I recently discovered that ice cream cake is a surprisingly divisive topic. When I asked friends and readers whether actual cake belonged in ice cream cake, the responses were severely split. Of course! said some. Absolutely not, insisted others. It turns out, you see, that many, many people were raised on the Dairy Queen and Carvel ice cream cakes, which are nothing but pure and cold ice cream, with chocolate cookie bits in the middle, and a luscious layer of whipped frosting over it all.
So today, dear readers, for those of you who dream of nothing more than recreating this childhood memory at home, perhaps with your own homemade ice cream, here is a step-by-step recipe to let you do just that. How to make an ice cream cake — it can be even better than DQ's, if you can imagine that.
The Dubious Economics of Homemade Ice Cream Cakes
Before we get started, though, I need to level with you. Making an ice cream cake from scratch is not an entirely good deal, economically speaking. Dairy Queen charges about $20 to $25 for its regular round cakes. Making this with good-quality ice cream and store-bought ingredients, like fudge sauce and cookies, will probably be quite a bit more.
Of course, money isn't the only reason to do something from scratch; you may want to use your own special homemade flavors, or create a cake with dairy-free ice cream. You might want to decorate it specially, or include home-baked cookies inside.
But just fair warning — if you want the cheapest option, pick one up at your local shop. For all the other reasons, proceed!
Timing & Freezer Space
Now that we've talked about that, let's talk about how long this will take you. Making an ice cream cake is not a lot of work; I dare say it's easier than a baked cake. But it does take time — almost entirely hands-off time, but still. If you want an ice cream cake for a birthday party, I would start at least three days ahead.
You need a day to create the first layer, which has to freeze until solid. Then the next ice cream layer, and after that, it freezes overnight so it's stable enough to remove the springform ring. Then you frost the cake with whipped cream, and it's really best to let it sit in the freezer one more night before serving. You're always fighting the clock when working with ice cream, so give yourself plenty of time to let things chill out between steps.
Last but not least: freezer space. You need a lot. Enough to slide a whole sheet pan into the freezer. Upright freezers are best for this; side-by-side and bottom-drawer freezers make it tough. Clear your freezer and do a test run with the pans before getting started.
How To Make an Ice Cream Cake
What You Need
2 quarts vanilla ice cream
2 1/2 cups roughly crushed chocolate cookies
2 cups chocolate fudge sauce
1 quart chocolate ice cream
1 quart heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Magic Shell sauce, store-bought or homemade
Wax or parchment paper
9- or 10-inch springform ring, chilled in the freezer overnight (see Note)
Stand or hand mixer
Large round cake plate or platter
Piping bag, optional
- Set up your pan: Lay a sheet of parchment or wax paper on a baking sheet, and place your cold springform ring (without the bottom) on top.
- Whip the vanilla ice cream: Whip the vanilla ice cream with a mixer for about 2 minutes, or until fluffy but still frozen.
- Create the vanilla ice cream layer: Spread the whipped ice cream up the sides of the pan, creating a thick layer of vanilla all around. Spread the rest in the bottom, and smooth out. (A little ice cream may puddle out the bottom as it melts. This is fine; we'll take care of that later.)
- Add 2 cups crushed cookies: Spread a thick, even layer of cookies over the ice cream and lightly press in.
- Add 2 cups fudge sauce: Warm the fudge sauce just enough to make it easily pourable, but not too hot, then pour over the cookies.
- Freeze for 4 hours: Freeze for at least 4 hours, or overnight if you have the time.
- Create the chocolate ice cream layer: Whip the chocolate ice cream with a mixer until fluffy but still frozen. Spread on top of the cookie and fudge layer and smooth it so it's even with the top of the pan. Cover the top with another sheet of parchment or wax paper.
- Freeze overnight: Freeze overnight or until completely solid.
- Prep the cake for unmolding: Peel away the top layer of parchment or wax paper. Place a large round plate or platter over the top of springform pan, upside-down. Gently flip the whole cake over, so that it ends up on the plate with the chocolate layer on the bottom and the vanilla layer on top. Peel away the other piece of parchment. Trim away any frozen bits of ice cream on the outside of the cake.
- Unmold the ice cream cake: Gently loosen the springform and wiggle it until it slides smoothly off the cake. Dab the base gently to mop up any melted ice cream. Return to the freezer while you whip the cream.
- Frost with whipped cream: Whip the cream with the powdered sugar and vanilla until it forms soft peaks. Use an offset spatula to spread the whipped cream all over the cake. If desired, use a piping bag to create rosettes or other decorations.
- Decorate the cake: Add sprinkles, drizzles of Magic Shell, extra dollops of whipped cream, and Maraschino cherries, if desired.
- Freeze until eating: At this point, the cake can be eaten, but it will melt quickly. It's best to return it to the freezer, overnight if possible. It will also keep quite a while; once the cake and the frosting are firmly frozen, cover loosely with plastic wrap and freeze for up to 1 month.
- On springform rings: I realize that springforms come in various sizes and we don't usually keep both a 9-inch and a 10-inch around. So use either; the cake will be a little shorter and broader with a 10-inch, and taller with a 9-inch.
- Flavor swaps: I'm not sure I need to tell you this, but the sky is the limit with flavors here. Try mint chocolate chip with a mix of Andes Mints and Oreos in the middle. Cherry cordial ice cream with chopped fresh cherries and white chocolate drizzle. Peanut butter and chocolate with crumbled Nutter Butters. Your choice.
- Ice cream choices: From my research, it seems that Dairy Queen uses an eggless ice cream for their cakes, so I opted for egg-free Breyers. It whips nicely, and it's fairly light, which I think works well here.