I realize that given the sheer number of two and three-layered, springform-bound and buttercream-shellacked celebration cakes I keep in the archives, you’d imagine that I had some pretty spectacular birthday cakes growing up. You’d be correct, but they were almost never homemade, not because I was suffering from cake-neglect, but because the only one I requested every year for my birthday was an ice cream cake, preferably from Carvel. Okay, insistently from Carvel, you know, the one in the strip mall at the end of the main road. The Carvel ice cream cake was, to me, as perfect as a June birthday cake could be — a layer each of chocolate and vanilla ice creams, separated by a smattering of Oreo-ish cookie rubble, coated with a suspiciously unbuttery buttercream and scattered with colored sprinkles. It was perfect. I loved it. I saw no reason anything should ever change.
And it might not have, except nowadays I have this problem, which is that when I vocalize the daydreamy ideas that pass through my head, such as, “I wonder what it would be like to make an ice cream cake from scratch… no, a sundae cake … no! A hot fudge sundae cake, with hot fudge and whipped cream and those awful-but-I-love-them jarred cherries…” instead of my so-called loved ones saying, “That’s ridiculous. Why would you make that if we could buy it at a store?” they encourage me. No, they goad me. Then they applaud my efforts and say “Again!” (True story: We think “Again!” exclaimed with glee, was the kid’s first word.) And then things like this happen.
Before we go any further, I need to get something off my chest. Unlike my so-called loved ones, I want you to know that I think making a hot fudge sundae cake with homemade chocolate and vanilla ice creams, homemade Oreo-like cookie crumbles, homemade hot fudge sauce, homemade whipped cream and then, I mean, of course storebought maraschino cherries (because come on), is absolute madness. There is no sane reason to do this. You could buy premium ice cream, Oreos, hot fudge, canned whipped cream and have my remaining jarred cherries and make an excellent hot fudge sundae cake. I will even explain how below. You could also make some of this stuff (the cookies or the ice creams or just the fudge) and not all of it and still be considered, for all intents and purposes, a well-adjusted person with well-fed friends. I repeat, there’s no rational reason to do what I did.
But. If you wanted to, you know, be insane, I’d be happy to give you a guided tour. I could even whisper those nine magic words that always get us into these messes in your ears: “It’s really not as much work as it seems.” Or, you could just trust me that your local soft serve joint has nothing — I mean, nothing short of a whale pan — on the lunatic version. It’s The Summer Cake to End All Summer Cakes; you might as well just swan dive in.
One year ago: Zucchini Bread Pancakes
Two years ago: Corn Buttermilk and Chive Popovers
Three years ago: Scalloped Tomatoes with Croutons
Four years ago: Arugula, Potato and Green Bean Salad
Five years ago: Salad Olivier
Six years ago: Double Chocolate Layer Cake
Hot Fudge Sundae Cake
Here’s the recipe for sane people: 2 pints or 1 quart chocolate ice cream + 2 pints or 1 quart vanilla ice cream + about 14 ounces chocolate cookies, ground (such as Oreos or wafers) or 2 3/4 cups ground cookies + bottled hot fudge sauce + canned whipped cream + jarred marachino cherries. Below are the instructions to make each or any of these elements on your own. Then, choose your own adventure. What matters is that all roads lead to The Summer Cake To End All Summer Cakes, an air-conditioning unit of a celebration cake to soothe you until the heat wave passes.
Recipe changes from the photos you see: My only regrets in making this cake were to not have a cookie crumb base (it will be easier to remove slices from the cake pan), so I’ve included one here. I will definitely use it next time. I also wanted much more of the cookie crumb filling than I used (3/4 cup) and have increased it here. Finally, I was in a bit of a rush, but I encourage you to pre-fudge the hot fudge cake, i.e. put a little of the hot fudge on to cover the top, put it back in the freezer for 30 minutes, then — right as you’re about to serve it — put some warmer fudge over the top and sides. It will soften the frozen fudge but protect your top ice cream layer from wanting to melt off, as mine did. We found it charming, but you may not.
