Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Individual Ice Cream Cakes with Homemade Magic Shell

I really could have just stopped typing after writing the title of this post. The title and the recipe for the homemade Magic Shell is all you really need to know, right? Well, I can't help myself...I could wax poetic about the magic and mystery of these cupcakes for the rest of my life. So it is with great enthusiasm that I present to you my latest brainchild: Individual Ice Cream Cakes with Homemade Magic Shell.

(I had to say it again.)

This last weekend, Robb and I hosted an engagement barbecue for two very dear friends, Jess and Ryan. And though an engagement party is usually a grown-up classed-up occasion, we thought Jess and Ryan would enjoy a different approach. So instead we opted for burgers and pinatas in addition to  champagne. Since Ryan has a sweet tooth, I knew I needed to do some kind of dessert. And so it was pure kismet when, two weeks ago, my sister reminded me about the ice cream cake I had made her for her birthday about ten years ago. That cake was highly experimental and involved a 9" cake pan with a thin cake on the bottom, a layer of fresh sliced strawberries, and ice cream packed tightly into the top part of the cake pan. I then doused the whole thing with Magic Shell--I believe it was a very thorough, very thick coating. I recall, for some reason, that it had some problems. Like the frozen strawberries were hard as rocks, or the Magic Shell was tough to cut through, and a "piece" came out of the pan more like a clump. But the concept...I knew there was something there. So ten years later, I decided to try it again in a more manageable cupcake format.

I started with the cake layer, of course. And because we were making a lot of other food for this barbecue and I didn't have a ton of time, I opted to go the Betty Crocker box-cake route (which is always bafflingly tasty if not slightly skanky). I also used prepackaged ice cream, though someday I plan to make these entirely from scratch: homemade cake, homemade ice cream AND homemade Magic Shell. For now, I will just enjoy the irony that the Magic Shell was the only thing in this dessert that I made "from scratch."

I used silver cupcake liners, assuming that the metal would help keep the ice cream cool. Also, I assumed paper would turn to mush after the ice cream began to melt in the heat of a July afternoon. Right? I filled each cup with between 1/8 and 1/4 cup of batter and baked 'em up.

Once the cakes had cooled, I grabbed my two favorite flavors of ice cream--mint chip and coffee chip--and started quickly scooping ice cream on top of each cupcake. I experimented with two strategies: pressing the ice cream down flat so there was a perfect seal between cake and ice cream, and doing more rounded scoops that I sort of firmly pressed into the cake whilst keeping the scoop shape. Aesthetically, I wound up preferring the latter, plus when you pour on the Magic Shell, it sort of drips down into the gaps between the ice cream and cake, filling in those empty spots and making hard little rivulets of crunchy yumminess. However you do it, you'll need to work fast, because, well, ice cream melts. If the ice cream gets too soft, put the carton and the cupcakes back in the freezer and let them harden up again, otherwise it will be hard to get that perfect little scoop shape.

My original intent was NOT to make Magic Shell from scratch. In fact, I only thought of it because it turns out that my local supermarket doesn't carry Magic Shell, but I had already baked my cupcakes and I was hell bent on the concept. So after some Internet sleuthing, I found what turned out to be the recipe. Ready? Here it is:

1 1/4 cups chocolate chips (or any kind of chocolate you like)
1/2 cup coconut oil

Melt them together in the microwave for about a minute, stir until smooth, and drizzle over ice cream.

That's it! Magic, right? I had always thought that Magic Shell was some sort of chemically produced slightly sinister confection, but the concept is really soo so so so simple: coconut oil is liquid when it's heated and hardens up when it's cold. So if you combine the coconut oil and chocolate when they're warm, then pour them over something cold, whamo, it hardens up. SO COOL. Terrifyingly, the same concept would work with butter or crisco or even lard--any kind of fat that hardens up at room temp or colder--but, um, I'm gonna stick to coconut oil for now.


The Magic Shell sauce is actually very thin, perfect for drizzling on in its trademark rivulets.

And then almost immediately the chocolate begins to seize up (in the photo above you can see the transformation before your very eyes!)


And then, finally, they get their perfectly shellacked finish.

They were treated with an enthusiastic reception at the barbecue! I didn't try one before the party, so I had the pure pleasure of watching people grab them off of the tray as I passed it around and start chomping into them.

For me, the beauty is when you pull away the wrapper and examine the cupcake's cross-section. Something about that cakey bottom, the about-to-start-melting ice cream layer, and glistening hardened chocolate, each layer fluted around the edges by the pleated cupcake liner. It is in that moment that you get a rush (could it be adrenaline?) when you realize, my God, I have to start eating this fast, for you know that it's at its very best when the ice cream is cold and the Magic Shell is crisp.


  1. I Love this idea! I may have to make for a summer garden party :) I have very fond childhood memories of magic shell... but I bet the purer form of coconut oil & choco chips was all the better. Nicely played lady.

  2. Those cakes look so damn yummy. All that's missing is the strawberry rock in the middle! (For reals, I want to make those cakes. Or just the "Magic Shell.")

  3. Those are fantastic! Thanks for sharing.
    (Did you just say "whilst"? Really?)

  4. Thanks, guys! And Susi, I really did say "whilst." You can't use it all the time, but every now and then "whilst" just seems right. Also, please tell me that you will make these for, say, a child's birthday party! So far they have only been tested on adults, though I suspect kids "might" like them.

  5. I saw this on Pinterest, but didn't click through to your website. I was too busy finding the best way to make an ICECREAM CAKE. Valentine's day was 2 days away so I bought the "Magic Shell". When I used it, it wouldn't come out, opened it up and sure enough some sort of solid oil formed on the top. I had to run it under hot water (as the bottle says) and shake. Next time I'll DIY...and make the cupcakes as there isn't any cake in Ice cream cake!