Thursday, August 25, 2011

An Ice Cream Social, and Cassata Slices

Several weeks ago, my BFF Neighbor Girl began to say that she wanted to throw me a baby shower. I cringed and changed the subject as soon as possible. I hate being the center of attention, I don't like big gatherings and the idea of inviting people to bring over gifts is so awkward. We argued and she persisted and to make a long story short, I agreed to it so long as we could keep it simple. That's how a lot of my friends gathered together this Sunday for an ice cream social and I have to say I had the loveliest time.

We wanted an afternoon get-together and the blistering weather these days is simply crying out for frozen desserts, so the choice of a menu revolving around ice cream was a pretty easy choice. The wonderful thing about an ice cream social is that you can keep it as simple as you like by buying different flavors of ice cream and setting them out with toppings like fruits, sauces and nuts, or you can invest some time in making ice creams and other frozen treats at home. We chose a balance of the two, making two homemade ice creams and putting together one frozen dessert and buying some of the ice cream. A lot of the ice cream sold in stores is full of artificial ingredients and fillers; it is well worth it to read labels and seek out the good stuff with a short ingredient list and high-quality natural ingredients.

As we were planning the menu, I happened to check out the most incredible ice cream cookbook from the library, Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home- a new release from the famous ice cream store in Ohio.  This book was a real treat to read and full of inspiring ideas. Jeni's ice cream is quite different because she avoids egg yolks in the ice cream base, relying instead on some cream cheese and cornstarch to provide a silky texture. In a sense, it reminds me more of kulfi. This ice cream base has a lighter, smoother flavor and makes these recipes very suitable for people who don't or can't eat eggs. The book has luscious ideas for ice cream sauces, and ideas for serving ice cream in the form of terrines and sundaes.


This was the menu we worked out:

1. Two large tubs of good quality ice cream from the store in the two most crowd-pleasing flavors: vanilla and chocolate. I chose a Belgian chocolate flavor that sounded very rich and decadent.

2. Accessories for "make your own sundaes": I made a batch of brownies using my favorite recipe for Alice Medrich's cocoa brownies and also made some "magic shell" chocolate sauce, the kind that hardens into a shell when you pour it on ice cream. I used to love this stuff in the form on choco-bars growing up. The recipe for this sauce came from Jeni's book that I mentioned above- it contains two ingredients, coconut oil and chocolate, melted together. Wow. We set out ripe strawberries, chopped walnuts and chocolate chips as sundae add-ons.

3. To have a couple of extra gourmet ice cream flavors on hand, we bought two tubs of gelato from Whole Foods, fig orange which V loves, and strawberry custard, half of which we ended up using for the cassata (below).

4. To make ice cream sodas, we got a few bottles of orange cream soda and strawberry pop from Fitz's, a local soda company. Ice cream sodas are ridiculously simple to make. See a recipe here, all it needs apart from the soda is vanilla ice cream and we already had that on hand.

5. To make falooda or rose sundaes, I made a concoction of falooda noodles, basil seeds also called subja/tukmaria and rose syrup (all three ingredients are sold in Indian grocery stores). When someone wanted to try the falooda, I would scoop some of this into a glass and add a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Falooda is a unique summer treat; for a complete recipe, see Ashwini's gorgeous post.

6. I bought an ice cream maker last summer and enjoy using it, so I made two ice cream recipes at home for the party. One was this roasted cherry coconut ice cream which turned out OK. The other was Jeni's roasted pistachio ice cream which was utterly fabulous and a recipe I will make over and over again. I used the recipe from the book, which is very close to the recipe posted here. My modification was to skip the almond extract and instead add a large pinch of saffron to make kesar pista ice cream. The only special ingredient in this ice cream is light corn syrup which everyone may not have on hand. I had a bottle on hand because I use this stuff once a year for pecan pie at Thanksgiving.

7. I assembled a cassata for the party and the recipe is at the end of the post.

8. Finally, we bought a box of waffle cones from the grocery store to give guests the option of a cone or a cup.

We printed off a menu listing all of the ice cream treats and posted it on the fridge so guests could choose what they liked. We set out bowls, small plates, spoons and napkins and that was it- we were ready to party.

