way the cake won’t overwhelm the ice cream. You can freeze the cake layers before assembling, but it’s not necessary.
Soften your ice cream. Let your ice cream sit at room temperature for 10 minutes or so before you start spreading it on the cake layers. You can also let it thaw for a few minutes, then beat it in a mixer with a paddle to create a pliable texture. Or, put it in a large bowl and beat it with a wooden spoon. Once it’s soft, pour it onto the cake and use an offset spatula to spread it.
Avoid sticking. Ice cream melts quickly, so you shouldn’t have too many issues with the cake sticking to the pan. If you like, you can put a piece of parchment paper or a big piece of plastic wrap on the bottom of the pan to insure it doesn’t stick.
Freeze the assembled cake overnight. “You want it to be nice and solid and to make sure the ice cream really adheres to the cake layers,” says Melissa.
Serve! Let the cake sit for two or three minutes before serving. “I like to heat a big slicing knife under hot running water, and wipe it with a towel to cut through and get clean slices,” says Melissa. Don’t frost the cake with a buttercream, which will seize up against the cold cake. If you do want to frost it, use a pourable topping like a ganache or caramel.
Cookies and Cream-Mocha Chip Ice Cream Cake
20 Tbs. (2 1/2 sticks) (10 oz./315 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 Cookies & Cream Cake Mix (includes sugar and cake mix packets)
5 egg whites, at room temperature
3/4 cup milk (6 fl. oz./185 ml) milk, at room temperature
2 pints (28 oz./875 g) mocha chip ice cream, slightly softened
6 oz. (185 g) bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup (6 fl. oz./185 ml) heavy cream
1/2 cup (3 oz./90 g) finely crushed chocolate sandwich cookies
Preheat an oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease and flour two 9-inch (23-cm) round cake pans.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. Reduce the speed to low, add the sugar packet and beat until just blended, about 1 minute. Increase the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
In a bowl, whisk together the egg whites and milk until blended. With the mixer on low speed, add the cake mix packet in 4 additions, alternating with the egg white mixture and beginning and ending with the cake mix. Beat just until the batter is well blended, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down the bowl.
Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Bake until the cakes are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 26 to 28 minutes.
Transfer the pans to a wire rack and let cool for 15 minutes, then invert the pans onto the rack and let the cakes cool completely. Using a serrated knife, split each cake in half horizontally.
Cut out a 9-inch (23-cm) circle of parchment paper and place in the bottom of a clean 9-inch (23-cm) round cake pan. Place 1 cake layer, top side down, in the pan. Spoon half of the mocha chip ice cream into the pan and, using an offset spatula, spread it evenly to the edges of the pan.
Top with a second cake layer, then spoon the remaining mocha chip ice cream on top and spread evenly. Top with a third layer of the cake, setting aside the fourth layer for snacking or another use. Cover with plastic wrap and transfer to the freezer until frozen solid, at least 2 hours and up to 2 days.
Place the chocolate in a heat-safe bowl. Set aside.
In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, warm cream until small bubbles form at the edge of the pan. Pour the cream over the chocolate and let sit for 1 minute. Stir until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.
Remove the plastic wrap from the cake and carefully turn out onto a wire rack. Place the rack on a baking sheet and remove the parchment paper. Pour the chocolate mixture over the cake, allowing the chocolate to cover the entire top and drizzle down the sides. Sprinkle the cake with the crushed cookies. Return to the freezer for at least 30 minutes before serving. Serves 12.
Very Berry Ice Cream Cake
1 8-by-4-inch (20-by-10-cm) pound cake
1 pint (14 oz./440 g) strawberry ice cream, softened
1 pint (14 oz./440 g) strawberry or raspberry sorbet, softened
1 cup (8 fl. oz./250 ml) heavy cream
2 Tbs. confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups (8 oz./250 g) mixed berries, such as raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and quartered strawberries
Line the bottom and sides of an 8-by-4-inch (20-by-10-cm) loaf pan with plastic wrap or parchment paper, allowing it to overhang the edges by 2 inches (5 cm).
Using a serrated knife and starting from the bottom of the cake, cut the pound cake horizontally into two layers, each 1 1/2 inches (4 cm) thick. Set aside the extra layer for snacking or another use.
Scoop the ice cream and sorbet into a large, wide bowl, alternating scoops of the ice cream and the sorbet to make them easier to combine. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold and swirl the ice cream and sorbet together until they are mostly combined but some swirls are still visible.
To assemble the cake, spoon half of the swirled ice cream into the prepared loaf pan and, using an offset spatula, smooth it in an even layer. Top the ice cream with the bottom layer of pound cake. Spoon the remaining ice cream into the pan and spread it evenly over the cake layer. Top the ice cream with the second cake layer. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and freeze until firm, at least 4 hours and up to 2 days.
When ready to serve, remove the ice cream cake from the freezer and, using the overhanging plastic wrap to help remove the cake from the pan, invert the cake onto a serving platter. Remove the plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 5 to 10 minutes.
While the cake is resting, in a large bowl combine the cream, confectioners’ sugar and vanilla. Using a whisk, whip until stiff peaks form, 1 to 2 minutes. Using an offset spatula, spread the whipped cream over the top of cake, then scatter the berries on top of the whipped cream. Slice and serve immediately. Serves 10 to 12.