I love blog posts that are written with breezy confidence. They encourage me to put my cooking fears aside and fry things, cut butter into flour, and let sugar turn into caramel. I would like to be able to write this post with that kind of confidence, but it wouldn’t really reflect how I felt before I made this cake, how I felt while I was making this cake, or how I felt until my dad took his first bite of this cake. It would only tell you what I know now, having given my dad the exact birthday cake he wished for and having watched 8 people scrape their plates clean (myself included). The cake was a solid baking success, but I was doubtful at every turn (literally).
A little background: this year for his birthday, my dad requested an ice cream cake roll made of chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream. This cake was one he remembered from childhood. It was not one that my grandmother lovingly tucked together, but one that she bought him as a treat from the local convenience store; a novelty. When I asked him for guidance on the cake, he had very specific ideas about what the cake could and could not be. Iced? No. Glazed? No. Layered with chocolate crunchy things like they do at Carvel? No. (Really?!) Just cake and ice cream. Chocolate and vanilla.
The simplicity scared me. First, I had never had this retro nostalgia dream of a dessert, so I had to trust that by sheer genetics my mind’s eye would see my dad’s memory the way he did. I envisioned a naked Ho-Ho filled with ice cream instead of white Hostess cream…and big enough to feed 8 people. I hoped that was what he wanted.
Next, roulades are a dangerous game. I’ve made a yule log, but not with a chocolate cake, and it was iced and filled with mousse, not bare and filled with something that must be thawed and refrozen. In other words, this was a much riskier operation. I needed a recipe for a chocolate genoise that would be strong enough to roll without cracking. I was worried that a cake would get weird if it were trapped with melted, then refrozen ice cream. Would it get soggy? Crunchy? Rubbery? I turned to the internet for answers. Many online recipes were criticized for blandness or crack-iness. I finally happened upon a blogger who made two very successful chocolate ice cream cakes for her twins’ birthdays. The cakes looked great and like something I could do. She even had a step-by-step photo collage. I was still nervous because she used icing, so I couldn’t tell if her cakes cracked, but by this point, I was running out of research time and had to get to baking.
I prepared and assembled the cake the night before my dad’s birthday dinner. I didn’t want to wait until day-of in case I had a total fail (like I did last year when I attempted to make red velvet cake with too much natural food coloring and ended up with a dry, medicinal mess. Thank goodness for Duncan Hines and grocery stores that open at 7 a.m.). I double and triple checked my ingredients and the instructions. I was haltingly, tentatively relieved as each step worked: the egg whites whipped up beautifully, the batter didn’t get tough, the cake didn’t stick to the pan, no skin came off on the parchment, and most importantly – no cracks. Spreading the softened / half melted ice cream was a soupy, sticky mess, but I just hoped that I got enough in the cake roll and that it was evenly distributed. I wrapped it in parchment and foil, shoved it in the freezer, and went to sleep. A few short hours later, I darted out of bed and checked the freezer. The roll was still a cylinder. I snuck a peek inside the foil wrapping and saw that the ice cream appeared to have stayed inside the cake. Good signs.
The real moment of truth came when I served it. I tried to steady my hand as I sliced off the ragged edges. At first look, it was a nice open swirl…with a bit of a pointy peak. I tasted a fork full of the ragged piece. It tasted great. As I kept slicing, the swirl rounded out and each piece looked better and better. I am happy to report that the cake exceeded my dad’s expectations. He declared it much fresher and tastier than the frozen treat he remembered. And I have to admit the cake was a lot easier to make than I expected.
I used the recipe from Barbara Bakes, who adapted it from Redbook. I followed the instructions almost to a tee, except that I didn’t glaze it and I dusted my tea towel with cocoa rather than confectioner’s sugar before rolling. I also trimmed the slightly crunchy edges of the cake after removing it from the oven, but before rolling it. I was determined not to have a flat side on my roll, so I froze it overnight resting loosely in a large cylindrical pitcher rather than leaving it against the flat of my freezer drawer. And lots of credit goes to Ed, whose innovative ice chest fashioned out of a shoe box and baggies of ice is the only reason the cake survived the drive from D.C. to western Loudoun.