DIY Successful Ice Cream Birthday Cake
Ice cream cakes were my favorite birthday cake growing up. There was a store down the street we’d go to where they had a whole book of pictures you’d flip through and select a design you wanted on the top of the cake. By design I don’t mean some digital print out that makes you weary of their edible claim, but a hand-done design all in gel icing. My mom always got a large cake, ensuring leftovers for the entirety of your birthday week.
I wanted to create this positive memory for my daughter this year for her fourth birthday. Watching her face light up when I told her something called an ice cream cake existed, gave me fuel to make this, despite the time it took and the many learning curves.
The successful end result was perfect. The cake cut beautifully, didn’t melt instantly, and tasted just like a store bought ice cream cake-delicious! Best of all my daughter loved it, and watching her excitement build with each added layer, was priceless.
Why This Cake?
I did a lot of recipe researching for this cake and reached out to friends for advice. So the end result is more of a combination of that advice and several recipes each adjusted slightly and then combined to create this one. The use of ice cream sandwiches as the bottom layer was inspired by Kraft’s Oreo and Fudge Ice Cream Cake. This bottom layer worked beautifully to prevent the immediately melting/puddling I saw in so many other recipe pictures. The frosting was adapted from SomethingSwanky’s Homemade Cool Whip recipe. This recipe had the correct amount of water to allow the gelatin to cool without immediately hardening. Why gelatin? Well as I learned (and verified with tests) gelatin slows the melt time down of your frosting. Then I got some tips and tricks from Instructables’ Homemade Ice Cream Cake. Lastly the gel frosting was the only recipe I didn’t modify, and came straight from Food’s Quick and Easy Piping Gel.
DIY Ice Cream Birthday Cake (with tons of pictures!)
I am definitely a person who lacks patience. However if you want to do this right, you must give yourself lots of time. I spent 12 hours putting this together, and then allowed it to freeze for another 15 hours. Ideally you want your cake, once completed, to freeze for 24-36 hours. You’ll notice a difference by the cleanliness of the cut. See images below.
A Working Freezer
With an OCD-like obsession for checking the temperature. I learned the hard way with my first cake trial, that my freezer’s temperature control is a toddler friendly dial located on the exterior. I cried when I found my almost-done cake was reduced to a puddle in the morning.
For Cake Mold
- Springform pan OR make your own cake mold using wood, aluminum foil, wax paper (*See Step 1 below*)
- Cookie sheet for placing cake mold on if not using a springform pan
For Ice Cream Layers
- 1 box ice cream sandwiches
- (I used store brand Neapolitan flavor)
- 1.5quart container of chocolate ice cream
- I used Breyers, chosen because it was on sale but I also liked that the ingredient list is simple with no surprises or unknown words, and there’s no added growth hormones. When giving other similar priced ice cream brands a squeeze, Breyers was also firmer. You don’t want to pick and “soft churn” ice cream for this project because you need it to freeze solid and not melt fast.
- 1.5quart container of vanilla ice cream
- Again I used Breyers. In my first failed attempt I tried Turkey Hill’s ‘Birthday Cake’ flavor but found it to be sickly sweet with a very plastic/artificial taste. I’m glad I stuck with plain vanilla this time.
For Cookie Crumble Layer
- 1 Pack of oreo cookies (or knock off brand)
- 3 tablespoons coconut oil
- 3 tablespoons homemade bitter or semi-sweet chocolate (or you can buy from store)
- For Homemade with plenty of extra, you’ll need:
- 3/4 Cup cocoa powder
- 5 TBSP Butter (vegan or regular works)
- 5 TBSP Sugar
- For Homemade with plenty of extra, you’ll need:
For Regular Frosting (used to over entire cake and edging decor)
- 4 Cups heavy whipping cream (divided)
- 1 Cup water (divided)
- 4 tsp gelatin powder (divided)
- 4 tsp vanilla extract (divided)
- 1 Cup powdered sugar (divided)
- Food coloring (optional)
For Gel Frosting (for design)
- Recipe from Food’s Quick and Easy Piping Gel Icing
- 1/4 Cup white corn syrup
- 1/4 Cup water
- 4 tsp corn starch
- Food coloring
- 1/2 tsp vanilla (I skipped this)
To allow for time to cool, you want to make your bitter/semi-sweet chocolate ahead of time. If you decided to just go with store bought then skip this step. Otherwise, in a small saucepan over low heat, begin to melt the 5TBSP of butter, then add the 3/4 Cup of cocoa powder. Once mixed you can increase the heat to medium-low and stir in the 5 TBSP sugar. Continue to stir, further dissolving the sugar. Despite stirring for several minutes (and my house smelling amazingly of chocolate!) the mixture was still a little grainy, but that’s OK. If you move the heat to medium you’ll find your mixture beginning to pull away from the sides and ball up. At this point turn off the stove, transfer to a bowl, and allow to cool. This will make more than you need for this recipe. I keep it stored in a container in the fridge. It will harden solid, like store bought, so just cut chunks with a knife as needed.
