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How to Make the Best Ice Cream Cake

Ice cream is always a thrill. But when you layer your favorite ice cream flavor with tender cake and fudge sauce, you’ve got a statuesque homemade ice cream cake with a real sense of occasion.

Ice cream cakes were part of my childhood birthday party experience, but my first memorable ones weren’t until I was in my 30s, when I encountered the spectacular ones at Toscanini’s, a renowned scoop shop in Cambridge, Mass., that happened to be down the street from the restaurant where I worked at the time. The triple-decker confections were how we celebrated staff birthdays, the layers of cold, rich ice cream strewn with crunchy cookies or candy; gooey fudge; and plush cake, all wrapped up in a smooth coat of vanilla-scented whipped cream, setting a festive tone.

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A decade or so later, when I decided to create my own version of the dessert, it felt only natural to seek out the advice of Gus and Mimi Rancatore, the brother-sister team behind Toscanini’s. The pair emphasized that customization is key to the cake’s universal appeal.

“You could colloquially say all God’s children eat ice cream cakes, but some want kulfi and some want cookies and cream,” Gus told me. 

The three homemade components of my version—chiffon cake, fudgy chocolate, and whipped cream frosting—go with any flavor of ice cream in any style: fluffy, dense, or chunky. It’s also naturally make-ahead, since each element must be made in advance. Put them all together, and you’ve got an impressive, eminently doable project.

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The Ultimate Make-Ahead Dessert: Ice-Cream Cake

Advance preparation isn’t just a convenience perk of ice cream cake; it’s a critical part of the process, because the components need time to freeze after assembly. But that timing is flexible, since each element can be stored for days, if not weeks, before use. Here are the time ranges.



How to Make An Ice Cream Cake in 8 Easy Steps

1. GATHER THE ESSENTIAL EQUIPMENT

An oreo-decorated ice cream cake with a slice cut out of it showing the fudgy center with an ice cream layer and a cake layer.
A center layer of gooey fudge smooths out the crevices between the ice cream and cake.  

2. MAKE THE ICE-CREAM CAKE LAYER

Baked cake isn’t always part of ice cream cake, but there are a few good reasons to include it. First, it insulates the ice cream, significantly slowing melting after the assembled cake leaves the freezer; it also absorbs some of the ice cream’s moisture when it starts to soften, helping the cake stay intact. 

Cake also provides contrast—both textural and thermal. Not only does the tender crumb complement the creamy ice cream and chewy fudge, but it feels less cold in your mouth than ice cream does (even when frozen to the same temperature) because cake absorbs less heat from your tongue.

Why Chiffon Cake Works Well

  • Its fine, even crumb is full of tiny air bubbles that insulate very effectively.
  • It’s oil-based and stays softer when frozen compared to cakes made with solid fat like butter.
  • Its neutral vanilla profile works with any flavor of ice cream.
  • It’s easy to make.


Building in Extra Tenderness

To ensure even more softness in the cake once it was frozen, I boosted the amounts of oil, egg yolks, and sugar in the batter. The extra fat increased tenderness while the sugar formed a syrup with the batter’s water that prevented the liquid from turning icy.

To make the chiffon cake, you simply whisk together cake flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, oil, egg yolks, and vanilla; whip egg whites with a little more sugar until billowy peaks form; and fold the components together. Then you pour the batter into a 9-inch springform pan and bake it in a 300-degree oven. 

Ensuring a Flat Cake

The first few cakes I made domed and collapsed as they cooled, leaving the sides sunken enough that the surface required leveling. So I reduced the leavener to minimize expansion, and left the sides of the springform ungreased, which meant that the cake would grip the pan (instead of caving in on the sides) and rise and fall evenly. Voila, flat cake.

A side by side comparison of a perfect layer of chiffon cake baked in an ungreased pan and a greased pan causing the sides to cave in.

Once the chiffon is cool, I remove it from the springform so that I can use the pan to build the cake upside-down, which makes the assembled dessert as compact as possible. Then I invert it for serving, so the ice cream will ultimately be the top layer. More on that below.

3. MAKE A GOOEY, CHOCOLATEY FILLING

Good fudge sauce packs chocolate oomph and gooey chew, but it also simplifies assembly. Spread over the flattened ice cream base, the sauce settles into a smooth surface that evens out any nooks and crannies. The key ingredients: Cocoa powder and unsweetened chocolate for maximum cacao content and controlled sweetness, ample sugar to prevent the sauce from freezing solid, and butter to make it rich and silky.

I start by gently heating most of the sugar with butter and milk. After it simmers for a few minutes, I make a cocoa powder “paste” in a separate bowl by whisking the cocoa with cream, a bit of salt, and a little more sugar, which ensures that the components are well blended and breaks up the powdery cocoa clumps so there’s no need to sieve the sauce. Then I add the cocoa mixture to the pot and stir it over low heat for a few minutes to dissolve the sugar, cut the heat, and stir in unsweetened bar chocolate and a splash of vanilla.

4. ASSEMBLE THE ICE-CREAM CAKE UPSIDE-DOWN

The Best Way to Assemble Upside-Down

Built upside-down in a springform pan, the triple-layer cake is easily released and inverted once frozen. Start by tempering the ice cream in the refrigerator for 20 minutes or so, where it will soften gradually and evenly. (Do not place it on the counter, since the outer portion will melt quickly and turn icy when frozen). Then apply the fudge sauce and chiffon layer.

