When I was growing up, my mom almost always made my birthday cakes. You might think this was awesome and way better than anything you could get in the store. And for some, that might be the case. For me, however, I grew up coveting my friends' store-bought cakes with the maddeningly sweet frosting. To this day, I have a weakness for that hurt-your-teeth sweetness, but I digress.
Really, all of this is to say that I have become my mother, for good or ill, because I also make my kids' birthday cakes...most of the time (there was the Wiggles cake for my oldest on his 3rd birthday where I gave in, mainly because of the replica Wiggle house I was building, so something had to give). Anywhoo...
For my son's eighth birthday, he wanted an ice cream cake. Cookies and cream ice cream cake, to be exact. That's okay. I was ready with the perfect recipe, and it's super easy, to boot! You know what part wasn't easy? Transporting it to the laser tag place where the party was. I also worried about keeping it cool enough until we needed to serve it. I put it in our biggest cooler, which had a layer of cold packs on the bottom, then a cooling rack, on which I put the cake. Guess what? I didn't need to worry at all! The thing stayed frozen, and I even had to take it out to sit at room temperature for 20 minutes -- and it was still kind of hard!
Why, you may ask, am I blogging about an ice cream cake with Thanksgiving looming in just four days? No fabulous pumpkin pie recipe or apple cranberry concoction? Well, the honest answer is that I'm only just getting around to putting this up (my son's birthday party was on September 30), but I have another reason. Because, my friends, I am going to give you an easy, impressive dessert that can be made ahead of time (won't take up precious oven real estate on the big day), and can be customized with whatever flavors you like! See how giving I am? You're welcome!
Here's the cookies and cream version I made for my son:
Isn't that pretty? Here's what it looks like on the inside:
Okay, to be honest, I should have used a bigger platter so that the crumbs didn't get all over the table, but that's the size that would fit in the cooler, so the presentation isn't as beautiful as I would like. But really. Don't you want your guests to ooh and ahh when you bring that to the table? This time, we did chocolate cake with cookies and cream ice cream for the cake layer, but for Thanksgiving, you could totally do a spice cake with vanilla ice cream, maybe with a caramel sauce drizzle. There are a lot of specialty ice cream flavors coming out, so you could do yellow cake (or spice cake again) with cinnamon ice cream or apple pie ice cream (I think that Edy's does that flavor). Anyway, my point is that there are all sorts of combos that could be used. For Christmas, a chocolate cake with peppermint or candy cane ice cream, with crushed candy canes sprinkled on top would be yummy.
Now that I've got your attention, would you like to know how I made this? I thought so. ;-) It may seem a little fussy, but none of the steps are very hard, or even time-consuming, and you can make the parts a few days ahead of time and put everything together the day you're serving...or put everything together the day before and store it in the freezer. If, that is, you have the freezer space, because the assembled cake can take up a lot of space. But that's the beauty of this dessert -- it's so flexible! I swear that it will now be your go-to dessert for all your special occasions!
Easy Peasy Ice Cream Cake
1 box cake mix (for a two layer cake), plus the ingredients to make the cake
1 quart ice cream
1 large carton of Cool Whip (or other whipped topping)
Note: You can also make your cake from scratch and whip your own cream, but sometimes it's nice to have something easy that you can go to without a lot of fuss. So, do whatever floats your boat and reflects your baking style. :-)
Make cake according to directions. Soften ice cream while the cake is baking. While the cakes are cooling, make the ice cream layer. Using another cake pan the same size as the cake layers, line the inside of the pan with plastic wrap, using enough so that you have a generous overhang all around. Stir the softened ice cream to smooth it out. Spread ice cream into prepared pan (you may not use the entire quart -- just fill the pan either to the top or about 1/4 inch below the top, depending on how thick you want the ice cream layer to be). Put the pan with the ice cream in the freezer and allow to harden while the cake layers cool. At this point, you can freeze all the layers (wrap the cake layers in plastic wrap, then aluminum foil) up to four days ahead.
Remember, and this is key: you want the cake completely cool before you assemble with the ice cream layer. I can not stress that enough!! When you're ready to assemble, put one layer on a serving plate, then take the ice cream layer, unwrap the top then turn the layer out onto the bottom cake layer. Pull off the plastic wrap from the ice cream, then put the second layer on top. Spread the whipped topping or whipping cream on top. Put back into freezer (at this point, you can keep it in the freezer up to 24 hours). Take the cake out about 20 minutes before you're ready to serve, so the cake can thaw a little.
Serves 12-16 (you can serve fairly thin slices, since the cake is so tall)
That is the basic cake, but as I mentioned earlier in this post, there are lots of ways to make this even fancier. The cake pictured has a cookie crumb layer in the middle of the ice cream, chocolate sauce drizzle (just regular, store-bought chocolate sauce) and Oreo cookies for decoration. I made the cookie crumbs by crushing up half of a package of Oreos, melting 1/2 cup of chocolate chips, then stirring the crumbs and melted chocolate together. I laid that mixture out on a cookie sheet, let it cool and harden up, then broke up into crumb-sized pieces, then spread only half the ice cream in the prepared pan, put the layer of crumbs on, froze that, then added the rest of the ice cream, then froze it all.
The whipped cream I used was adapted from a recipe I found in Bon Appetit. The recipe is for Mint Chip Ice Cream Cake, so you might want to check it out, but I just used the whipped cream part from it. The gelatin helps stabilize the whipping cream so that it doesn't turn runny once it starts to thaw.
For the whipped cream: Place 1 tablespoon cold water into a small heatproof glass or metal bowl. Sprinkle 1 1/4 tablespoons gelatin over; let soften, about 10 minutes.
Pour water to a depth of 1/2" into a small skillet set over medium heat. Transfer bowl with gelatin to skillet; stir until gelatin dissolves, about 2 minutes. Remove bowl from skillet.
Place 2 cups chilled cream in a large bowl (I also put my beater and bowl in the fridge to chill before whipping cream). Using an electric mixer, beat cream while gradually adding melted gelatin. Beat until soft peaks form. Add 1/2 cup powdered sugar and continue to beat until medium peaks form and whipped cream is soft and pillowy (not stiff or grainy).
Instead of whipped cream on the top, you could make a ganache (fancy word for glaze) to spread over the top, letting it drip down the sides. To make a simple chocolate ganache, warm up 1 cup of heavy cream (in a saucepan or in the microwave -- just be sure that the cream doesn't boil), then pour over 8 oz of bittersweet chocolate (you can use chocolate chips). Let stand for a minute or two to let the chocolate melt, then stir until smooth. If you don't use all the ganache, it will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks (just toss in the microwave for a few seconds to get it smooth and spreadable again).
If you give this a try, please share what flavor combinations you used to give inspiration to us all!