A variation of the original Ice Box Cake: a simple yet memorable combination of
chocolate wafers and whipped cream. Here, pastry chefs at Magnolia Bakery took the
extra step to pipe the whipped cream around the cookie edges to create a finished look (photo © Magnolia Bakery).
The icebox (also spelled ice box) cake falls in the blessed category of summer foods that require no heat to cook. Just as good, it can be made by people who don’t cook or those who are just learning. And best of all, it delights everyone.
(For those who hate the heat, pick up a copy of Cool Kitchen: No Oven, No Stove, No Sweat! 125 Delicious, No-Work Recipes For Summertime Or Anytime, a book that’s out of print and can be bought for a song.)
> The recipe for the original icebox cake is below, along with more icebox cake recipes.
> Here’s the history of the chocolate wafers that are essential to make the original icebox cake.
Wikipedia says that the Icebox Cake was first introduced in the U.S. during World War I, but that its popularity took off in the 1920s and 1930s. Different brands of products, from wafers to condensed milk to pudding, began printing “back of the box” recipes. As long as one had an icebox in which to keep the whipped cream cake, it could be made on a hot summer day without turning on the oven or stove (in the era before air conditioning, which didn’t begin to be installed in homes until the 1950s, becoming more common in the 1960s).
The cake is left overnight in the icebox; the wafers are softened by moisture from the whipped cream so the cake can be easily sliced. When cut at a 45-degree angle, the stripes of chocolate and cream are displayed.
Nabisco printed a recipe on the back of its box of Famous Chocolate Wafers, called “Famous Chocolate Refrigerator Roll.” In the original recipe, the wafers are sandwiched with whipped cream and stacked to form logs, which were laid side-by-side with more whipped cream to frost the exterior. See the technique in this recipe from Joy The Baker, who cleverly transforms the logs into a Christmas yule log cake.
The cake can also be assembled in a baking dish—an easy option for novices.
In recent times, icebox cake connoisseurs have made variations using caramel, fresh fruit (bananas and strawberries are popular), fruit curd, jam, peanut butter, pudding, and other fillings; and graham crackers, tea biscuits, vanilla wafers, and other cookies instead of chocolate wafers. The whipped cream itself can be made in any number of flavors.
Ernestine Emanuel of New York is credited with creating the graham cracker icebox cake, after having a dessert of graham crackers and chocolate pudding. (Wikipedia doesn’t give a date.)
AND NOW, THE ICEBOX CAKE COOKBOOK
Just in time for this summer comes Icebox Cakes: Recipes for the Coolest Cakes in Town.
The author, Jean Sagendorf, has taken the icebox cake a leap forward by making variations in numerous favorite dessert flavors. Banana Rum, Key Lime, Lemon Caramel, Mexican Chocolate Spice, Peanut Butter Cup, Peppermint Chocolate, Red Velvet, Raspberry Ganache, and Salty Caramel are just some of her modern icebox cakes. You can start at the beginning and make the project your summer’s “Julie and Julia.”
The ingredients are the same as Nabisco’s original recipe, but the instructions have been adapted slightly to provide more options. More icebox cake recipes follow.
chocolate or more chocolate wafers (we recently used candied orange peel we had on hand, and on another day, chocolate-dipped candied ginger)
1. MAKE the whipped cream: Beat the cream with the sugar and vanilla until soft peaks form.
2. SPREAD a thin layer of whipped cream on a round serving plate. Arrange six cookies in a circle, with another cookie in the center. Spread the layer of cookies with a half cup of whipped cream, but not over the edge. The whipped cream should be at least a quarter-inch thick between the cookie layers.
3. REPEAT until the cake is four or five inches high, and top it with a finishing layer of whipped cream. Stagger the cookies in each layer (see the photo above). The cookie edges should be visible on the side of the cake; but if you like, you can ice the sides before serving, creating even more of a surprise when the cake is sliced and served. If you want to ice the sides, whip an extra cup of cream before serving. By waiting until right before serving, the plastic wrap won’t stick to the sides.
4. COVER with plastic wrap (or a cake dome); a trick is to place toothpicks around the rim of the cake to keep the plastic wrap off of the whipped cream. Refrigerate for at least eight hours, but overnight resting makes the cake even moister.
5. GARNISH as desired before serving.
 An icebox cake with chocolate whipped cream, built in a loaf pan (photo © The King’s Cupboard).