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Back in the heyday of “Martha Stewart Living,” the domestic diva’s syndicated hourly show, I heard about a survey that revealed viewers felt more stressed watching her than they did the evening news.

I understood this logic as a child; as an adult, I feel it viscerally. And that’s why I share horror stories along with successes, both to commiserate and to educate. Though it’s kind of cliche, mistakes are only bad when you refuse to learn from them.

That brings us to the recipe at hand: Pink Lemonade Ice Cream Cake. It’s a light yet creamy dessert that’s perfect for summer, and it only has five ingredients. What could go wrong?

The original crust calls for 32 vanilla wafers. After a quick blitz in the food processor, I added the melted fat, pulsed a few more times and poured the mixture into the bottom of one of my springform pans.

Did you know that all brands of wafers aren’t the same size? That or they’ve been downsized over the years; I haven’t yet purchased a second box to figure it out. This is why I appreciate weight or volume as a check when calling for per-piece ingredients.

At least the alarm bells in my head went off: the crust barely looked like it would cover and was far too soggy. I put the mixture back in the food processor, tossed in another handful of cookies, and got it to a much better place.

Quick: How many cups are there in a standard tub of Cool Whip? And if you’re substituting real cream, how much does a half-pint whip up to? I didn’t know the answers off the top of my head, but I sure do now. Turns out there’s just over three cups in an eight-ounce container of whipped topping, while cream doubles in volume when beaten, from one cup to two.

I suppose Murphy’s Law dictated the outcome: I underestimated the first and overestimated the second. I was staring into a bowl that had only two-thirds of the billowy clouds I needed.

Now I could feel panic creeping in. I needed to run back to the store, but the last thing I wanted was a puddle of softening ice cream leaking all over my fridge. I decided to make the first cake, then put everything on ice until I got back.

Airy ingredients like beaten egg whites get folded in to preserve all the air you’ve just painstakingly whipped into them. That’s what adds lift and volume; stirring or whisking would collapse those air pockets back down, and whatever you’re making will end up flatter and denser than expected.

Often the rest of the batter is very thick, so this is hard to do, and even folding will eventually take its toll on the delicate structure. This is why most recipes call for a third of the whipped portion to be mixed in directly to lighten the batter, making the folding task that much easier. You essentially sacrifice the air in a smaller portion to preserve it in the rest.

This recipe made no mention of that, and as I drew the spatula through what looked like streaky Pepto-Bismol for the hundrenth time, I realized exactly why I was struggling. My cranky mood ratcheted up another notch as I finished mixing and poured the pink soup into a prepared pan.

The suggested presentation for the cake is to line a ring of overlapping vanilla wafers around the outside of the springform as a decorative border.

This works well when your wafers are the unlisted yet expected size; mine, as we have established, were not.

The filling crested the ring, running over the top and then down between the wafers and the pan. I could do little but pout as I slid it into the freezer and then dashed to the grocery. (When unmolded the next day, the effect was far more comical than elegant, but hey: at least I had the foresight to make two!)

I’d done the first cake with a whisk and then a hand mixer, each of which had their pitfalls, so for cake two I went to the stand mixer, tossing in the ice cream and lemonade. The ice cream didn’t want to play nice, and a big hunk was getting pushed around the bowl, splattering pink liquid out. I switched it off and removed the beater, using it break up the ice cream a bit, then turned the mixer back on.

As the whisk attachment swirled around the bowl, it gathered the ice cream up in front of it, in spite of my efforts. And since I had forgotten to lock the head of the mixer down this time, it reared up as the beater reached the front of the bowl.

The ice cream acted like a spatula, throwing a tidal wave of pink out of the bowl — onto the counter, onto the floor, and all down my front.

And yet. The end result? Not so bad.

The recipe here is informed by this tale of catastrophe, and I encourage you to view it as a blank canvas. Mix and match your crust, ice cream and flavoring agent to suit your tastes. I can see a graham-cracker-vanilla-limeade combo working well, or perhaps an Oreo crust with chocolate ice cream and some creme de menthe.

But whatever you do, lock the mixer head.


Pink Lemonade Ice Cream Cake

Makes 16 servings

• 20 lemon creme sandwich cookies

• 2 tablespoons butter, melted

• 2 cups vanilla ice cream (1 pint)

• 3/4 cup frozen pink lemonade concentrate, thawed yet cold

• 1 1/2 cups heavy cream

• 1 1/2 tablespoons powdered sugar

• Candied lemons, to optionally garnish

Preheat oven to 350 F. Turn cookies into fine crumbs using a food processor or rolling pin, then mix in melted butter. Press neatly into the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan and bake for 15 minutes or until slightly browned and fragrant. Let cool, then place in freezer. (If you desire to line the sides of the pan with lemons, cookies or what have you, now is the time.)

Whip the cream and powdered sugar on medium low until foamy; continue to whip on high until stiff peaks form, 1 to 3 minutes. Refrigerate until called for.

Using hand or stand mixer, beat ice cream until chunks are broken up and it seems like it will play nice; add thawed lemonade and mix until blended. Add one-third (1 cup) of whipped cream and mix until incorporated to lighten. Gently fold in rest of cream with spatula until just homogenous.

Pour into crust and freeze until firm, at least 3 hours. (If you plan to garnish the top, let the cake freeze for 10 minutes or so to ensure your decorations don’t sink into the muck.)

When ready to serve, place cake in refrigerator for 15 minutes to soften slightly. Remove springform collar and slice, running knife under hot water in between cuts.

Chef’s notes: Let the ice cream soften in the refrigerator for 20 minutes or so before mixing it. I used Martha Stewart’s recipe for candied lemons for the garnish; you’ll need two or three lemons’ worth if you’d like to cover the whole cake. 

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