How to Make Ice Cream Cake without a Recipe

June  9, 2014

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.

How to Make Ice Cream Cake

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“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. 

More: You could also turn your favorite ice cream into a float -- with anything from booze, to soda, to seltzer.

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:

How to Make Ice Cream Cake

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.

Ice Cream Cake

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.)

How to Make Ice Cream Cake

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.

Ice Cream Cake

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. 

Ice Cream Cake

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. 

How to Make Ice Cream Cake

Photos by Mark Weinberg and James Ransom

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • gardeningal
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    Jim Phillips
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    Heidi - Apples Under My Bed
  • Elizabeth Anthony
    Elizabeth Anthony
Lactose intolerant cheese lover, who will walk blocks for a good cup of coffee. Recently escaped the corporate world, after discovering her favorite part of the job was ordering catering.


gardeningal June 24, 2016
This looks fantastic and just too easy. My husbands birthday is the 2nd of July. He's a chocolate lover AND big ice cream lover. Why have I not considered this before...?
Jim P. August 2, 2015
No recipe, but the whole article was a recipe.

"A recipe is a set of instructions that describes how to prepare or make something, especially a culinary dish."
Ellen June 2, 2015
I've been making ice-cream cakes in a similar fashion, including dairy and sugar/gluten-free options (using a g-f brownie recipe), but also dairy versions. I started out using a springform pan, but my favorite now is a loaf pan lined with parchment paper. It makes for easy slicing (using a clever) into lovely slices, as thin as you like.
Heidi -. July 8, 2014
Woah. The possibilities!!!
Elizabeth A. July 9, 2014
I forgot to mention that I lined the pans with Saran for easy removal.
Elizabeth A. June 26, 2014
This is something you can just wing it. Put your favorite things on top. The kids used the premade icing in tubes for name and greetings. Believe me they had a blast and after they emptied the tubes there was no room for anything else. Like I said you can use anything you want. I used two half gallons for each cake pan (9inch) do with what you have. Let the kids be a part of it that is where the fun is, my grandsons still talk about it.
Leslie June 26, 2014
What size pan did you use?
janetbennett June 24, 2014
Your recipe look good will try.
Elana C. June 24, 2014
thank you!
janetbennett June 24, 2014
Need some berry sauce add to it look great.
Pam June 23, 2014
I love this idea but what do I use for frosting so it looks a bit (lol) like a baskin robbins cake?
Elana C. June 24, 2014
you could try a buttercream frosting.
Elizabeth A. June 23, 2014
Last year we were having a family party for my grandson. We were caked out from the kids party a few days before. So, Nana asked what his favorite ice cream was. Using two layer cake pans lined with Saran he got a cherry vanilla two layer cake with Oreo cookies in between and chocolate fudge sauce on top. He thought his grandmother was a genius. I gave myself time to remove ice cream with the crust intact to structure a full two layer cake.
Dina M. June 9, 2014
i'm thinking a version of momofuku milk bar's pistachio layer cake with milk crumb bottom, pistachio ice cream, lemon curd, pistachio and maybe vanilla?
Joy B. June 9, 2014
My mind is racing with all sorts of ideas -- oreo cookie crust, or a layer of pretzels… best idea, Elana!!!
Kenzi W. June 9, 2014
Joy B. June 9, 2014
Elana C. June 9, 2014
peanut butter and pretzels!