“If all else fails, try chocolate!” or, “Happy birthday, DS!”

Everyone in my family has a favorite sweet treat for his birthday. For me, it’s chocolate cake, for the DH and the DD, apple pie à la mode, and for the DS, ice cream cake. Until this year, we got the ice cream cakes made-to-order from the premium ice cream store. He loved making the cake unique, choosing the flavors, the base layer, the toppings, and the frosting color. Since he also hated drawing attention to himself, he would balk at letting us declare “Happy Birthday!” on top, so there would always be a tug-of-war over whether to have any writing on top, and what it should say — “No, I am not getting you a birthday cake that says: If all else fails, try chocolate!”

We skipped that particular negotiation this year because of Thanksgiving. (I don’t know about you, but for this Cozy Foodie, it always comes back to Thanksgiving!) Anyway, I found an over-the-top recipe for pumpkin ice cream pie (Bon Appétit, November 2008, on a graham cracker crust, a layer of pure vanilla ice cream topped with another layer of pumpkin-laced vanilla ice cream, all studded with chocolate-almond bark. Oh my goodness!

I’ve been on the look-out for another chance to make ice cream cake ever since then, and when the DS said he’d like an ice cream cake for his birthday, I said: “Wouldn’t it be nice if we made it? Remember Thanksgiving?” Well, that settled it.

He chose vanilla-brownie chunk for one layer, and cherry-chocolate chip vanilla ice cream for the other. Since there wasn’t anywhere near enough chocolate in this sugar-and-cream hunk ‘o’ happiness, I suggested a base made from chocolate cookies, with more chocolate cookie crumbs sprinkled in the middle, and chocolate-almond ganache on top. There were no cherries at the supermarket, but no problem, strawberry was his second choice, and I made the switch on the fly.

If you have an ice cream maker, ice cream cakes with homemade ice cream are dead easy to make. They just take a little advance planning to allow the freezer insert for the ice cream maker to refreeze in between the two batches of ice cream, and for the second layer to firm up. Of course, they’re just as delish if you simply pick up a couple of quarts of your favorite ice cream.

This cake had a lot of love packed into it: everyone in the family wanted to share in the glory of claiming, “I made that!” The DD and the birthday boy himself made the vanilla-brownie layer — they’re actually usually the ones in charge of making ice cream in our house. The DH and I made the strawberry layer, and I made the base, the middle, and the topping. This cake really made the DS feel special as he officially crossed into his teen years. And it didn’t say “Happy Birthday!” on top, either.

The cake was so good that the DH was busily planning what flavors ice cream he was going to get for his birthday ice cream cake, when I asked: “So does that mean that you don’t want apple pie for your birthday?” I could hear the gears grinding in his head as he mulled over this painful choice. Finally, I let him off the hook. “Father’s Day is just a month after your birthday….” I’m already plotting the perfect ice cream cake just for him: maybe favorite flavors like mint chocolate with chocolate chunks, cherry vanilla with white chocolate chunks, and chopped chocolate covered almonds in between the layers? Or ice cream layers of vanilla with chopped macadamia nuts and chocolate chunks, and guava sherbet, topped with a “sand” beach of finely-ground graham cracker crumbs, a cocktail umbrella, and an “ocean” of blue icing to remind him of our vacation in Hawaii?….I feel another tradition being born!

Here’s the recipe for the DS’s (Birthday) Ice Cream Cake. What would make an ice cream cake truly special for you?

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