ice cream cake for kids and kids at heart

I confess to having a soft spot for homemade ice cream cakes. I like them when they include literal cake or when they’re just ice cream in the shape of a cake. This fudgy, incredibly easy version falls somewhere in between those two poles. It features layers of graham crackers as the “cake” component. The crackers absorb some ice cream and soften a bit, giving the texture enough variety to make it interesting. This cake is currently at the top of my warm weather favorites and is perfect for Memorial Day weekend parties.

ice cream cake

I first made the recipe for a baby sprinkle a couple of weeks ago. My friend’s 5 year-old and I were teaming up to make the party desserts, so I needed something easy and kid-friendly. Sprinkle cookies were a definite (for both the pun and fun factors), but I also wanted something that would be more of a dessert centerpiece. Some Googling landed me on Martha Stewart’s page and this casual but impressive ice cream cake. It involved making a homemade fudge sauce, softening ice cream, layering those two things between graham crackers, and topping the finished product with whipped cream.

ice cream cake piece

It turned out to be a terrific cake to make with kids. From spraying the pan with Pam to breaking and arranging the layers of graham crackers to drizzling the hot fudge, it was a thoroughly engaging project. Spreading the melty ice cream was a tad frustrating for tiny hands, so I did that task. Otherwise, waiting for the 15-minute freezing increments between layers was the hardest part.

from top left: pliable ice cream; ice cream layer; graham layer; fudge layer

clockwise from top left: pliable ice cream; ice cream layer; graham layer; fudge layer

The finished cake needs to set up for 8 hours in the freezer. When it comes out, the instructions say to run hot water over the bottom of the pan to loosen the cake. This made sense to me when I read it and when I watched it in the video on Matha’s site, but when I pulled the cake out at the party and had a kitchen full of guests watching me, it suddenly made no sense at all. Wouldn’t the top of the cake get wet? Ed had the idea to rest the base of the cake on a rimmed cookie sheet filled with hot water. I did that for less than a minute, inverted the cake onto a cutting board, and held my breath as I lifted the pan. It was a perfect rectangle. The crowd cheered (in my mind). I drizzled the top with some leftover hot fudge, dolloped with whipped cream, and started slicing.

one final drizzle

one final drizzle

It was a huge hit. I used two parts vanilla ice cream and one part Ben and Jerry’s “Cake My Day” (my friend’s current favorite flavor) and it was an awesome combination. The raspberry swirl from the ice cream was perfect with the fudge and graham. The cake batter flavor in the ice cream also made the “cake” taste more like cake. I’m sure there are many other irresistible flavor combinations and I plan on spending this summer finding them. Coffee and chocolate and caramel…Mint chocolate chip and cookies and cream…Strawberry and vanilla… Happy long weekend!

fudgy ice cream cake
adapted from Martha Stewart (the video is really helpful!)

Serves about 10, but the recipe doubles easily to fit a 13″ x 9″ pan for bigger crowds.

The hot fudge is delicious and a great recipe to have on hand, but I won’t tell Martha if you use store-bought hot fudge instead.

As noted above, you can be creative with the ice cream flavor combinations. If you’re stumped, two layers of vanilla and one specialty layer is a safe place to start.

If you want to make the whipped cream a few hours ahead of time, I recommend Ina Garten’s recipe.

ingredients

Cooking spray
¼ cup light corn syrup
1 ¾ cups heavy cream, divided
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
2/3 cup granulated sugar
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
Salt
3 pints of ice cream
approx. 18 graham crackers (about two sleeves)

instructions

Clear a flat space in your freezer big enough to fit an 8-inch by 8-inch by 2-inch pan.

Prepare an 8-inch by 8-inch by 2-inch pan by spraying the inside with cooking spray. Line the pan with plastic wrap, leaving a 6-inch overhang on two sides. Freeze the pan for 10 minutes before starting.

Remove one pint of ice cream from the freezer to soften for 15 minutes while you prepare the hot fudge sauce. To make the sauce, heat the corn syrup, ¼ cup of heavy cream, the butter, granulated sugar, cocoa powder, and a pinch of salt in a medium pan over medium-high heat. Whisk constantly until mixture boils. Remove from heat and allow to cool for approximately 10 minutes.

Scoop the softened ice cream into a bowl and work it with a spatula until it is pliable, but not too melted. Spread the ice cream in an even layer in the prepared pan. Top the ice cream with a single layer of graham crackers, breaking them to fit. Drizzle a ¼ cup of hot fudge over the graham crackers and spread it with an offset spatula (or just leave it drizzly). Place pan in freezer for 15 minutes and remove second ice cream pint to soften.

Repeat twice, omitting fudge on final layer (the cake should be: ice cream, graham, fudge, ice cream, graham, fudge, ice cream, graham). You might need to reheat the fudge if it becomes too thick: heat it in the microwave in 15-second increments, stirring after each, until thin enough to pour. Use the excess plastic wrap to cover the pan and freeze for 8 hours. Cover and refrigerate the hot fudge sauce.

To serve:

Just before serving, make the whipped cream. Using an electric mixer, whip 1 ½ cups of heavy cream and 1 tablespoon of confectioner’s sugar in a large bowl until stiff peaks form, 3 to 5 minutes.

Reheat the hot fudge sauce in the microwave in 15-second increments, stirring after each, until thin enough to pour.

Remove the ice cream cake from the freezer. Rest the pan briefly in a shallow bath of warm water to loosen the cake (a rimmed cookie sheet works well for the bath). Remove from bath and dry the pan. Peel away the plastic wrap from the top of the cake and invert the pan on to a serving platter. Lift off the pan and remove the plastic wrap from the cake. Drizzle with the hot fudge sauce, top with mounds of whipped cream, and serve.

Leftovers can be frozen, but scrape off the whipped cream as it doesn’t freeze well.

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