John’s Favorite Ice Cream Cake

John’s Favorite Ice Cream Cake

A few weeks ago, I was working at my computer when the doorbell rang. Although I got up right away, I opened the door to find no one there. A quick glance up and down the street revealed nobody, but as I turned to close the door I noticed a yellow rose, attractively wrapped with a pretty bow, propped on the stoop.

Was this some sort of fundraiser or social media craze? Was the rose actually meant for me or did one of my boys have a secret admirer? A few minutes later, I left for a meeting and, while there, asked someone if she had heard of some new fad involving a yellow rose. She had not. By the time I arrived home, my older son had just returned from track practice at McCaskey (go Tornadoes!) , and I asked him if he knew about the rose.

“It was from me,” he said. When I asked him how he managed to get the rose to me when he was at practice, the most heart-warming story was revealed. After a hard meet the day before, the distance runners were running an easy loop through the city when John noticed his name on the sign at Flowers by Paulette. In all my years driving through downtown Lancaster, I never noticed that there’s a new name on the sign every day. If your name is on the sign, you get a free rose. Well, this particular Tuesday was John day.

He mentioned to his teammates that he would love to give a rose to his mom and that there had been a John day last year that he found out about too late. Suddenly, he said, there was a chorus of “You have to!” But it was a hot day, and John commented that he couldn’t go into the shop because he didn’t have a shirt. Thoughtfully, one of his teammates lent him his sweaty t-shirt. John got the rose, and the team agreed to run all the way to our house so that John could deliver it.

Mind you, this was not exactly on their route and nothing was in it for the other boys…except the good feeling of doing something thoughtful for someone else.

Until this point, I wouldn’t have imagined that a single yellow rose could have such an impact. The thoughtfulness of my son was wonderful, but the buy-in from the whole group of teenagers was nothing short of heartwarming.

Later, I asked the coach (a McCaskey classmate of mine) if he knew what the boys were up to that afternoon. They hadn’t revealed their route deviation, so I filled him in. Knowing how this simple gesture brightened my day—big time–my only wish was that each of those boys could see their name on the sign.

In a few days time, John will turn 18. As he officially makes the step from child to adult, I thought it might be fun to share one of his favorite treats. This make-ahead dessert is perfect on a hot summer night and a surefire hit for a birthday celebration any time of year. Most recently, I made this cool cake with mint chocolate chip ice cream—the birthday boy’s favorite—but it can be customized with cake and ice cream flavors of choice.

John’s Favorite Ice Cream Cake
This cake is quite easy to make and can be done in stages. To allow for adequate freezing time, it’s best to start a day or two in advance. For the freshest look and taste, I like to do the final assembly of the cake layers the day the cake will be served, leaving at least a couple of hours for it to sit in the freezer.

Yield: 16 servings (12 if you’re my family!)
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  1. 1 (15.25-ounce) package chocolate cake mix (or flavor of choice or your favorite homemade cake)
  2. 1 1/2 quarts ice cream, softened
  3. Cool Whip or whipped cream for icing
  4. Optional: sprinkles, chopped cookies or candy bar pieces, etc.
  1. Prepare the cake according to package directions in two 9-inch round cake pans.* Line the bottom of the pans with parchment paper rounds for easy removal. Cool completely. At this point the cake layers may be wrapped well and refrigerated for up to two days.
  2. Once the cake layers have been removed from the pans, line one of the clean pans with plastic wrap, leaving plenty of overhang to use as handles later. Spread the softened ice cream in the pan, packing it down and smoothing the surface. Freeze until completely firm. This step may be done several days in advance of the final assembly as well.
  3. To assemble the cake: When the ice cream is very firm, place one of the cooled cake layers face down (flat bottom facing up) on a cake plate.** Using the plastic wrap, remove the ice cream from the pan (if needed, use a dinner knife to pry it loose), peel off the plastic wrap, and center the ice cream on the first cake layer. Place the second cake over the ice cream, rounded side up this time. At this point, I take a knife and spread the ice cream to fill in any gaps and make smooth sides to the cake. Return the cake to the freezer for a few minutes to several hours to ensure the ice cream is firm before icing.
  4. Lastly, ice the cake with the whipped cream, and decorate with sprinkles, cookie, or candy pieces, if desired. Return to the freezer until ready to eat. Once the cake is completely frozen, carefully cover it to avoid drying out.
  5. If the fully assembled cake has been frozen for a few hours, allow it to sit at room temperature for about 5 minutes before slicing with a large, sharp knife. If the cake has been frozen overnight, it will likely need to sit for closer 15 minutes before cutting. The cake layer should be softened enough to cut without enormous effort.
  1. *Watch baking time carefully so as not to over-bake and dry out the cake. I have found the times listed on some store-bought mixes to be several minutes too long in my oven.
  2. **Make sure you have room in your freezer for the cake and the platter on which it will be served. If you are taking it somewhere, make sure your host has room!
  3. Additional Tips:
  4. If at any point during assembly the ice cream layer becomes too soft, simply return it to the freezer to firm up before proceeding.
  5. We tend to keep this cake basic, but you could sprinkle chopped candy or cookies on ice cream before placing the second cake layer, or add them as a decoration on top of the cake after frosting. It’s also fun to match the decoration to the ice cream flavor. For example, if you’re using cookies and cream or Heath bar ice cream, you may wish to top the cake with Oreos or Heath/Skor bars. Just avoid ingredients that will freeze rock hard. If you’d like to write a message with decorating icing (a friend also told me that Magic Shell works well), it will be easier to do once the whipped cream has frozen.
  6. Also, I find it’s best to use a cake recipe or mix that calls for oil instead of butter. The texture will be better once frozen. The same goes for the icing. A buttercream icing is likely to become hard and crack. Cool Whip or freshly whipped cream that has been stabilized with a little sugar tend to freeze quite well.
  7. Lastly, if using a gluten-free cake mix, follow the same suggestions and simply start with a cake that you’ve have success with before.
The Fountain Avenue Kitchen
John’s Favorite Ice Cream CakeAfter the cake has been baked and cooled, it may be wrapped well and refrigerated for up to two days before fully assembling the cake. Once the cake has been removed from the pans, line one of the pans (washed and dried, of course) with plastic wrap (this is important for easy removal) and then spread the softened ice cream evenly in that pan (above right). Store in the freezer until ready to assemble the cake.

