This cake was born of the marriage of a culinary insight and a personal desire: that warm gaajar ka halva goes brilliantly with cold vanilla ice cream, and that I’ve always wanted to make an ice cream cake.
Note please that “halva” here is not to be confused with Middle-Eastern halvas, which are more fudgy candies. Indian halvas are typically made by boiling milk down milk with select vegetables and/or wheats. The result is more of a pudding than a candy.
“Delhi carrots,” or the red Indian “gaajar,” are in season, and that was all the prompt I needed to get going.
True, February not the season to make a cold dessert in many parts of this hemisphere, but the unforgivingly hot weather in my beloved little town hardly lets me make cold-cold things when they’re really, really needed. February is already a warming month. So I take what chances I have when ingredients make their suggestions and the weather is still reasonably cooperative.
Really, this is a simple cake. One genoise (split into two layers), pure vanilla ice cream, and half a batch of gaajar ka halva is all you need–this cake lends itself rather well to impulsiveness, presuming you have some halva already made. (If not, it’s still a simple cake, but the halva takes a morning to make!)
Although you can use any color of carrot you can get your hands on (or beets, for that matter), traditional halvas are made with the skinny long red “gaajar” variety that’s usually in season in Indian winters. They’re beautifully pink when they’re grated, and become a rich orange-red after cooking.
Want to know the differences between a red and an orange carrot? Want a carrot genealogy? Here you go.
Whatever veggie you use, leave out the ricotta from the recipe above this time around, and don’t yet stir in nuts and raisins. Just add your powdered cardamom, and set about half your halva aside.
Next, make your ice cream.
I don’t have a recipe up for ice cream yet, but a custard made with whole bean vanilla and cream in a churn are probably well-worth the effort in this case. But if you’d rather not: then just buy a good-quality whole bean vanilla ice cream. Don’t skimp here please! And do not, not, not use anything that is artificially flavored.
Already thinking this is too many steps? Here’s a gentle reminder of what it’s all about:
Last, make your genoise. The genoise or Genovese is basically a foam cake made of warming a mixture of eggs and sugar, whipping it to gain volume, and folding in just a bit of flour before a quick stint in the oven returns a delicious, golden sponge. It uses no butter–though some recipes call for the addition of melted butter, this is not at all needed. The cake turns out marvelously with just the fat that’s already in the egg yolks.
(Foam cakes like the genoise are to be contrasted with cakes that use butter and a leavening agent to generate the same volume). The genoise can be used in many layered cakes, especially those which require some soaking and flavoring: it’s a sponge after all (and a great substitute for lady fingers in tiramisu). As such, it’s an essential addition to any pâtissier’s repertoire.
Fun fact: the cake owes its name to its origins in Genoa, Italy. Want a bit more on the differences between sponges, gâteaux, and genoises? Here you go.
Make the genoise:
- Preheat your oven to 425F/220C. Line a round 9″ baking pan with parchment; grease and flour the parchment. (Or, if you’re loathe to slice a genoise as I often am, then just use 2 pans and cut baking time by about half).
- Note: you’ll need a springform pan to assemble the cake, so use whatever size baking pans are the same as your springform.
- In a large heatproof bowl, whisk together 4 eggs with 1/2 cup sugar until combined. (If you have a stand mixer, use its bowl so the next whipping step is easier). Set this atop a saucepan with an inch or so of simmering water (make sure the bowl’s bottom isn’t touching the hot water). Continue whisking until the egg mixture feels on the hotter side of warm.
- Take the bowl off the heat. Using a hand mixer or a stand mixer, continue whipping on high speed for about 5 minutes, or until the mix turns a pale yellow, has doubled (or more) in volume, and the batter falls in thick ribbons which hold shape for about 3-4 seconds.
- Very gently fold in 3/4 cup of sifted flour. Pour into your prepped pan and bake for about 15 minutes, or until the cake is golden and springy. Allow to cool in the pan, and then invert onto a baking rack and peel off the parchment to cool completely.
- Slice the cake with a bread knife into two layers. (Ignore if you’ve used 2 pans and already have your layers).
Toast and chop your nuts:
- Use a mix of almonds and pistachios–a 1/4 cup each. I toasted each separately so I could chop each separately: almonds into slivers, and the pistachios into a coarse powder that could be pressed into the sides of the cake (in case the ice cream and cake layers weren’t super beautifully differentiated when they emerged from springform–which they most certainly weren’t). Careful toasting pistachios–they burn super easily. Almonds are more forgiving.
- Mix 2 pinches of salt and a pinch of powdered cardamom into the pistachio powder. Set both chopped almonds and pistachios aside.
- (While this is happening, set the ice cream out to soften a little or it will be much too hard to spread when you need it).
Now, assemble the cake:
- Place the first layer at the bottom of a springform pan, and sprinkle with 2-3 teaspoons of dark rum. I used Captain Morgan’s.
- Follow at once with vanilla ice cream. I had to scoop out about 2 cups of ice cream and mash well with a spoon to get it into a spreadable consistency.
- Repeat with the second layer of cake–sprinkle with rum–and then top with ice cream. Now place the springform pan into your freezer and allow to firm up — at least an hour or two, or better, until you’re ready to serve.
- The thing about gaajar ka halva-ice cream pairings is that the halva is usually served warm or even hot– and the ice cream is cold. But this hot-cold experience isn’t possible to reproduce on an ice cream cake, so the compromise is to have the halva at least at room temperature. At least for the first servings. Can’t help but have the halva frozen for left-overs.
- Retrieve the cooling cake. Run a knife around its circumference, and release it from the pan. Press about 1/2 the pistachio powder into the sides. Place the springform mould back on again. (If you need to return to the freezer –do so now until you’re ready to serve).
- When you’re ready to serve or close to it anyway, mix the halva to loosen a little, and spoon it over the ice cream layer. Follow with a generous sprinkling of the chopped almonds and pistachio powder.
- If you’re using silver leaf — work quickly now, and place it on. Follow again with more chopped almonds and whatever is left of the pistachio powder.
And that’s it. Presuming the ice cream is firm enough, you can slice and serve the cake right away. If the ice cream shows signs of becoming squooshy, you’re better off returning it to the freezer to harden before you attempt to unmound the cake, slice, and serve.
Store any leftovers covered well and for up to a week in the freezer. Ours lasted maybe till the next day. Just saying.