10 Tips For Making A Better Ice Cream Cake Than Baskin-Robbins

If you have a summer birthday, you're probably all too familiar with ice cream cakes. These mouthwatering masterpieces combine two all-time great desserts into a special treat that kids love. Most ice cream chains like Dairy Queen, Cold Stone Creamery, and Carvel sell ice cream cakes but the most notable of them might be Baskin-Robbins. This popular ice cream chain that boasts a large selection of flavors is known for its extravagant selection of ice cream cakes. What we've realized, though, is that these ice cream cakes aren't all they're hyped up to be. We think we can do better at home, and we know you can too. 

Baskin-Robbins ice cream cakes are sweet, often chocolatey, and loaded with ice cream. They often feature over-the-top toppings that sit upon a bed of frosting. These pre-made cakes are great for when you're throwing a party and don't have much time to prepare. However, they're also made with low-quality ice cream, and their flavors aren't customizable, so home-making your ice cream cake not only allows you to choose unique flavors but also achieve a much higher-quality product. If you take the time to follow these 10 tips and make an ice cream cake at home, we assure you can make something tastier — and more thoughtful — than a Baskin-Robbins cake in your own kitchen.

1. Make preparations before making your cake

There is actually a lot to do before making your cake to ensure it doesn't end up a total disaster. For starters, you will want to freeze the springform pan or mold you plan on using ahead of time so it is the same temperature or colder than the ingredients you'll be working with. While doing that, you might realize you will need to make room in your freezer for the cake before you start the process. It is very easy to not prepare, but if you mess this up you'll have a melting cake on your hands and nowhere to put it.

Also essential is allowing your ice cream to soften before using it to make the cake. In an article for Epicurious, writer and cookbook author Tara O'Brady recommends you don't just let your ice cream soften sitting out at room temperature because it will yield an inconsistent result. Instead, the chef suggests whacking it with a spoon or using the paddle attachment on a stand mixer to make the ice cream more pliable.

You will also need some critical kitchen tools to ensure a picture-perfect presentation once the cake is complete. Before you get started, make sure you have an offset spatula, ice cream scoops, a cake carrier for transportation, and something to scrape the sides of the cake with once it gets released from the mold. With all this ready, it's almost time to begin.

2. Bake your cookie crunch

If you're looking to replicate the cakes from Baskin-Robbins, one important element is the cookie crunch. At Carvel, this has been trademarked as Crunchies, but that doesn't mean it's the only place that has them. In these styles of ice cream cake, bits of crushed-up cookies provide amazing texture in between layers of two different types of ice cream. If you bake your cookie crunch before you put it on the cake, though, you will unlock a secret that will elevate your cake above Baskin-Robbins. Whether you choose the traditional Nabisco sandwich creme cookie for your crunch or something else entirely, this trick will help that layer stand up to melting ice cream.

Once you crush your cookies up and combine them with melted butter, stick that mixture into the oven for just five to 10 minutes. Toasting your cookie crumbs will bring out the richness of the butter flavor to improve your cake. It will also help this layer stand up to the wet and melty ice cream and not become soggy, either during construction or after it's been taken in and out of the freezer five times.

3. Don't make a cake smaller than 8 inches in diameter

If you're making multiple types of layers in your ice cream cake, an important step is ensuring each layer is uniform. In terms of diameter, 8 inches is the perfect size for a homemade ice cream cake. On her blog Sugar Geek Show, cake-baking expert Liz Marek says that tall and skinny is a bad idea when it comes to ice cream cakes. It's easy to see how this could be a recipe for disaster when you end up having to deal with a melting tower of Piza, so stick to a wider and shorter cake design.

This is especially important to keep in mind if you are baking a layer (or two) of your ice cream cake yourself. You will want to use an 8-inch baking pan (or larger) for your cake layers to make sure you aren't going to make a toppling mess. When constructing your cake, this will make things go a lot smoother.

4. Use high quality ice cream

There is one simple way that you can get a definitive advantage over Baskin-Robbins: Use better ice cream than Baskin-Robbins does in their cakes. Baskin-Robbins ice creams are filled with additives of both the natural and artificial variety. Not only will high-quality ice cream made with natural ingredients taste better than what they serve at Baskin-Robbins, it will likely make for a healthier cake too. If you are trying to avoid putting artificial dyes and flavors in your body, avoid Baskin-Robbins ice cream cakes.

For starters, you don't want to use soft serve when making an ice cream cake. As you might have guessed, soft serve is ... too soft. By that, we mean it's too low in butterfat. According to the USDA, an ice cream must contain 10% butterfat (aka milkfat) and soft serve typically has somewhere around half that — Dairy Queen's for example has 5%. Premium ice creams tend to have a butterfat percentage closer to 15%. These are the ones you should be looking for when shopping for ice cream cake.

You shouldn't use frozen custard either, because it actually ends up having the same problem, albeit not due to butterfat. Custard has the same butterfat requirements as ice cream, but requires over 1.4% egg yolk content. Because of this, frozen custard needs to be served at a higher temperature, making it a bad fit for ice cream cakes.

