High atop the list of ice cream truck novelties most likely to inspire intense nostalgia is the Choco Taco, that mass of fudgy vanilla ice cream stuffed into a sugar cone shell, dipped in chocolate, and sprinkled with peanuts. Perhaps the only thing better than the memory of scoring one on a hot summer day is realizing that you have the ability to make your own version at home. That’s right: Using whatever ice cream you want, some very easy homemade shells, and infinitely customizable toppings, you can make DIY ice cream tacos that taste way better than nostalgia feels. And better yet, you can invite friends over and call it a party.
Like many food-centric parties, a DIY ice cream taco party works best if you do a little prep work beforehand. I recommend making and forming the taco shells before friends arrive, so when they get there, all you have to do is fill and freeze them.
The batter, an egg white, brown sugar, and flour mixture, is a simple affair. After you make it, you spread it into thin rounds on parchment and bake until the shells are golden brown and still a little pliable. Then, working quickly, you form the shells over the spine of an upturned book. If they’re too hot to handle, just use a clean dishtowel to hold them down. The shells can be made up to three days in advance; just be sure to store them in an airtight container.
When folks arrive, so does the fun. I set out the ice cream so it softens a little and then have everyone fill their own tacos with the ice cream(s) of their choice. While I opt for chocolate-vanilla swirl, other amazing options include dulce de leche, strawberry, or pistachio gelato. Go nuts!
Filling the tacos gets a little messy, but what’s a party without a mess? The tacos should be filled all the way up to the top of the shell and smoothed with an offset spatula or butter knife so the ice cream is flush with the shell. After you fill the tacos, stick them in the freezer and let them firm up for at least 30 minutes.
While the tacos freeze, prepare the crispy chocolate coating. It sounds tricky, but it’s really a simple combination of chopped chocolate and coconut oil, melted together and stirred until smooth. The only rule is: Don’t use a chocolate bar that you wouldn’t happily eat by itself. I am personally keen on Tony’s Chocolonely, but you do you.
Once you’ve made the chocolate coating, smash/crush/chop the crunchy toppings and set them out on separate plates. As with the ice cream, the only limit is your imagination. Cinnamon toast crunch! Freeze-dried strawberry dust! Caramel corn! You can top these babies with literally anything under the sun.
After the tacos have had their little freezer nap, it’s time to jump into action. The key is to work fast: When you dip the cold tacos into the chocolate coating, it firms up quickly to create a crispy “magic” shell. So get all of the toppings onto the coating fast, before it sets.
Once that’s done, the only thing left to do is grab a napkin and go to town.
DIY Choco Taco Recipe
For the taco shells:
3 egg whites
½ cup light brown sugar (packed)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup flour, divided (when measuring, spoon the flour into the measuring cup and level with a knife)
¼ cup unsalted butter, melted
For the filling:
14 cups ice cream or gelato of choice
For the chocolate coating and toppings:
6 ounces dark chocolate (at least 65 percent), chopped
3 tablespoons solid coconut oil
1 cup each: toasted unsweetened coconut, crushed caramel corn, colorful sprinkles, lightly crushed Cinnamon Toast Crunch, crushed freeze-dried strawberries, or other toppings of your choice
Step 1: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and center a rack in the middle. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment. Using a 4-inch bowl as a guide, trace 3 circles on the parchment. Flip the paper over, place it on the baking sheet, and set aside. Set up a slim (1-inch-thick) book spine next to the oven; this will be the form you use to mold the taco shells as they come out of the oven. (You may need to steady the book with cans on either side.) Set a clean dishtowel and a rectangular casserole dish next to the book.
Step 2: In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the egg whites, brown sugar, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and salt. Whisk in half of the flour, then add the butter and whisk until incorporated. Add the remaining flour and whisk until smooth.
Step 3: Scoop 1 to 1½ tablespoons of the batter into the center of each traced circle. Using an offset spatula, spread it evenly into 4-inch rounds, using a back-and-forth motion and steadying the parchment with your fingertips. Put the baking sheet on the center rack of the oven and bake until the rounds turn light golden brown at the edges but are still pliable, 10 to 12 minutes.
Step 4: Moving quickly, use a spatula to scoop up one of the shells and set it bottom side up on the spine of the book. Gently mold the cookie over the spine to create a taco shape and hold it there for a few seconds. Quickly repeat with the remaining 2 shells, returning to them from time to time to press them down a bit if they’ve sprung back up.
Step 5: Hang the cooled shells upside down on the rim of the casserole dish (so the sides of the taco are on the inside and outside of the dish. Let the shells cool while you bake the next batch. Repeat the process with the remaining batter in batches until you have 12 taco shells. Let them cool completely before storing in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
Step 6: Once you’re ready to fill the tacos, take the ice cream out of the freezer and let it stand at room temperature for 10 minutes to soften slightly. Stuff each taco shell with about 2/3 cup ice cream (enough to fill the taco all the way up to the edges). Smooth with an offset spatula and place the taco upright in the casserole dish. Repeat until you’ve filled all the taco shells, then freeze for at least 1 hour and up to 2 weeks (if you’re freezing them for more than 1 hour, wrap the casserole dish with plastic or foil).
Step 7: Once you’re ready to decorate, set out the toppings in small bowls.
Step 8: To make the chocolate coating, combine the chocolate and coconut oil in a large microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high heat for 1 minute. Stir and continue to microwave in 30-second bursts, stirring in between, until the mixture is smooth and glossy. (Alternatively, you can melt the chocolate and coconut oil in a heat-proof bowl set over simmering water on the stove.) Set aside.
Step 9: Take the tacos out of the freezer. Dip them in the chocolate coating and quickly sprinkle the toppings over them or dip the tacos into the toppings. Let the chocolate set briefly before eating.
Ivy Manning is a Portland, Oregon, food writer and author of nine cookbooks, including the best-selling Instant Pot Miracle 6 Ingredients or Less. She loves her whippets, and truffles of both kinds. Visit her at ivymanning.com or @ivy_manning on Instagram.
Dina Ávila is a photographer in Portland, Oregon.
Photo assistant: Griffin Koerner