Recipe: No Bake Icebox Cake

May 29, 2018
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When summer days turn sultry an icebox cake, made by combining a few simple ingredients –
no baking required – is just the thing to keep guests cool and satisfied at a soiree. Photo by Elizabeth Wulfhorst

By Elizabeth Wulfhorst |

As the days get warmer it’s time to put away those oven mitts and embrace the no-bake dessert. And nothing says summer like the quintessential icebox cake, an oven-less confection that will have you staying cool while still being the hit of the party.

The classic mid-19th century icebox cake is made with Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers and whipped cream. That’s it. Two ingredients that, when stacked together and refrigerated overnight, turn into a cool, luscious “cake,” perfect for a summer barbecue.

Nabisco, founded in 1898 as the National Biscuit Company and headquartered in East Hanover, introduced the wafers in the early 1920s. Nabisco is believed to be the first company to brand and package its crackers in boxes to keep them fresh for customers. But versions of the icebox cake existed before then.

According to the website foodtimeline.org, the icebox cake was introduced during World War I and is a descendant of ice cream cakes, charlottes and trifles, part of a baking evolution that suggests no individual or company is credited with creating it. Early recipes were much more involved than the simplicity of the two-ingredient Nabisco version, calling for some stove-top cooking and the whipping of egg whites, but these recipes for early icebox cakes evolved to embraced “modern” conveniences like store-bought cookies.

The earliest recipe using cookies is from a circa 1932 Nabisco cooking booklet, according to foodtimeline.com. The earliest recipe combining chocolate wafers and whipped cream dates to 1935.

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Companies that made these convenience ingredients began printing recipes for baked goods on their packaging to help sell their products, leading to popular “back-of-the-box” recipes like Nabisco’s icebox cake, still found on the chocolate wafers packaging today.

A quick search for icebox cake recipes online now yields hundreds of variations, with seemingly unlimited cookie and flavor combinations.

Stick to the classic Nabisco version, which doesn’t even require a pan; cookies and whipped cream are simply layered in a circle on a plate. Or branch out by adding pudding or custard and fruit and changing the cookie. Assemble the ingredients in a loaf pan, a 9-by-13 inch pan to feed a crowd or individual ramekins for a small dinner par ty.

Layer peanut butter sandwich cookies with vanilla pudding, mix some peanut butter into the whipped cream, sprinkle chopped peanuts on top and you will please all the peanut butter lovers in your life. For a tangy, slightly spicy treat, try ginger snaps with lemon curd folded into the whipped cream.

No matter what combination you use, make sure to refrigerate the dessert overnight. These icebox cake really benefit from time so the crunchy cookie can absorb the moisture from the pudding and whipped cream, becoming that soft, rich no-bake cake.

Layered with pudding and whipped cream, cookies or graham crackers soften and turn “cake-like” in a typical icebox cake. Decorate with sliced fruit for a festive touch. Photo by Elizabeth Wulfhorst

OUT-OF-THE-BOX ICEBOX CAKE

1 pint heavy (whipping) cream
2 tsps. vanilla bean paste
1⁄4 cup powdered sugar
Pinch of salt
4 – 5 sleeves graham crackers
3 cups store-bought chocolate pudding 1 pound strawberries, sliced
3 medium to large bananas, sliced

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Whip the cream, vanilla, sugar and salt with an electric or stand mixer until stiff peaks form.

Line a 9-by-13 inch pan with parchment paper, letting the excess hang over the sides. (This step isn’t required but makes removal of the cake and cleanup easier.)

Spread a spoonful or two of whipped cream in the bottom of the pan. Place a single layer of graham crackers over the whipped cream, cutting crackers to fit, covering the entire bottom of the pan.

Evenly layer a cup and a half of pudding over the graham crackers, smoothing with an offset spatula. Place a single layer of banana slices on top of the pudding.

Repeat with a second layer of graham crackers and pudding, adding strawberry slices instead of bananas.

Repeat with a final layer of graham crackers and top with the remaining whipped cream.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours.

Decorate the top of the cake with the remaining sliced strawberries and bananas.

Serves 20


This article first appeared in the May 24-31, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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