Sources: Chocolate and vanilla ice creams were fiddled with (just to reduce redundant steps when making them at the same time) from David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop, which should come with every ice cream maker, because it’s amazing. The cookie crumbs are adapted from Wayne Brachman’s Retro Desserts; they’ve previously appeared on this site as Homemade Oreos but I’ve further simplified the recipe here. The hot fudge sauce, previously on this site with a peppermint riff, is adapted from the late print Gourmet magazine. The whipped cream was from scratch but I seriously urge you to consider using a can because the whole whipping cream + piping bag + star tip, all for 12 measly dollops, is a bit of a stretch in the effort vs. reward spectrum, even by my maddened standards. The cherries are from a jar, but, FTLOG, if you truly feel the need to make them from scratch, Melissa Clark has you covered. Whee!
Serves: 12 to 16
Part 1: Make Chocolate and Vanilla Ice Creams
Yield: 1 quart of each, instructions merged to cut down on repeated processes
4 cups heavy cream, divided
1 split vanilla bean (for vanilla batch)
3 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder and 5 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (for chocolate batch)
2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
10 egg yolks
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
Part 2: Make Chocolate Cookie Crumbs
Yield: About 48 2 1/2-inch cookies, weighing about 96 ounces, which will be about double what you need. However, they are so delicious and keep well, it seems worth it to make a full batch. Scooped balls of dough can be frozen to bake off later. Extra cookies can be ground into crumbs for future cakes/cheesecake crusts/dessert toppings, or kept in an airtight container for up to two weeks.
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks), cold unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
1 large egg
For Crumb Crust
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Part 3: Make Hot Fudge Sauce
Yield: 2 cups, likely double what you need, but nobody worth knowing would turn down extra hot fudge sauce.
2/3 cup heavy or whipping cream
1/2 cup light corn syrup or golden syrup (honey should work as well, but I didn’t test it this time)
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, ideally Dutch-processed
Heaping 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt or level 1/4 teaspoon table salt
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (or, about 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips), divided
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Part 4: Finish the Cake!
1 cup heavy or whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar
Part 1 Instructions
Prepare chocolate cream: Warm 1 cup of the cream with the cocoa powder in a medium saucepan, whisking to thoroughly blend the cocoa. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer at a very low boil for 30 seconds, whisking constantly. Remove from the heat and add the chopped chocolate, stirring until smooth. Then stir in the remaining 1 cup cream.
Prepare vanilla cream: Heat 1 cup cream to a simmer. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the cream with a paring knife, then add the bean pod to the cream. Cover, remove from heat, and infuse for one hour. After one hour, remove bean pod and stir in remaining 1 cup cream.
Make custard for both ice creams: Warm the milk, sugar, and salt in a saucepan, then transfer to a spouted liquid measuring cup. Whisk together egg yolks, medium bowl. Slowly pour in warm milk/sugar/salt mixture, whisking constantly. Then mix yolk/milk mixture back into saucepan. Cook mixture over medium-low heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom with a heat-resistant spatula, until the custard thickens enough to coat the spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer and …
For chocolate: Stir half of custard into chocolate cream until smooth, then stir in 1/2 teaspoon vanilla.
For vanilla: Stir the other half of the custard into vanilla cream, then stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.
Chill both mixtures in fridge overnight: You want them fully chilled before they go in an ice cream machine. You can hasten this along by stirring them over an ice bath but it should feel like ice water in coldness to the touch before you put it in your ice cream machine.
Meanwhile, make or prepare you chocolate cookie crumbs. You will want them ready to form a cake base before you churn your ice cream.
Part 2 Instructions
Make cookies: Heat oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Blend flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, salt and sugar in a food processor until combined. Add butter chunks and blend until the mixture is powdery. Add egg and run machine until dough starts to clump and ball, about 30 seconds. Scoop cookies out onto baking sheets, giving them space as they will spread a lot (not that merged cookies will matter once you grind them up). Bake for 9 to 10 minutes. Cookies will absolutely look underbaked, but don’t fret. Transfer baking sheets onto cooling racks and within two minutes, they will be firm enough to transfer to cooling racks. Let cool completely. Repeat with remaining cookie dough.
