Tropical Ice Cream Cake

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.

Some of the links in this post may be affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I might earn a small fee from qualifying purchases. All opinions remain my own. While it does not cost you anything, it helps offset the costs of running this website. Thanks for your support.

Tropical Ice Cream Cake

Serves 16

This Carvel-inspired frozen treat has a coconut-cookie wafer crust and custom-blended ice cream filling. Give it enough time to set, and let the fun begin.

The rum is optional, but we recommend it.

Make Ahead: The cake needs to be frozen for at least 2 hours and preferably overnight. The decorated cake needs to be frozen for at least 6 hours or preferably overnight. Undecorated, it can be frozen for up to 1 month.

    • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
    • 2 cups sweetened flaked or shredded coconut
    • 12 chocolate wafers, such as Famous Chocolate Wafers, finely crushed to make about 3/4 cup crumbs
    • 1 1/2 quarts premium vanilla ice cream, solidly frozen
    • 1/2 cup dulce de leche (homemade or store-bought)
    • 2 tablespoons dark rum (optional)
    • 6 chocolate wafers, finely crushed
    • About 1 cup cold whipped cream
    • About 1/4 cup dulce de leche
    • About 1/3 cup toasted sweetened flaked coconut
    • 2 tablespoons chocolate sprinkles or jimmies, or 1 to 2 additional chocolate wafers, finely crushed

For the crust: Use a little butter to grease a 9 1/2-inch springform pan.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the coconut; reduce the heat to medium-low and start stirring right away. Cook for about 5 minutes or until the coconut is lightly and unevenly browned. Pour in the crumbs and stir to coat.

Turn the mixture into the springform pan; use a spatula to firmly press the crumbs across the bottom of the pan and about halfway up the sides. Don’t worry about being exact. Freeze for at least 30 minutes; once it’s frozen, you can wrap the crust airtight and keep it in the freezer for up to 2 months.

For the ice cream: Scoop it into a food processor. (If your ice cream is too firm to scoop, cut it into chunks.) Spoon dollops of the dulce de leche over the ice cream and then pour in the rum, if using. Pulse until the dulce de leche is well blended. If you can manage not to melt the ice cream completely, great; if it melts, just carry on.

Scrape (or pour) the ice cream into the frozen crust, smooth the top and return the pan to the freezer for at least 2 hours or preferably overnight. (If you are not decorating the cake, you can wrap it airtight and keep it frozen for up to 1 month.)

If you’re decorating the cake (with optional garnishes), cover the top of the cake with the crushed chocolate wafers. (If the surface is too hard to get anything to stick, hit it with a puff or two of hot air from a hair dryer.) Put the whipped cream into a pastry bag fitted with a star or plain tip or spoon the cream into a zip-top bag, seal and snip off a corner. Pipe swirls of whipped cream around the edge of the cake. Warm the dulce de leche in a microwave on LOW, heating it in 10-second spurts until it’s pourable (or melt the dulce de leche in the top of a double boiler). Spoon it into a small, clean squeeze bottle or into a zip-top bag, snip off a tiny bit of a corner, and pipe thin lines over the whipped cream. You can also just drizzle the dulce de leche off the tip of a spoon.

Finish by lightly scattering toasted coconut over the whipped cream, followed by sprinkles or crushed wafers. Freeze for 6 hours or preferably overnight.

To serve, warm the sides of the springform pan with a few puffs of hot air from a hair dryer (or wrap a towel dampened with hot water around the pan), then remove the sides of the pan; leave the cake on the pan’s base. Serve the ice cream cake right away (or, if the sides have melted a bit too much, return the cake to the freezer until everything is firm again). Use a long slicing knife to cut the cake, dipping the knife in hot water and wiping it dry between cuts.