5. Use store bought desserts as your base

As we've established, making an ice cream cake using actual cake can be more of a challenge than it seems. That's why were are here with one lifesaving tip. There are plenty of ways to make a delicious ice cream cake without making your own sponge cake. When it comes to your base, pretty much any dessert or baked good will work in place of cake, albeit some better than others.

Pastry chef, writer, and recipe developer Ali Slagle showed off a handful of simple recipes to the New York Times that use store-bought ingredients. Creative bases include Nilla Wafers and store-bought ice cream sandwiches to assemble the most delicious and easiest ice cream cakes you'll ever make.

Another tantalizing homemade option is to make your own brownie or blondie base. Tara O'Brady suggests using brownies or blondies due to the moisture of these desserts compared to cake. Plus, who doesn't love a brownie? You can even use your favorite boxed mix for an easier time.

6. Use simple syrup to moisten your cake

If you are using actual cake as a layer in your ice cream cake creation, we have some bad news for you. In an ice cream cake, layers can dry out more easily than if you were just eating a regular layer cake. It's quite difficult to get your cake layer to stay moist until the last slice due to all the temperature changes when moving and removing your cake from the freezer for serving. This hack will help ensure the layers in your ice cream cake stay moist and fluffy for as long as the cake lasts. All you need to do is add a little something simple.

By brushing your cake layers with just a little bit of simple syrup, you can keep a moist texture longer. This is a great way to keep dry sponge hydrated. Since simple syrup is just a mixture of sugar and water, you aren't putting in anything you didn't already bake the cake with. A great time to do this is right before you are ready to assemble and frost your ice cream cake, after your layers have already cooled down and potentially lost some moisture. 

Additionally, we wouldn't recommend sticking your layers in the fridge to cool since any cake is prone to drying out when refrigerated. Instead, storing the cake in the freezer to cool will seal in the moisture and keep it as fresh as possible. 

7. Make a stabilized whipped frosting

If you've ever wondered what gives ice cream cake frosting its unique taste and texture, we've got answers. While you can make a buttercream, it's recommended you whip up a stabilized whipped cream for your homemade ice cream cake instead. This whipped frosting has a different texture than whipped cream that ultimately makes it more stable in changing temperature conditions. 

To make this frosting, which will have the same melt rate as ice cream, you need to add gelatin to whipped cream. Essentially, what you've been eating all these years on Baskin-Robbins ice cream cakes is just whipped cream (made with cream and powdered sugar) with the addition of bloomed gelatin to give it that ice cream-like texture and consistency. This first layer of frosting is going to cover your cake, so it's important that it doesn't melt faster or slower than the ice cream inside.

8. Keep the toppings small, simple, and stable

When it comes to what to put on top of your ice cream cake, a ganache is a great place to start. Chocolate ganache is delicious and it helps toppings stick, so you can easily add sprinkles, nuts, candy, or whatever strikes your fancy. Just make sure you aren't going overboard with your toppings; keep the flavor of your ice cream in mind to ensure everything will taste great together. Simplicity will make for a better cake in the long run.

If you want to give your cake an extra leg up, you can also add some of these toppings as mix-ins. Just be wary once again of adding too much, or you could negatively impact the stability and enjoyability of your creation. Having too many crunchy bits inside an ice cream cake can make it hard to chew. Too thick of a fudge can make a cake difficult to cut. Adding in too many mix-ins or toppings can impact the structural integrity and cause the whole thing to begin to collapse when you start taking out slices. So be careful and keep your first homemade ice cream cake simple when it comes to toppings and mix-ins.

9. Use fruit to add bright flavors

If you look at the Baskin-Robbins ice cream cake menu, you will see a huge variety of cakes — but looks are deceiving. It might seem overwhelming at first, but it seems most of the flavors in the Baskin-Robbins cakes are pretty heavy on either chocolate or vanilla. So, if you want a flavor palette that's a bit more exciting, you'll be better off making your own. There are a number of ways to infuse your cake with fruity flavors that will brighten up your treat.

By using fruit sherbets or even strawberry ice cream, you are already being more creative than Baskin-Robbins. If you're making any of your layers out of actual cake, jams and preserves can be a great way to inject another level of sweetness and texture. Adding fresh fruit on top will help the other fruit flavors shine and will add a pop of color and beauty to your cake's completed look.

10. Freeze the cake every step of the way

If you want your ice cream cake to be store quality, not just in terms of flavor but also construction and presentation, you need to follow this rule. Make sure to keep your cake in the freezer at every possible instance. You need to keep the cake frozen every step of the way, regardless of what type of ice cream cake you're making.

After you have first assembled your ice cream cake in however many layers you choose to give it, you need to pop it right into the freezer so it starts to maintain its shape. While you whip up the frosting, keep it frozen and only bring it out when you are ready to frost the cake. Immediately after that process is done, put the cake back in the fridge and prepare your decorations. After pulling it out to decorate, that cake should go straight into the freezer for multiple hours so that it can set into the finished product. When it comes out, it's sure to be lovelier and tastier than any Baskin-Robbins creation could ever dream to be.