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Here at Food52, we love recipes -- but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.
Today: Break away from the freezer aisle, and start making ice cream cake with whatever flavors you fancy.
“Mocha chip. No, cookies 'n' cream. Ah -- I haven’t had black raspberry in years. Do I order two flavors or just one? Do I want a kiddie size or a small?”
Choosing an ice cream flavor, at times, weighs as heavily on one’s conscience as choosing a university. After staring at a seemingly endless list of options, you pull the trigger.
That same pondering doesn't usually apply to ice cream cake selection; the freezer aisle does not inspire much internal debate. Although the traditional chocolate-and-vanilla frosted cake and the spherical, watermelon-colored roll are classic standbys, homemade versions allow for freedom of flavor. Instead of putting yourself within a frigid box, choose your own flavors and layer them on top of a crunchy, delicately buttery crust, then layer them with more crunch, and maybe some hot fudge. You'll get all the enjoyment of an ice cream stand, minus the mosquito bites.
Here's how to make whatever ice cream cake you like, without a recipe:
1. Select your flavors (overachievers can use homemade ice cream) and fillings of choice; keep in mind that the more flavors you use, the taller the cake will be. Hot fudge, cookie crumbs -- really anything can go in between the ice cream layers.
2. The cake shape will vary depending on the dish you use -- I recommend a springform pan or a pie dish. When using springform, place a parchment round on the bottom of the pan. If you'll be frosting your cake, use a springform. If you're using a pie plate, thinly coat the bottom of the pan with butter.
To make your crust, crush 1 to 1 1/2 packs of chocolate wafer cookies (or another cookie of your choice) into crumbs and mix with a few tablespoons melted butter. Press down lightly along the bottom of the pan (inch or so high); you can even pack it down with the bottom of a meauring cup. Freeze for at least an hour. Save some un-buttered crumbs for your filling!
More: You'll also need those chocolate wafers to make a 2-ingredient icebox cake.
For an alternative crust, combine equal parts flour and brown sugar with five times that amount of crumbs and melted butter -- you'll want about 2 cups of dry ingredients for each stick of butter. Bake it in a low oven for a few minutes, then evenly add to the bottom of the pan and freeze. (I learned this tip from Rachel at Reasons to Be Cheerful in Concord, MA.)
3. Remove one pint of ice cream from the freezer and let it sit until it's soft enough to stir, about 30 minutes. If you like, stir chocolate chips or chopped candy into the ice cream. Spread it evenly on top of the crust, then freeze for an hour.
4. Add a dividing layer. Use your extra cookie crumbs here; if you want to use hot fudge, melt it then cool it to room temperature before spreading over ice cream. (If you're using both hot fudge and cookie crumbs, layer on the fudge first; it's easier that way.) Peanut butter, marshmallow fluff, and caramel are good options, too -- be careful with caramel, though, as it will harden. Freeze for another hour.
5. Take out another pint of ice cream to thaw, then spread it evenly as you did with the previous layers. Freeze it for another hour.
Continue to layer on more ice cream, or top your final layer with whipped cream or buttercream, then freeze again.
Photos by Mark Weinberg and James Ransom