When I’m in the kitchen, I love to play around. I love riffing. I love tweaking. I love mid-recipe changes. And I love surprises. For me, it’s not over until it’s over, and then it’s usually not completely done: I’ll make something and, as I’m bringing the dish to the table, I’ll think, “Next time, I can swap this for that or for something else or, or, or . . . .” That’s the fun of cooking and baking.
And that’s the fun of this ice cream cake, which is fabulous the way it is and great as a jumping-off point for your own playing around — especially because the ice cream, a custom-made flavor, is an easy hack that you’ll use lots.
The cake is essentially a two-part affair: a crust of skillet-toasted coconut and crushed chocolate wafers and a filling of dulce de leche ice cream. The decoration — a covering of crushed wafers, an edge of whipped cream, toasted coconut, melted dulce de leche, sprinkles and a nod to Carvel — is optional. But I rarely opt out.
I build the cake in a springform pan, pressing the warm crust-stuff over the bottom of the pan and halfway up the sides. But you can do this in a deep-dish pie plate (in which case you won’t unmold it), in smaller springforms or in individual cups (think sundae).
My favorite crust is this mix of coconut and chocolate, but you can swap the chocolate wafers for nilla — natch — or make a graham-cracker crust, with or without a hit of spice.
And my favorite ice cream is . . . well, I don’t have a favorite. Ice cream might be the only food I don’t have an opinion on. I seem to love it totally, completely and absolutely indiscriminately. That said, I do love the “homemade” dulce de leche ice cream in this cake.
I know you’re ahead of me on this, but in case you were wondering, you can use an equal amount of Nutella or a cookie spread such as Biscoff in place of the dulce de leche. Or use pureed fruit. Or jam. Or a bunch of crunchies, like nuts or granola or chopped cookies. Or just go with straight vanilla ice cream. Or coffee. Or chocolate. Or coconut. See what I mean about playing around? If you can’t decide among flavors, don’t: The springform is tall enough for another complementary-flavor layer.
The cake can be frozen for two hours, decorated and then popped back into the freezer, but the spin in the food processor melts some (sometimes all) of the ice cream, so the cake needs to live in the freezer until it’s solid enough to unmold and cut cleanly. You can get away with six hours, but eight is better and overnight is best.
I’m pretty sure you’ll be doing the ice-cream trick year-round, and I’m positive you’re going to do the following unmolding technique from this point onward: When you’re ready to remove the sides of the springform pan, warm them with a hair dryer. It’s so much neater than wrapping the pan in wet towels, although that works, and equally effective for when you’re unmolding cheesecakes or anything that might otherwise need a (perilous) dunk in a sink full of hot water.
Photograph by Scott Suchman. This post is updated from my Everyday Dorie column in the Washington Post.