I’ll admit it: I’m afraid of baking layer cakes. My decorating skills are lacking, and though I am a trained scientist, in the science of layer cakes I seem doomed to uneven layers and fillings that weep and ooze. I hate the feeling of failure, so I typically just avoid baking layer cakes at all costs.
But today is my 25th birthday, which my mother tells me is a Big Deal. So I made a cake. An ice cream cake. A Neopolitan ice cream cake.
I hedged my bets by baking a three layer cake that is, in fact, only one layer of actual cake that is stacked with a layer of vanilla ice cream, then one of strawberry sorbet. I’m confident in my abilities with frozen desserts, so 2 of the 3 layers were easy-peasy. And thanks to a trick I figured out, I am now a 25-year-old with a stack of perfectly level cake layers.
To keep the cake layer level and even: when the baked cake has completely cooled, remove it from the springform pan and place the cake on a rimmed baking sheet. Rest a long bread or other serrated knife on the edge of the tray. Slowly saw back and forth across the cake horizontally, keeping the knife level on the edge of the rim, until you’ve sliced all the way through. Ta-da! A cake layer of uniform thickness. The engineer in me is proud.
Bonus: the layers are pretty enough that the cake needs no decoration, other than a few birthday candles. For an ice cream cake, 25 candles seems risky, so I think I’ll stick with our family tradition of three.
Slightly adapted from the Flour cookbook
- 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
- 1 cup boiling water
- 1 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/2 packed cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 4 large eggs
- 1/4 cup low-fat milk
- Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease and flour a 9" springform pan.
- Whisk the cocoa powder and chocolate in a small heat-proof bowl. Pour the boiling water over the chocolate and stir until chocolate is melted and smooth. Refrigerate.
- Whisk together the flour, brown sugar, baking soda and salt. Add the butter and blend with a hand or stand mixer until well-mixed.
- Add the eggs and milk and beat until fluffy and light. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure everything gets mixed well.
- While still beating the batter, slowly add the chocolate. Scrape the sides of the bowl once more and beat for another minute or so.
- Pour into the prepared springform pan and bake at 350F for 75-90 minutes. If when you poke the center of the cake, it springs back, the cake is done. Allow to cool completely before slicing into an even 1/2" layer.
Make Ahead and Storage
The cake can be prepared a day in advance. Leave the cake in the pan and cover with plastic wrap until the next day.
Slightly adapted from Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones
- 5 egg yolks
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1/2 cup low-fat milk
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste or seeds from 2 vanilla beans (optional)
- Whisk together the yolks and 1/4 cup sugar.
- Stir the cream, milk, salt and the remaining 1/4 cup sugar together in a medium saucepan and heat over medium-high. Bring to a simmer. When bubbles start to form on the edges, reduce the heat to medium.
- Whisking the yolks continuously, slowly add 1/2 cup of the hot cream to the egg yolks. Repeat with another 1/2 cup of cream. This will keep the eggs from scrambling and over-cooking.
- Stir the cream as you slowly add the eggs to the saucepan.
- Cook, stirring constantly, over medium until the cream thickens and coats the back of a spoon, about 5-8 minutes.
- Immediately move the hot cream to the ice bath to cool. Using a clean spatula, stir constantly until cool to the touch. Refrigerate for 2 hours, until completely cooled.
- Pour the cooled cream into your ice cream maker, and process according to the manufacturer's instructions. Slowly add the vanilla as the machine runs.
Inspired by Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup water
- 4 cups frozen strawberries, defrosted and with their juices
- Heat the water and sugar over medium, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved. Refrigerate the simple syrup until cool to the touch.
- Puree the strawberries and measure out 2 cups of puree. Stir in 3/4 cup of the simple syrup, adding more to taste. It should be slightly sweeter than you want the final sorbet to be.
- Process the sorbet in the ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions.
- 1 - 9" round chocolate cake, cut into an even 1/2" thick layer
- 1 batch vanilla ice cream, before processing in the ice cream maker
- 1 batch strawberry sorbet, before processing in the ice cream maker
- After you've cut the cake into a level 1/2"-thick layer, return it to the springform pan.
- Process the vanilla ice cream according to the ice cream maker's instructions. Spread the ice cream over the cake in the springform pan. Use a rubber spatula to smooth the layer as much as possible. Freeze at least four hours or overnight.
- Process the strawberry sorbet according to the ice cream maker's instructions. Spread the sorbet over the top of the vanilla ice cream and freeze for at least 4 hours or overnight.
- If you won't be eating the cake that day, cover the springform pan with plastic wrap.
- Set the cake on the counter for 20-30 minutes to soften before serving. Remove the ring of the pan from around the cake and dip a sharp knife in warm water to help you slice the cake. Dip in warm water between every cut to keep the layers clean and smooth.