It looks more difficult than it is to make: layers of ice cream alternate with fudge syrup and whole graham crackers, plus whipped cream topping, of course.

It’s official: summer has arrived, at least on the calendar, if not in actual temperature, so let’s celebrate. Since nothing says summer celebration like ice cream cake, we salute the top treat for those occasions like graduations, weddings and birthdays, when all ages get together to party.

The beauty of ice cream cake is that its one of those summer treats that you can make as easy or hard as you want. Do it all from scratch – the ice cream, the cake, the whipped cream and assorted syrups and toppings – or  buy the whole thing readymade; several shops will help you out. (Ben & Jerry’s even has a design-your-own-cake section of their website).

But it’s more fun to be creative and venture into constructing the ultimate cake ‘n’ ice cream combo yourself, making some or all parts from scratch, or at least purchasing the readymade elements and putting them together with your own touch. You just need to assemble the pieces into layers, freeze well, decorate as desired, and indulge.

My 10-year-old niece recently tailor-made an ice cream cake for my brother for Father's Day, having interviewed him first about what were his favorite dessert treat ingredients. The only thing that could satisfy all his tastes was her homemade ice cream cake. 

Image: 801 Studio
Making ice cream cake is a great way for kids to show their creativity in the kitchen.

Of course, unless you buy a premade cake, construction (it's hard to call it cooking!) takes some advance planning. But the materials? Easy. Ice cream, of course, plus cake (or some variation of a non-frozen, dry layer to contrast with the cold creamy stuff) plus whipped cream or syrup and assorted accoutrements – fresh berries or sliced fruit, roasted or candied nuts, hard candies or cookie crumbles. Think of it as constructing a new house, without having to hire an architect or contractor, or get any permits. Just get the materials on site and start to build.

Here are some tips for celebratory summertime ice cream cake, with ultra Portland-style additions. 

The cake layer:

  • Make your cake from scratch...
  • Or from a mix (angel food cakes are especially no-fail from a mix).
  • Buy a bakery cake or shortcake biscuits as the dry layer.
  • Substitute brownies for the cake – again, from scratch or a mix (Ghiradelli and Trader Joe’s make good boxed brownie mixes)
  • Skip the cake and instead use crumbled cookies or layers of crumbled or whole graham crackers. Buy graham crackers and layer them in between slices of ice cream, fudge or caramel sauce, and top with whipped cream. 
  • Use a gluten-free baking mix based on rice or almond flour.
The ice cream layer:
  • Buy ice cream from one of our local purveyors – the numbers of local artisan ice cream makers has exploded in the past several years and we are blessed with a tremendous, exotic selection. 
  • Buy a classic (and perhaps less expensive) grocery store brand (probably especially appropriate if your eaters will be under 8 or so years old).
  • Make your own ice cream if you’re really ambitious ­– borrow an ice cream maker from a Portland kitchen share cooperative if you don’t have one and don’t want to invest in another appliance to clutter up your kitchen.
Depending on how you’re going to use the ice cream (spreading it or slicing it), prep will vary:
  • If you’ll spread it onto the cake layer, be sure to let the ice cream soften some (about 15 minutes or so) before scooping it out and distributing it. Softening it also allows you to mix in pieces of cookie, candy, nuts or other crumbly bits – even Cool Whip – for whatever flavor combination you like, with different layers being different combinations.
  • To slice it, keep ice cream well-frozen and remove the cardboard container from around it, allowing ice cream to retain its frozen shape, and then divide into desired pieces by slicing through with a cord of dental floss, which will make a clean cut.
Portland extras:
  • Doughnuts could be the cake layer or the decorative topping (or both??) Try the rhubarb red berry from Blue Star. 
  • Marionberry, Rainier cherries or Hood strawberries.  
  • Hazelnuts.
  • Drizzle layers with local honey instead of syrup.
  • Alternate ice cream layer with ricotta cheese or blue cheese...
  • ...and of course, crispy bacon crumbles on top or between layers (especially good with a white cake, cornbread or shortcake layer).

Local shops selling their own ice cream vary from chains to gourmet upstarts. A few suggestions, each good in its own way: Scoop, Salt & Straw, Fifty Licks, Ruby Jewell, What's the Scoop?, Dairy Queen, Cold Stone Creamery, Cool Moon, Rose's, Baskin Robbins, Staccato Gelato. Which is your favorite?

Of course, frozen yogurt is an option as well, but doesn't seem as festive and summery to me as the good, old-fashioned, heavy-cream-filled real thing.

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