Now for the cassata! I would not have been able to put this together were it not for the collective wisdom shared by so many of you in the comments on this post. All in all, it sounds like cassata is assembled with a thin layer of cake, three ice cream flavors- any combination of kesar-pista, tutti-frutti, vanilla, chocolate, butterscotch- and a topping of nuts. The exact assembly seems to depend on the brand of cassata. Here's how we put together our version (V did all the assembly here).

Cassata

1. Start with a loaf pan. Line it with plastic wrap so that the plastic covers the bottom and the sides and overhangs over the top edge of the pan. This allows for easy unmolding of the finished dessert.

2. Lay down thin slices of pound cake to cover the bottom of the pan. I did not want to make a whole pound cake just to use one slice, so I bought a large slice of pound cake at the bakery and cut that up. Any flavor would work- we used orange pecan pound cake.

3. Choose any three flavors of ice cream. It is great to use different colors and diverse flavors- in our case it was sweet, mild strawberry gelato, vanilla and nutty almost salty pistachio-saffron ice cream. One by one, soften each ice cream just until it is easy to scoop and spread. Layer the first ice cream in one third of the loaf pan, then cover with plastic and return to freezer for 20 to 30 minutes. Repeat with other flavors. Top the last layer with a scattering of roasted cashews. Cover with plastic and freezer until ready to serve.

4. Right before the party, you can slice the cassata to make it easier to serve. Unmold the cassata onto a cutting board. Use a serrated knife to quickly slice the cassata into neat slices. You can get anywhere from 8 to 12 slices from each loaf. Place the slices on a platter and return to freezer.


The cassata was such a lovely treat! In one small slice, you can taste so many flavors and textures. It is easy to see how one could make endless variations on this theme and create custom combinations for a party, using store bought ice cream or home made, or a combination, like I did. I can see myself making cassatas or ice cream terrines for many occasions in the future.

Our ice cream social was a very enjoyable affair. While it sounds like a logical choice for a children's party, it was a treat for us grown-ups to be able to indulge in ice cream and feel like a child again. This party can be tailored to different dietary needs- for instance, by including non-dairy soy or coconut ice creams for vegan guests. Sorbets and frozen yogurt are other variations that can be included. A big ice cream cake could be a festive centerpiece. Ice cream sandwiches, bonbons, popsicles could also be served- there are so many possibilities to make an ice cream social special.

At the end of the day, I went to bed feeling very lucky indeed, to be enveloped in the love and support of so many good friends.


44 comments:

  1. So you did make the cassata...Wow ! And your day sounds so wonderful...You are indeed blessed to have your loving friends...Wishing you loads of good health !

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  2. Nupur, that sounds like a lot of fun. Glad you had a great time. You should have been the center of attraction but the ice cream were :)

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  3. Oh wow! that's loads of fun and the last pic is so cute. What is it? The cassata looks so tempting. You sure did enjoy.

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  4. Icecream Social is a great idea. Looks like you all had a very good time.

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  5. That's so sweet of ur friends. And the cassatta looks gorgeous.

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  6. Looks like you had loads of fun at your ice cream social. Loved reading the post, filled with ideas and inspiration to host my own ice cream social next year. Cassata looksand sounds delicious. Enjoy ur upcoming weekend and take care.

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  7. every pregnant woman deserves a baby shower! Its good to include your friends in your joy. ( I used to be the kind who didnt like big gatherings and ended up having a tiny wedding - which I regret now, coz (for the most of us) - we get married only once. Since then, Ive made it a point to celebrate everything - doesnt have to be a large scale celebration - but has to be a celebration nonetheless. I was hoping to see some pics from the social/shower - especially one of you with the belly :)
    All the best with the rest of your term. Having had a baby recently myself, I can confirm - its all joy!!!

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  8. Nupur,
    I am so glad you had a fun baby shower! Its so nice to be pampered when you are pregnant, no?
    The icecream social sounds fun! I am curious how you arranged the tubs of icecream? Did you just keave them outside or store them in anything specific? I want to do something like this before the summer runs out!