5. ADD MIX-INS TO YOUR ICE-CREAM CAKE (IF YOU WANT)

To incorporate inclusions, plan on 1 cup of the item per 11/2 quarts ice cream. Scoop a quarter of the ice cream into the prepared pan and drizzle or sprinkle with 1/3 cup of the item. Repeat, alternating layers of ice cream and inclusions, then press the ice cream into an even layer. Here are some suggestions and how to prepare them.

Cookies and candy: Chop into ¼” pieces

Cake and brownies: Cut into ½” chunks

Sauces: Chill until cold but still fluid enough to drizzle. Choose sweet sauces like chocolate sauce, caramel sauce, and marshmallow crème/Fluff, the high sugar content of which will keep the sauce from turning icy when frozen.

*Avoid crisp foods like pretzels and potato chips (they’ll absorb water from the ice cream and get soggy) and dense items (regular-size M&M’s, chocolate chunks, etc.) that will be too hard to bite through when frozen.

6. FROST AND FREEZE THE ICE-CREAM CAKE

Whipped cream is ideal for frosting an ice cream cake: It complements the dessert like it does a sundae, and the air it contains makes it a great insulator—like a down jacket for the ice cream. In fact, it's so effective that it even slows melting in a cut slice of the cake.

Applying it is quick and easy with a piping bag and offset spatula. The key is to work quickly so that the whipped cream doesn't freeze before you're ready to smooth it out. 

SCIENCE: FOAM INSULATION

Tender, vanilla-scented chiffon and lush, billowy whipped cream help make this ice cream cake appealing and impressive, but their primary function is insulation. Both components are foams—liquids that trap millions of tiny air bubbles and hold them together in a solid shape—which make great insulators because the bubbles conduct heat poorly. Using chiffon, which is aerated by whipped egg whites, as the ice cream cake’s base layer, buffers the ice cream from the serving platter, and covering the assembled cake with whipped cream insulates the ice cream from all sides like a down jacket so that it stays cold and firm as the frozen ensemble is served.

7. DECORATE THE CAKE

Think of this part as an arts-and-crafts project—but with chocolate sauce, sprinkles, and gel frosting. Here are a few easy options.

Rainbow pearl sprinkles being pressed onto the side of the ice cream cake.
Cookie crumbs or sprinkles: Hold cake at angle over pie plate containing item. Starting at base, gently press handfuls of item onto sides of cake.
Magic shell being drizzled around the top round edge of the ice cream cake, creating a drip-like effect.
Magic Shell: Drizzle room temperature sauce along top edge.
A piping bag being filled with gel food coloring.
Two-toned frosting: Spread thin band of gel food coloring into crease of piping bag fitted with tip (petal tips make especially eye-catching designs), fill with whipped cream, and pipe patterns on top and sides of cake.

How to Serve Ice-Cream Cake

Start preparing the cake for serving about 30 minutes ahead of time.   

Temper the cake for 30 minutes in the refrigerator before serving, which will make it easier to slice and nicer to eat. 

Microwave the remaining fudge sauce at 50 percent power for a minute or so until it’s fluid. This gets passed separately at the table.  

Slice the cake with a sharp chef’s knife, wiping the blade between cuts.

Three slices of different combinations of ice cream cakes.

Love this recipe? Try A Few Different Combinations

See “Decorate the Cake,” above, for detailed instructions on working with sprinkles, Magic Shell, and two-toned frosting.

Coffee Ice Cream Cake with Dulce de Leche and Oreos

1.5 quarts coffee ice cream

½ cup dulce de leche, chilled

½ cup Oreo cookies, chopped into ¼-inch pieces, plus 5–6 Oreos, halved

¼-⅓ cup Magic Shell

To add mix-ins: Working quickly, use large spoon to transfer one quarter of ice cream to prepared pan and sprinkle with half of Oreo crumbs and one third of dulce de leche. Repeat, alternating layers of ice cream and mix-ins. 

Decorate with Magic Shell. Pipe whipped cream rosettes around top edge of cake about. Lean 1 Oreo cookie half against each rosette.

Blackberry Ripple Ice Cream Cake with Lemon Curd

1.5 quarts blackberry ripple ice cream

1 cup lemon curd, chilled

1 tube gel food coloring

To add mix-ins: Working quickly, use large spoon to transfer one quarter of ice cream to prepared pan and drizzle with ⅓ cup lemon curd. Repeat, alternating layers of ice cream and curd.

Decorate with two-toned frosting.

 Pistachio Ice Cream Cake with Apricot Preserves

1.5 quarts pistachio ice cream

1 cup apricot preserves

⅔ to 1 cup sprinkles 

To add mix-ins: Working quickly, use large spoon to transfer one quarter of ice cream to prepared pan and drizzle with ⅓ cup apricot preserves. Repeat, alternating layers of ice cream and preserves.

Decorate with sprinkles. Using ¼-inch round tip, pipe whipped cream beads around top edge of cake and scatter surface with more sprinkles.

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.