Now that January is over, there is some hope that the previous month’s incessant diet culture messaging will die down soon as the hordes of people who promised to eat healthy and exercise realize that both of those things are boring as hell. Even if you haven’t been depriving yourself over the last month, now is as good a time as any to treat yourself to an ice cream cake.
Ice cream cakes are, like most cakes, typically reserved for celebratory experiences. The practice dates back to antiquity, when ancient Greeks would bake cakes and set them alight with candles in worship of Artemis, the goddess of the moon; Romans stirred together flour, honey, and nuts to feed wedding guests. Ice cream cakes are, of course, a much newer innovation popularized by chains like Carvel and Baskin-Robbins, but no more frequently consumed — they’re reserved only for children’s birthday parties and office events not worth the cost of a custom cake.
Which is why, strolling down the frozen foods section of my neighborhood grocery store a couple of months ago, I was a little surprised to see a small Carvel ice cream cake sitting on the shelf next to the Marie Callender’s frozen apple pies. I hadn’t even thought about ice cream cake in years, and the pandemic has halted most of the celebrations that require a dessert that can feed more than a couple of people. On an impulse, I threw it into my cart.
At $12, the cake was a little more expensive than the typical pint of Jeni’s I have on my grocery list, but not so much that it felt like some incredible splurge. After getting it home, I tucked it into the freezer and went on about my day, remembering about eight hours later that I had an actual ice cream cake all to myself, just waiting inside the freezer.
I cracked open the box and sliced into the cake, which was still somehow a little soft. I had to pry the cake off the bottom of the box a little, but no worries — if worse came to worst and I had to eat it off the cardboard disc it was piped onto at the Carvel factory, this was my ice cream cake and it didn’t have to look pretty.
The first bite was an instant hit of nostalgia-induced dopamine. The layers of chocolate and vanilla were separated by a layer of Carvel’s classic “crunchies,” or crushed-up bits of cookies that add essential textural contrast. The cake’s marshmallow icing is an absolute feat of food engineering, staying soft and fluffy in the freezer but never getting too gooey or melty after warming up on the plate. A ring of icing dyed with some chemical that is probably banned in Europe piped around the edge of the cake and showered with pastel sprinkles, stained the corners of my mouth.
After eating a slice,