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  9. wow, Nupur, cassata looks great yaar :)), It's my favourite, if only I could have a slice :(, the clicks are great, Best wishes and Good health all through.., the recipes and get together sounds fun and you must have had a great fun! take care

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  10. How many people were at your social? I was thinking of having about 7 people over for a similar get together, but am clueless about how many types of ice cream would be too much. I would be making ice cream at home, so buying a variety of the tiny sizes available in the market is out.
    Thanks in advance. - Kavs.

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  11. Your party sounds lovely!

    My only gripe is that I could not be a part of it!! Would have loved to taste you cassata.

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  12. Nupur, sounds like you had a wonderful baby shower and the icing on the cake was the cassatta! How cool was that? I have a lunch to go to this Sunday and I think this is what I am going to take to my friend's house.
    BTW, how do you buy a big slice of pound cake from the bakery? Was it a supermarket bakery or a private one? Was not aware one could ask just for a slice but it is a great idea. :-)

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  13. Nupur

    Your baby shower sounds so much fun and full of sweet vibes. The cassatta sounds great, better than the one I had at the stores this summer.

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  14. Congrats Nupur!the ice cream social sounds like a great idea. we can also plan this with our girlies in peak summer. lovely cassatta

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  15. Congrats! I am so happy for you. :)) Take care.
    Will check back the rest of the post later.

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  16. That ice-cream social sounds superb. I would love to have something similar at my place too.

    You take care and have a healthy pregnancy :)

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  17. Ice-cream social is such a great idea for a party. Why should kids have all the fun anyway?

    That casstta looks great!

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  18. Your BFF is a great friend to convince you to have this! What a lovely afternoon you seemed to have had- and you need to be pampered of course! The ice cream treats all sound wonderful. Especially the cassata which is what we used to eat at every wedding reception in the 80s'

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  19. Nupur feeling refreshed just reading your post..and loved the cassata recipe..will try next whenever the weather permits.you take care.

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  20. Congrats dear....I love this icecream

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  21. Congratulations! May you have a hassle-free pregnancy and a beautiful, healthy, chubby baby! Isn't it great to be pampered by your friends? Enjoy it while it lasts--once the baby's here, s/he will grab all the attention!

    That cassatta is so nostalgic! Made me crave childhood.

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  22. Arch- Thank you for the sweet wishes!

    indosungod- Oh you are so right, the ice cream stole the spotlight and I was fine with that ;)

    Anjali- The last pic is a "diaper cake" decorative centerpiece made by my friend Lindsey, made with cloth diapers and cute toys :)

    Madhu- We did!

    Nitha- Thanks!

    Pavani- Thank you- I hope you get to host an ice cream social because it does make for a really fun party. Stay safe this weekend- hope the hurricane weakens and does not hit you guys.

    Anonymous- I agree, life is worth celebrating, and small intimate gatherings are just as fun :)

    Sangeetha- Great question! When folks started arriving, I set out the ice creams right on the counter and left them there to let them be soft and scoopable. When they started to melt too much, I would stick them back in the freezer (when I remembered). If you can place them in buckets of ice that would be ideal but shuttling them between freezer and counter also works for the most part.

    Jayasri Ravi- Thank you :)

    Kavs- I had about 16-18 people in all. And we had WAY too much ice cream (although we'll eat it all, none will be wasted). For 7 people, I would go for 3 flavors, that sounds about reasonable to me.

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  23. Archana- Thanks!

    notyet100- It was :)

    Desisoccermom- I hope you get a chance to make cassata, I think it is very crowd-pleasing and perfect for potlucks. The slice of pound cake was from the deli/bakery section of Whole Foods, actually. Most supermarket bakeries will have slices of pound cake sold in the same place where they sell croissants, muffins etc.

    BongMom- It was a lot of fun! I suspect some of the cassata from stores is full of artificial flavors and colors and the home made version did taste so much better.

    Sayantani- Thank you very much :)

    Suma- Thanks so much!

    Priya- Thank you!

    Snehal- I agree, grown-ups deserve an ice cream social every once in a while!

    Miri- Yes, the BFF is the sweetest one! The cassata is certainly a blast from the past :) we all seem to remember it from wedding receptions.