Pick a pan or make a box. Most recipes I found recommend a springform pan. The most common ones are about 9 inches round, but you can get larger rectangle ones from places like Amazon (about $26+). The appeal of a springform pan is that you just need the mold it creates, you don’t really need the bottom and you need to be able to remove the sides. I wanted a large rectangle cake but didn’t want to spend the money, be limited on height, or then have to store, a rarely used bulky kitchen item.
So I made my own mold by simply nailing 4 pieces of wood together to create a bottomless box with the interior dimensions of 12″X7″ and 4 1/2″ high.
If you also make your own mold, then cover it in one layer of aluminum foil, followed by a layer of wax paper (use tape on the outside to hold in place). Place your “cake mold” on a cookie sheet.
Place one layer of ice cream sandwiches across the bottom of your mold. Cut sandwiches as needed to fit.
Place back in freezer for about 30 minutes (ice cream sandwiches melt FAST).
Remove your 1.5quart of chocolate ice cream from freezer. Take a big knife and cut all the way down the middle of each of the four sides. Next peel back the carton and dump your ice cream out on a large plate. Chop it up into a several chunks with the knife. Immediately bring your cake out of the freezer and dump all the ice cream from the plate, to on top of the ice cream sandwich layer. Smooth out the ice cream into an even layer using a larger spoon, spatula, or even simply an angled butter knife works well. Place back in freezer and allow to set for 90 minutes.
Make the cookie crumble layer. In a saucepan on low-medium heat add the 3 TBSP of coconut oil and 2 TBSP of homemade or store bought chocolate. Heat and stir continuously until melted. Remove from heat and set aside.
This next part is great for kids! Separate oreos, scrape away and discard (eat?) filling. Place all the oreos in a gallon zip lock bag, remove air and seal. Crush cookies until fine pieces. A rolling pin works great here.
Pour the crushed cookies in a bowl. Add the chocolate and coconut oil mixture. Stir to coat. The cookie pieces will now look slightly moist/shiny. *You might be tempted to make another batch of chocolate and coconut oil here but I wouldn’t recommend it. When cutting this cake at the end, the only layer I met resistance at was the cookie layer. I feel that more coconut oil would make this layer ever harder to cut and cause buckling.
Get out your ice cream cake, and add cookie crumbs to top of chocolate layer. Gently press down with spatula to have a relatively flat and even layer of cookies. Return to freezer for an additional 90 minutes.
Repeat step #3 but this time with the 1.5 quart of vanilla ice cream. Return to freezer for an additional 3-4hours. **At this time also go ahead and put your mixing bowl and beater/wisk that you’ll be using to make frosting, into the freezer
After 3 hours begin to make the frosting that will cover the entire cake. I divided this process up into two parts, but if you feel particularly skilled at frosting a cake quickly, then feel free to combine step 6 and step 10 in one big bowl.
No one warned me that you could screw up whipping heavy cream into whipped cream, so consider this your warning…whip too much and you will have the beginning of butter…do NOT walk away from your mixer! and follow these steps!
A. First make the gelatin mixture. Measure 1/2 Cup of water into a small saucepan and sprinkle 2 tsp of gelatin powder over the top. Allow a few minutes for it to absorb. Then stir on low heat until gelatin is dissolved and liquid is clear. This will take several minutes, you can raise the heat a little if you like, but don’t let it get to even a simmer. Remove from heat and allow to cool while you do the following steps. **Note: By cooling I mean you want the mixture to be cool to the touch or luke warm. No warmer, but also not so cool that the mixture begins to gel up/harden. If this happens then place back on the heat until completely liquid again and repeat the cooling to not as cold this time. Otherwise you’ll end up with gross clumps of gel in your frosting.
