When I was in sixth grade, Chi-Chi’s Mexican Restaurant was the “it” place to have a birthday party. While the bottomless baskets of tortilla chips and candy-filled piñata were exciting, my absolute favorite part was the dessert: fried ice cream. Cool, creamy vanilla ice cream coated in cinnamon crunchies and fried till golden brown. A drizzle of hot fudge sauce, whipped cream, and a cherry topped off this stunning creation. I could never eat enough of it!
Over the years I’ve had fried ice cream at different Mexican restaurants, but these confections were all lackluster at best, so I set out to create my own version. I knew I wanted to create an ice cream cake for this issue of Cook’s Country magazine, but what would it be? Then, it hit me: What if I could re-create fried ice cream as a cake?
I started with the signature flavors of vanilla, chocolate, and cinnamon. I found that folding ground cinnamon and toffee bits into vanilla ice cream gave it an extra punch of flavor. Chi-Chi’s actually fried their ice cream, but I knew I couldn’t throw a whole ice cream cake into a vat of hot oil and expect good results. I considered making my own cinnamon-flavored coating, but I found that the answer to my problem was waiting for me in the cereal aisle. To mimic the fried aspect I needed, I used finely ground Cinnamon Toast Crunch, which became spectacularly crunchy when toasted in browned butter.
With that settled, I started construction on my cake. For my first attempt I built the cake in the shape of a dome to imitate a scoop of ice cream. While whimsical, this shape proved to be difficult to cut through due to the sheer mass of ice cream. The outside of the cake would start to melt while the inside stayed frozen solid; every time I tried to cut through it I was sure I was going to lose a finger. A traditional round cake proved to be much easier to cut through.
It’s important to balance the flavors in an ice cream cake, but it’s just as important to construct a sturdy cake that won’t melt all over the place or be as solid as a rock. I learned that ice cream shouldn’t be the bottom layer of an ice cream cake: It can stick to the plate or, if it starts to melt, become very slippery. A chewy chocolate brownie layer not only added rich chocolate flavor but also provided a sturdy base so my cake wouldn’t melt too quickly on the cake stand. Fortunately, the brownie had a nice crusty top that wouldn’t become soggy underneath the ice cream.
Patience is the name of the game when it comes to putting together an ice cream cake. Setting up the cake too quickly can result in a melty mess. I didn’t start assembling the cake until my brownie layer was completely cool, so I could spread my ice cream over it without the fear of it melting. To achieve a spreadable consistency, I let the ice cream sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes. At this point I was able to easily stir in the cinnamon and toffee bits.
I still needed to act quickly and get my ice cream mixture into the pan before it melted too much. Once ice cream has fully melted it won’t refreeze properly. If this occurs, it will have the taste of freezer burn and the consistency of icy frozen milk. As soon as I spread the ice cream over the brownie layer, I immediately put the cake in the freezer. The cake needs to freeze for at least 2 hours, but I preferred to let it sit overnight to ensure the cake was as solid as possible before I started decorating. I chose store-bought chocolate syrup for its shininess and because it poured easily and didn’t mar the top of the cake. Whipped cream and a maraschino cherry on top completed my masterpiece.
Throughout all the baking, assembling, and freezing, I could barely wait to taste the cake. It was hard to put patience into practice, but when I was finally able to taste my creation, I knew from the first bite that I no longer needed a birthday party at Chi-Chi’s to enjoy fried ice cream.