    Madhuli- Thanks- you all have pretty wet and chilly weather there, right? That's what my parents were saying, well, this can wait until the next summer.

    Aarthi- Thanks!

    Saee- Thank you so much for the sweet wishes! Cassata makes me very nostalgic too :)

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  24. Nupur that diaper cake is a super idea! Its given my imagination some wings :)

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  25. Baby shower? Looked like I missed a very important announcement... :) Congrats, Nupur! Have a fun pregnancy... :)

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  26. I love reading your posts, always has some new idea / thought.Those Cassata slices look so professional and tempting,I'll give it a try.
    Wish you good health :)

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  27. The casatta looks awesome! Never seen anyone make it. Its one of my fav..

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  28. Wow! what a super party that must've been! I am so glad u had a wonderful time! The cassata looks wonderful.
    What is the last picture? Am sure it is from ur baby shower, so my guess is washcloths/ burp cloths/ diapers??
    like the way they are arranged :)

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  29. Ahoy! That's good news. Hearty congrats.
    Wow.. an ice cream social... how yummy is that..
    nice pics.
    drool, drool....

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  30. Thanks for sharing the details of your party, Nupur. Excellent ideas! I wish I knew you personally, maybe I would have had an invitation :)

    And I can't believe you worked so hard to plan and make the preps for your own baby shower. I hope you are taking it a bit easy otherwise. I think you greatly enjoy putting together such parties, so it must not seem like work to you!

    Thanks for the magic shell chocolate+coconut oil tip. I have read about it elsewhere, but wondered if the topping ends up having a strong smell of coconut oil?

    Been wanting to make homemade choco-bars. I am thinking of doing it like your cassata method. Single flavor icecream (or may be 2 flavors? )refrozen in layers in a loaf pan. Then cut into thick slices, insert a popsicle stick through one side. Then refreeze. Dip into chocolate shell mixture and freeze yet again.

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  31. I have to tell you, I made the cassatta that weekend with vanilla, strawberry and chocolate, all HG brand. I also had some leftover HG rum raisin that I added in the layers. I couldn't buy a slice of pound cake but found a small, loaf of pound cake at CM and it tasted like the one my kaki made back home, so I was happy to pay for it and didn't mind eating the leftover cake.
    The long and short of it, our friends loved the cassatta and it was a big hit.
    Hope you had a good Ganesh Chaturthi.

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  32. Nupur- I started following ur blog recently....congratulations....enjoy ur pregnancy...as a kid whenever i went to restaurant with my mom,dad and brother...we would order the cassatta...i was very curious for the recipe....thanks....will try it out....take care...

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  33. Nupur, I visited your blog after a few days break and so glad to know you are expecting. Congrats!
    The ice cream party was a nice idea and your cassatta made me drool.

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  34. Congratulations!! Looks like you had a lovely baby shower :) And really, what better way to celebrate than ice-creams??! Here's wishing you a wonderful pregnancy and happy mommyhood ahead!

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  35. Hi Nupur,

    It has been a while that I dropped to your place and said a hello. Hearty hearty Congratulations and an ice cream social for a baby shower is such a lovely idea. That cassata of yours made me so hungry that I want some now.

    Wishing you a safe pregnancy and I know you will be a terrific mommy. ;-)

    Hugs,
    Siri

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  36. Hi Nupur, I am late in catching up on the news! Congratulations and best wishes on your pregnancy! Hope you have a healthy pregnancy. :) And the Cassata looks really inviting.

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  37. baby shower!!! congrats nupur,been a long time sice i dropped in, my lil one just started crawling :)

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  38. first time in your blog. lovely casatta...amazing blog too...happy to follow you! Do visit my space when u find time..am new to blogging and hope to get ancouraged from fellow bloggers like you:-) Loved the section on St.louis and A-Z od maharashtrian food

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  39. wonderful!! the pictures look very tempting!!

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  40. Wow, Nupur, congratulations!! Very happy for you. Enjoy this phase.

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  41. What a fun sounding party and food! Love the cassata icecream. Also the orange peacan pound cake sounds yummy!

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  42. Wow, what a great recipe... Will try it very soon.

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