B. Remove mixing bowl and whisk attachment from freezer (I use a KitchenAid stand mixer). Add to the bowl 2 cups of cold heavy whipping cream. (**If you are adding food coloring I recommend stirring it into your measured whipping cream before you add it to the bowl. Despite the mixing, I found it hard to fully mix the entire color once the whipping cream thickened). Turn the mixer to medium-high (I had to start low and work my way to high to prevent splashing). Now watch closely! First you’ll notice thickening/less splashing. When you start to see long winkles in the cream that extend from the edge of the bowl to the center whisk, STOP. Get your vanilla extract, powdered sugar, and gelatin mixture ready. Turn the mixer to low, and keeping on low add 2 tsp vanilla and 1/2 cup powdered sugar. Still on low, pour the gelatin mixture in SLOWLY by pouring it down the sides of the bowl. If you’re worried your gelatin mix is still too warm, then really make sure it hits the ice cold sides of the bowl first, before the whipping cream. Now return mixing speed back to medium-high and watch closely. In about 30 seconds you should see the wrinkles shorten and become more numerous and the mixture will thicken even more. Now you are done! The picture below is as far as you want to go, another 5 seconds and I ended up with the other picture; start of butter. *If you have a moment of panic and think you went too far, you can add in a splash of additional whipping cream. No guarantees that will work, but it might help if you haven’t over whipped too much.
C. Now place your frosting into the freezer for 40 minutes. You want to chill it slightly so that it doesn’t immediately start to melt your top ice cream layer on contact.
Remove ice cream cake and frosting from freezer. With the cake still in the mold, frost just the top. I chose to do about 1/2 inch thick.
Now detach the wax on the outside of the mold, give it a little wiggle, even pulling gently towards the cake, away from the mold sides. Now lift your mold up off on the cake. Remove wax paper. (*Or just remove your springform pan here)
Move quickly and frost sides of the cake. I stuck to about 1/2 inch thickness and got through 3 sides before I felt the cake needed to go back into the freezer, and I was almost out of frosting. Don’t worry about smoothness here, we’ll work on that later. I left cake in freezer for 90 minutes.
With cake back in freezer I began to make a second, smaller batch of frosting. Following the instructions from Step 6, use the following measurements this time:
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 tsp gelatin powder
- 1 Cup heavy whipping cream
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup powdered sugar
Once done place in freezer to chill for 40 minutes.
Once frosting has chilled, finish frosting the cake. At this time, also fill a cup with hot water. Dip in a knife, shake off excess water or dry on cloth and use the warmed knife to smooth the cake frosting. Place back in freezer.
Adding decoration. I had some frosting left over from Step 11, so I added some dye to it, put it into a piping bag and placed in the freezer for about 45 minutes. Depending on the piping tip and the design you want, you may need to freeze longer to obtain the tip design. If you frost too soon you’ll just end up with a frosting blob. When removing the piping bag with frosting from the freezer I found that while the majority of the frosting was still soft, the tip had frozen. I had to remove the tip, squeeze out the first inch of frosting, and then place tip back on to begin.
I then repeated the ingredients of step 10, to make a final batch of frosting, this time adding color. I had A LOT left over, so depending on what you’re doing, you can try and cut this batch down even smaller, or divide it up for multiple colors.
For the gel frosting, used the make the ninja turtle design, I used Food’s recipe: Quick and Easy Piping Gel (icing). I left out the vanilla, and in hindsight, one batch was way more than I needed. I easily could have divided it 2-4X right before adding the food coloring. As with the other frosting, I placed the gel in a piping bag and let set in the freezer before using. I only did about 20-30 minutes this time however.
To make the design I first traced with a toothpick. A warmed cooking thermometer tip or ice pick tip will also work if your frosting is too hard for a tooth pick. Then I traced over the lines with the gel using a small piping tip.
Freeze a final time. 12 hours should be your minimum goal for freezing. If you go back to the cut pictures at the beginning of this post, you’ll see that anywhere from 12-36 hours is good, with longer being more ideal.
I had to warm a cooking thermometer to make holes for candles. I also warmed a large knife in hot water prior to cutting. Dipping repeatedly in the hot water while cutting helped a lot with making smooth easy cuts.
After cutting, the cake sat out for about 15 minutes before I set it back in the freezer. You could just start to see the first bit of melting on the ice cream sandwich layer. It could have sat out longer and been fine.
Hi there! I’m Kaley, prevailing parent and wife, but also just me; stubborn lover of DIY everything, outdoors, and chocolate. Read more about myself and my family under the “Parenting” > “About My Family” tabs.