Ideally, do the final assembly earlier in the day the cake is to be served: Place the first cake layer flat-side up on a cake plate (above left). Then use the overhanging plastic wrap as handles to remove the ice cream layer from the cake pan, and place that on top of the cake.John’s Favorite Ice Cream CakeTop with the second cake, and then smooth the ice cream to fill in any gaps between the layers (photo below). Return the cake to the freezer long enough to firm up the ice cream. For the final step, frost with whipped cream and return to the freezer until ready to serve. 
John’s Favorite Ice Cream CakeBecause the cake is frozen, whipped cream makes the best frosting. Cool Whip is a great option, and one 8-ounce tub will be more than enough to frost the cake.

Once iced, return the cake to the freezer until the whipped cream layer has firmed up before covering with a piece of wax or parchment paper and then wrapping in plastic. (Less whipped cream will stick to the wrapping this way.) I find it easiest to use a clean plastic grocery bag to completely wrap the cake.John’s Favorite Ice Cream CakeWe like a simple preparation, but you can decorate with sprinkles, candy or cookie pieces, or write a message on the cake ( a friend told me that Magic Shell works well—writing on the whipped cream will be easier to do this once it has frozen.). A few flags stuck in the top would be fun for the 4th of July! (Fresh blueberries and strawberries would be festive, too, but you may prefer to add them once the cake has been removed from the freezer.John’s Favorite Ice Cream CakeBefore serving, allow the cake to sit on the counter for 5 minutes or so, depending on how long the cake has been in the freezer and how warm the air temperature is. Once the cake has been frozen overnight, it will need to sit about 15 minutes before slicing.yellow rose from JohnHere’s the yellow rose from the story.  It occurred to me that I should really have a picture to remember this moment, so at the end of a long day–should have probably brushed my hair!–John humored me with a quick selfie.  Funny thing…it was nearly dark when John took the photo.  Clearly, there’s a strong flash on the iPhone!  


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  1. Eunice blocker

    Ann, what a precious boy! Mother always thought of him as the “miracle child”. The entire event made tears come to my eyes.
    I will try the cake this summer.

    Aunt Eunie

    1. Ann Post author

      Your comment made my day, Aunt Eunie! John still remembers his great grandmother with such fond memories. We all do!

  2. Laura

    Loved the story, Ann! You’ve got great kids! Ava’s birthday is tomorrow and she would love this cake but I’m at baseball games all weekend! We’ll just have to make it for no reason at all mid-week.

    1. Ann Post author

      Happy birthday to Ava! I totally vote for making this midweek for no particular reason, Laura. I had a piece for lunch the other day, and it felt so decadent. : ) Hope all is well with your crew. We miss you!

  3. Dorothy Frey

    Happy Birthday to John a handsome young man! What a great, touching story. The guys will long remember doing something so heart warming and have this wonderful story from their point of view to friends and the next generation!

    Enjoy that beautiful, delicious cake. Thanks for the recipe, Ann!

    1. Ann Post author

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. It was a small gesture yet made such a big impression. They’re a great group of guys!

  4. Meghan Post author

    The ice cream cake turned out wonderful. My daughter said it was the best ice cream cake she ever had. It was a hit with the whole family. Thank you again!!