Make the legendary summer treat a little more summery.
I’ve never been sure why s’mores are marketed as a summer dessert because the last thing I want to do on a hot July evening is sit by a roaring campfire. My favorite version of the classic is cold and refreshing, yet totally enjoyable: an espresso s’mores ice cream cake. Each component brings a unique texture, making this frozen treat a symphony of smooth, cold, creamy and crunchy.
My recipe takes cues from other summer favorites: the graham cracker crust of Key Lime Pie, the paradoxical frozen base and flaming meringue of Baked Alaska, and the unrivaled Nigella Lawson Stir-free espresso ice cream in one step. An unbaked graham cracker crust is the perfect vessel for this ice cream cake. Not only does it fit the s’mores theme, it’s a breeze to make and stays crispy and crunchy (but not mind-blowing). A thin layer of ganache spread on the bottom of the crust adds the chocolaty touch—and keeps the cake from getting soggy.
The surprising protagonist of this frozen dessert is the espresso ice cream. While vanilla or chocolate might seem more s’more-esque, bitter coffee keeps the whole thing from being overpoweringly sweet. It simmers to smooth, creamy perfection, no ice cream maker required. And we have Nigella Lawson to thank for the one-step no-churn method pioneered in her 2012 book Nigelissima—All ingredients are simply placed in a bowl and whipped into a thick mass before pouring directly into the crust to set.
The meringue is the best part of this dessert—and it’s also the component that requires the most effort. It’s a classic Swiss meringue, in which the egg whites and sugar are slowly heated over a water bath until safely cooked. The result is a silky, super-stable white cloud that quickly turns brown and black under a blowtorch flame. Roasting the meringue aggressively has the same effect as a marshmallow briefly catching fire. The best part? Thanks to its stability, Swiss meringue freezes fairly well, so you can build this cake well in advance. Toast the meringue just before serving for the best texture (a crispy outer layer) and toasty flavor. However, leftovers can be easily refrozen and the meringue will remain soft and pliable for at least a few days.
What I love most about this frozen treat is that, as our loyal friend Ina Garten says, it’s super easy to put together (and prep ahead of time).store bought is also fine. Any component of this cake can easily be replaced with a ready-made option. Opt for a pre-made crust or a liter of Häagen-Dazs coffee ice cream instead of homemade ice cream. Don’t want to make a meringue? For a similar bite and just as eye-catching look, try covering the top of the cake with jumbo marshmallows.
A blowtorch is the best way to toast the meringue (or marshmallows) without melting the ice too much. In a pinch, a well-heated grill will suffice, but you should serve and eat the cake quickly. Flambéing the Alaskan-style meringue (pouring some scorching rum or brandy over the cake) doesn’t brown it as deep as a torch, but it turns this s’mores cake into a campfire of sorts. Just make sure the meringue gets a nice toast, because without at least a little bit of fire, you just can’t make a s’more.