This homemade ice cream cake is made with vanilla and chocolate semifreddo and a chocolate cookie crunch layer in the middle. No ice cream machine required!
What is semifreddo?
This ice cream cake is made from a vanilla semifreddo, a chocolate semifreddo, and a cookie crunch layer (just like the Carvel or Baskin Robbins). A semifreddo is a combination of cooked eggs (here, just the yolks) with sugar and whipped cream.
Fat (egg yolks, cream) and sugar don’t freeze completely solid. And the word “semifreddo” means just what you think it means: that this dessert freezes semi-solid.
The egg yolk and sugar mixture is cooked gently over a double boiler until it becomes pale and thicker and then beaten until it doubles in volume. Whipped cream is whisked in, and then the whole big beautiful mixture is poured into a pan lined with plastic wrap.
The consistency of the ice cream is similar to gelato. It’s a smooth, creamy ice cream cake that will hold whatever shape you like.
Semifreddo is lower in sugar than our no-churn vanilla ice cream or chocolate mousse ice cream, both of which are made without an ice cream machine and with sweetened condensed milk. Semifreddo is less sweet but still totally decadent.
Do I have to use homemade ice cream to make an ice cream cake?
The advantage of making any of these ice cream treats with homemade ice cream is that you can shape it when it’s first made. If you use packaged ice cream, you need to soften it before you can shape it into a cake in a springform pan or a loaf pan.
What’s in that chocolate crunch layer?
When I first made a semifreddo ice cream cake, it was only vanilla and shaped in a standard loaf pan. But the smooth creaminess and reduced sweetness of semifreddo seem just right for a more dressed-up ice cream cake.
If you’re going to make a Carvel- or Baskin Robbins-style ice cream cake, you’re going to need a chocolate crunch layer. Some homemade ice cream cake recipes use crushed Oreos (or gluten free Joe Joes in our case) and hot fudge.
I prefer to make the chocolate crunchy layer with crushed chocolate sandwich cookies (cream and all), that aren’t crushed into sandy crumbs. Crush them by hand just until they’re small chunks, and then add a mixture of melted chocolate and coconut oil.
The mixture of melted chocolate and coconut oil is a homemade version of Magic Shell, the chocolate ice cream topping that hardens when it’s poured on cold ice cream. The melted chocolate mixture helps the cookie crumbs turn into perfect clusters.
Be sure to leave some gaps in the chocolate crunch layer when you spread it on top of the bottom layer of ice cream. Otherwise, you’ll have some difficulty slicing through that layer after the cake has set fully in the freezer.
Can I make a single layer ice cream cake?
Of course! This recipe is very adaptable. You can make a vanilla semifreddo and pour it into a plastic-lined loaf pan, cover it with plastic wrap and freeze then slice and serve. You can also do the same with the chocolate semifreddo.
If you use a larger loaf pan, you can even layer in both vanilla and chocolate semifreddo. I recommend freezing the first layer while you make the second, so the mixtures don’t bleed into one another.
You can make the entire cake in a springform pan as shown here, with or without the chocolate crunch layer. Or make it in a plastic-lined rectangular pan, slicing the cake into squares to serve.
Do I need special equipment?
No, the “special equipment” in the form of a springform pan and an acetate collar is entirely optional. You will need a handheld mixer or a stand mixer with the whisk attachment to whip the heavy cream.
You’ll also need a small heat-safe bowl to place over a small pot of simmering water (not a fancy double boiler). Plus, a fine mesh sieve to strain the egg yolk and sugar mixture.
A springform pan is great because it makes for a very clean edge when you unmold the cake. A simple acetate cake collar allows you to build the cake higher than the sides of your springform pan, but it’s absolutely not necessary.
Whatever you do, be sure to have fun with the whole thing. An ice cream cake makes for an instant celebration! 🎈
Ingredients and substitutions
Like all super simple recipes, semifreddo is not a great candidate for making ingredient substitutions. Here’s some information, maybe to prove it to you?
Egg-free: You need to make this with egg yolks. There is no substitute, I’m afraid.
Dairy-free: You might be able to replace the heavy whipping cream in this recipe with coconut cream. You’d follow the same general instructions for whipping cream, starting with it cold and whipping with a handheld mixer or a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Just be sure to use dairy-free chocolate in the chocolate variety.