It’s Not a Party without an Ice Cream Cake

How Bi-Rite sinks love and care into every layer of your favorite ice cream cake.

Whole Cookies And Cream Ice Cream Cake Shot From Above With A Slice Taken Out And A Blue Napkin To The Side

By Becky Duffett

Smooth ice cream and comforting cake are a classic combo, and crafted together into one cute package, they serve a cool wave of nostalgia. The Creamery has been churning out local and seasonal ice cream since 2006, and layering it into festive cakes for nearly as long. For many San Franciscans, it simply isn’t a party without a Bi-Rite ice cream cake, which have brought joy to picnics, birthdays, and even weddings over the years. “There’s something very childlike, playful, and fun about having an ice cream cake,” confirms executive pastry chef Jessica Penner.  

Bi-Rite serves ice cream cakes year round, although the appetite grew during the pandemic, and they always fly out of the freezer on warm weekends. Given the overwhelming popularity in recent years, the Creamery currently focuses on four icons: Cookies and Cream is by far the bestseller, featuring chocolate cake, vanilla ice cream, and crushed chocolate wafers. Birthday Cake serves nostalgia with cake crumbles and rainbow sprinkles, while Mint Chip keeps it fresh with a pour of chocolate glaze. Coffee Toffee attracts a small but sophisticated crowd that lives for Ritual espresso cold brew and housemade almond toffee.  

Birthday Cake Ice Cream Cake On A Wooden Surface

Birthday Cake Ice Cream Cake

The team sinks love and care into every layer. On the bottom, two different Guittard chocolate cakes pack in rich moisture and flavor. A lighter sour cream chocolate cake goes into the Cookies and Cream and Birthday Cake, while a darker midnight chocolate cake stands up to the stronger flavors of Mint Chip and Coffee Toffee. At heart, it’s the same local and seasonal ice cream you love by the scoop.  

Remember, Bi-Rite was the first in the city to partner with Straus Family Creamery, and still relies on that organic ice cream base, now popularized on menus across town. Taking it over the top, the team specifically designed the whipped cream cheese and chocolate glaze to freeze more softly. “We’ve elected to not use frosting anymore,” Penner says. “It looks pretty, but it doesn’t eat well.” Finally, sprinkles or crumbles enhance the cuteness and crunch factor.  

Assembling an ice cream cake takes two days from start to finish, and the team bundles up for the job. The bakers work in a cold room set at 55 degrees, wearing warm jackets and gloves under their clean aprons and plastic gloves, so the team stays comfy while the ice cream remains pristine: 

  • On the first day, they set up the mold, trim the cake, pour in fresh ice cream, and freeze overnight. Flowing in the ice cream right away keeps it light and airy, while avoiding any melted edges or ice crystals.  
  • Day two, they unmold, add a plop of topping, finish with a sprinkle, and box it all up. The trick is unmolding — a quick blast of a blow torch helps it release.  
Cookies And Cream Ice Cream Slice On A Plate With Whole Ice Cream Cake In The Background

Becky Duffett

Pro tip: Occasionally, guests ask about the tidiest way to serve frozen desserts, but never fear. Penner says the hardest part is usually clearing out your freezer. If you’d like to soften the cake slightly before cutting, you can slide it into the fridge for 15 minutes (make sure to set a timer to avoid puddles and heartbreak). But Penner prefers to pull the cake straight out of the freezer and warm up her knife. If you dip a good sharp knife into a bowl of hot water and wipe it off with a clean towel, it should glide through the ice cream cake like a dream.  

While you could wait for a special occasion, it’s also sweet to surprise friends and family on any random summer night. Pop the lid off an ice cream cake and let the crowd go wild. “The Cookies and Cream cake is a fan favorite in my household … ” Penner says. “I have two small children, so the joy that they get … makes it worth the sugar rush that’s coming.”  

Becky Duffett is a food writer living and eating in San Francisco. Follow her on Instagram at @beckyduffett.