Grind about half of your cookies in a food processor or blender until they’re just crumbs. You will want a total of 2 3/4 cups of them.
Make chocolate cookie crust: Mix 1 1/3 cups chocolate cookie crumbs (from about 6 ounces whole cookies, or about 12 of the homemade cookies) and melted butter together in a bowl and press evenly into the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with 2 3/4 to 3-inch sides. Freeze until firm, about 10 minutes.
Churn chocolate ice cream, i.e. first cake layer: According to manufacturers directions. In most cases, ice cream is churned for 30 minutes then transferred to a container to finish in freezer. Instead, once it has been churned to the point of soft-serve ice cream, spread it over the chocolate crumb crust in the freezer. Spread as evenly as possible, but don’t overly fret about a smooth top. This can be “perfected” after the ice cream has hardened.
Chill chocolate ice cream layer: In freezer for 1 to 2 hours, until firm. Once firm, you can use an offset spatula to make it as smooth and even as possible.
Add cookie crumb filling: Wipe off any ice cream smudges that have climbed the springoforms walls; this will keep the vanilla layer looking “clean.” Spread 1 1/4 cups chocolate cookie crumbs (from a little shy of 6 ounces whole cookies, or 11 to 12 of homemade cookies) evenly over the firm chocolate ice cream layer. You can press these in a bit with a round of parchment or waxed paper, so they merge a little bit with the ice cream below.
Churn vanilla ice cream, i.e. second cake layer: According to manufacturers directions. Again, once it has been churned to the point of soft-serve ice cream, spread it over the chocolate crumb filling in the freezer. Try to spread it in as few motions as possible, pressing the ice cream to the edges with an offset spatula rather than pulling it back (i.e. and dragging the chocolate cookie crumbs from below into the pale ice cream). Again, don’t overly fret about a smooth top. This can be “perfected” after the ice cream has hardened/set in place.
Chill vanilla ice cream layer: In freezer for 1 to 2 hours, until firm. Once firm, you can use an offset spatula to make it as smooth and even as possible. Meanwhile, this is a great time to make the hot fudge sauce. If you’re taking a longer pause (i.e., you’ll do Part 3 tomorrow), press a circle of waxed or parchment paper against the vanilla ice cream overnight, so it doesn’t dry out or grow icy fuzz.
Part 3 Instructions
Make hot fudge sauce: In a 1 1/2 to 2-quart heavy saucepan, bring cream, syrup, sugar, cocoa, salt (if you’d like the salt to remain slightly textured, add it with the butter and extract at the end) and half the chocolate to a boil. Reduce to a low simmer and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in remaining chocolate, butter and extract and stir until smooth. Cool the sauce to lukewarm before serving it so that it can thicken up.
Part 4 Instructions
“Pre-fudge” the cake: Once vanilla ice cream layer has firmed up in the freezer, with the springform sides still one, pour a puddle of lukewarm hot fudge sauce over the top and return the cake to the freezer for 30 minutes. This will help keep the final application of hot fudge from melting the top off the cake.
Meanwhile, make the whipped cream: Beat cream and sugar in a bowl with electric mixer until it forms soft-to-firm peaks. Scoop into piping bag with star tip. Keep in fridge until needed.
Finish and serving the cake: Once the hot fudge has firmed up, remove the cake from the freezer. Carefully cut around the pan to loosen the cake from the springform sides before removing them. Transfer cake to serving platter. Pour more lukewarm (can be briefly rewarmed — but not too hot — in a microwave or on the stove if it has gotten too firm) around edges of cake, letting it dribble down a little.
Quickly decorate cake: Form 12 or so dollops of whipped cream around crown of cake. Top each with a cherry. Scatter quickly with sprinkles.
Serve! With extra hot fudge sauce. Keep leftovers, should any cake survive, in the freezer in an airtight container.