Part 2b: Frosting Your Ice Cream Cake—Process

As I mentioned/yelled back in part 1b, it’s bad when ice cream melts in the midst of making an ice cream cake. When you’re frosting the cake, that means you should be prepared to apply some frosting, put the cake back in the freezer, apply some more frosting, put the cake back in the freezer, etc. Here are some things that your ice cream cake may do if it stays out of the freezer too long while you’re decorating it: melt and mix into the frosting while you’re spreading it, discoloring the frosting; melt under the frosting layer, making an unsightly bulge along the side; or crack, and refuse to stick back together.

I laughed and ate this mistake with my family, but it’s not funny when it happens to a cake you actually need for a celebration. I don’t know exactly why a cracked ice cream cake can’t be squished or spackled back together; I just know I’ve never been able to pull it off.

Now that I’ve instilled the appropriate amount of terror in you, let’s frost that cake!

1. Unmold the cake and plate it. Put your cake plate upside down on top of the open side of the cake can, flip the whole business over, and start pulling the cake pan off. If some ice cream sneaked through a crack in the plastic wrap and froze to the pan, this may take a bit of tugging. If it takes a lot of tugging, try softening the outermost layer of ice cream by rubbing the pan all over with a dry towel, waiting a minute or two, and then pulling again. Once the pan is off, carefully pull the plastic wrap off the surface of the ice cream, watching to make sure that no small pieces of plastic rip and get left behind.

Your ice cream will look a li’l funny from freezing against the inevitable wrinkles that form in the plastic wrap, but don’t worry—that’s why we cover the whole thing in frosting! Now put that wrinkly cake back in the freezer to stay firm while you make the frosting.

Wrinkly cake, pre-frosting

2. Make the frosting. Here are basic dairy and vegan frosting recipes that each make enough to cover an 8" cake, piped borders included. If your cake is bigger or smaller than 8", scale all the ingredients up or down (e.g., for a 6" cake, multiply all the quantities by 0.75).

Dairy frosting:

10 oz. (250g) chilled heavy cream

3 tbsp. (20g) powdered sugar

1 tsp. (4g) vanilla extract

Additional flavors or colors (optional)

Measure all of the ingredients into the mixing bowl. Whip on low speed until the cream starts to thicken, then on medium-high speed until it holds soft peaks.

Vegan frosting:

1 can chilled full-fat coconut cream OR 2 cans chilled coconut milk

1/4 cup (30g) powdered sugar

1 tsp. (4g) vanilla extract

Additional flavors or colors (optional)

Remove the solid coconut cream from the can(s), leaving behind the coconut water. Place the coconut cream in the mixing bowl along with the remaining ingredients. Mix on medium-high speed until thoroughly combined and as smooth as possible. Press the frosting through the fine-mesh sieve into another bowl to strain out any unmixed lumps of coconut fat.

Note: If you’re going to take any significant breaks during the frosting process—more than 5–10 minutes—cover the bowl and store the frosting in the fridge so it doesn’t spoil or turn back into liquid.

3. Spread the ”crumb coat.” It’s frosting gospel in the baked-cake world that you have to apply at least two layers of frosting. The first layer grabs all the crumbs on the surface of the cake and glues them down, so that the second layer will be perfectly smooth and unblemished. The same goes for ice cream cakes. You’ll have some crumbs from the baked good that need to be stuck down, plus you have those funny ice cream wrinkles to fill in. This first layer of frosting will help you create a blank canvas for the second layer to drape over elegantly.

A crumb-coated cake

I am going to let the rest of the internet walk you through the mechanics of spreading frosting; I don’t have a lot to say that hasn’t already been amply explained and beautifully captured on video (and I don’t currently have the setup for beautifully capturing it in my own video). I’ll just add one note particular to applying the crumb coat to an ice cream cake: Work as quickly as you can to get the frosting spread out before (a) it freezes or (b) the cake melts. Whipped cream (and coconut cream even more so) can freeze just from sitting still on an ice cream cake for more than a few seconds. So try not to leave any heaps or lumps of frosting sitting for too long—keep spreading them with the spatula until you have an even layer.

Once the cake is fully covered in frosting, put it back in the freezer for at least 5 minutes, or more if you noticed it getting soft.

4. Spread the second layer of frosting. If all goes well with this layer, it can be the last one you apply. I’ll add another note here particular to getting a smooth finish on an ice cream cake: It’s harder to “patch” frosting in this scenario than when you’re spreading, say, room-temperature buttercream on a baked cake. Every stroke you use to apply frosting will have visible edges that quickly harden and may not be possible to smooth away. So if you have a little gap or bump in your frosting, it’s best to dollop a bunch more fresh frosting on the cake and recover the whole thing.

If you can cover the cake to your satisfaction on this attempt, then you’re ready to move on to piping borders! If you still want to make it smoother but it’s starting to get soft, put it back in the freezer for 5–10 minutes and then apply another layer of frosting.

Two coats of whipped cream frosting

Piping borders and applying additional decorations will be the subject of the next post. Remember, if you’re going to take a long break before piping your whipped cream onto the cake, cover it and store it in the fridge so it stays fresh.

We’re still selling t-shirts and gift cards to help raise money to keep Bartleby’s afloat until the quarantine is lifted—and 15% of all sales will be donated to support Block Club Chicago, which continues to provide essential coverage of the coronavirus and everything else happening in Chicago. I’d also be thrilled if you gave to Block Club directly, if you don’t need a shirt or a gift card. Just please let me know if you do!