Happy Birthday Ice Cream Cake

Because my ice cream machine takes about 2 days to recharge between batches, I’ve been working on this Ice Cream cake for my son’s 11th birthday for most of the week. For the first layer; vanilla bean made with my homemade vanilla extract and hand-scraped Madagascar beans. Middle layer, mocha cappuccino made from home-roasted coffee beans and mixed with shavings of dark chocolate. Top layer, is chocolate, made with melted chocolate; not cocoa powder. The efforts really paid off; the cake was spectacular, with 3 layers each building in intensity over the previous. The combination of flavors worked perfectly together. This was by far the best ice cream cake I’ve ever eaten. 5-stars.

Stratification of the three layers of ice cream cake

My first attempt at making an ice cream cake was two years ago for my older son’s 11th birthday. While my son gave it 5-stars, it had some ice particle issues on the icing that were easily overcome with a little plastic wrap.

Lessons learned about making ice cream cakes:

  1. The secret to making spectacular ice cream is two-fold: (1) reduce the amount of water as much as possible; e.g. only egg yolks, never egg whites, and (2) increase the fat content. That’s the “secret” of Haagan-Dazs. Really, it’s no secret. Just look at the nutritional information on the side of the package; 18 grams of fat per 1/2 cup serving, compared to an industry standard closer to 7 to 8 grams.
  2. Leave your cake uncovered in the freezer for no more that 2 minutes. Any longer and you run the risk of ice particles marring your week-long project. The plastic wrap should be right up against the cake with as little air as possible between the cake and plastic wrap. By the way, the more you open your freezer door the more moisture will enter your freezer and the more protection your cake will need.
  3. Complete the illusion of a real cake by making a slight dome of the final layer.
  4. Use a spring form pan to shape the cake. Layering each batch of ice cream by lightly pressing into an even layer. Run a paring knife along the sides to make it easier to remove.
  5. If you plan to move the cake from the spring-form-pan-disk, then put a disc of parchment at the bottom of the pan before the first layer of ice cream. I put the disk in this time. but ended up keeping in on the spring-form-pan-disk.
  6. While the cake cost me just $10, that’s because quarts of heavy cream went on sale for 1/2 price. I was able to buy 1/2 gallon of heavy cream for just $4.80 of which I used 1-1/2 quarts for this cake.
  7. I topped the cake with Magic Shell to simulate the icing. Next time I want to work out an improved version that will provide a nicer finish. Plus the magic shell is rather expensive ($5.50 for two bottles) and the finished coating is too thin.
  8. If using Magic Shell be sure to warm and shake exceptionally well.  The trick to applying icing to the sides is to hold your rubber spatula against the side of the cake, squeeze a little Magic Shell between the cake and the spatula and work it upwards to form an even coating. It takes a little practice.
  9. As written, Chris Kimball’s instructions require 1 large and 3 medium mixing bowls. I’ve reworked the logistics of making the chocolate ice cream because I only have 1 large and 1 medium mixing bowl; the small bowl in step 4 can be any small bowl.

Rating: 5-star.
Cost: $10 for the cake. Non-sale price would be $15.
How much work? Medium
How big of a mess?  Large but spread over many days.
Started: Monday. Ready: Saturday.

Chris Kimball has his own technique for making an ice cream cake, which I didn’t use because I wanted pure ice cream without a cookie base. Chris also has a wonder Chocolate Ice Cream recipe is here, which is the basis of what I made last Friday for this cake.  I will post the recipes for the other two layers over the next few days.

Chocolate Ice Cream:

8-oz dark chocolate
1-1/4 cups whole milk
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup granulated sugar
4 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. Prepare a large bowl of ice water; to be used as an ice bath after removing from stove-top in step 8.
  2. Put a medium heat-proof bowl over a pan of nearly-simmering water. Break your chocolate into large chunks and melt completely while occasionally stirring. Allow to partially cool.
  3. Add milk, heavy cream, and 1/2 cup granulated sugar to medium saucepan. Warm over medium heat for 5 minutes until the mixture reaches 160°; stir occasionally to ensure that the sugar completely dissolves. Remove pan from heat until Step 6 to prevent the milk from boiling.
  4. Meanwhile in a small bowl, beat the yolks together with 1/4 cup sugar. Add the eggs to the melted chocolate and mix until well combined.
  5. Temper the yolks by whisking in 1/2 cup of the warmed milk/cream. Then whisk in a second 1/2 cup to further temper.
  6. Add the milk/yolk/chocolate mixture back in with the milk in the saucepan. Cook over medium burner until the mixture reaches180°; stir constantly with heat-proof spatula. Cooking too long will scramble your eggs.
  7. While the mixture heats up, wash your medium bowl and place it in ice batch, and get your strainer handy.
  8. When the mixture reaches 180°, immediately strain your mixture into the medium bowl. The ice batch will allow the mixture to cool to room temperature quickly; stirring occasionally will help it cool. Add vanilla extract, cover, refrigerate for 3 hours. Alternatively freeze for 1 hour just be sure it’s below 40°.
  9. Add mix into the ice cream machine’s canister. Churn for 35 minutes, or per manufacturer’s instruction.
  10. Put finished ice cream in airtight container, or press plastic wrap against the ice cream’s surface. Freeze for at least 2 hours before serving.

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