Greg Dupree; Styling: Missie Neville Crawford
The icebox cake is a miracle of simplicity and patience—the perfect summer dessert. Cookies and whipped cream or custard get layered into a vessel and are left to rest for a day until the cookies pull just enough moisture out of the creamy filling to soften to cake-like texture, and to meld into a sliceable treasure of a dessert. No baking required.
You may remember one of the first icebox cakes of your youth as a brilliant combination of Nabisco chocolate wafers and Cool Whip topping, which turn into a forkable festival of cookies and cream flavor of deep nostalgia. Or the "éclair cake": graham crackers layered with vanilla pudding and topped with a chocolate glaze. Even the famously elegant tiramisu is just an Italian icebox cake! Russian Honey Cake is another.
The bottom line is if you have a cookie and something creamy, you can make an icebox cake. And you can make them as large or small as you need to, from a little ramekin for one to a large pan to serve a crowd. Just use this simple trick.
The secret to making any kind of icebox cake
Ready? You want the world's easiest-to-remember ratio in your chosen vessel: half whipped cream, pudding or custard, and half cookies. So, if your vessel holds 8 cups, you want 4 cups of whipped cream (or those other creamy fillings) and 4 cups of cookies. Cream usually doubles in volume when you whip it, so that will tell you how much cream to whip if you are making fresh, but feel free to use tubs of Cool Whip (no shame in that game!). One box of pudding mix usually makes 2 cups, but I often just buy tubs of pudding for ease.
Another great filling is sweetened sour cream or Greek yogurt – just add brown sugar or honey to sweeten and layer up for an elevated icebox cake.
Best icebox cake tips
First, there's nothing simpler than making an icebox cake: We're just talking beginning with a layer of cookies, then a thin layer of cream, and so on and so on, usually striving for about six layers from bottom to top. But anything works – that's the beauty of the thing. Here's some pro tips to make ice box cakes your summer standout dessert:
The flatter and thinner the cookie, the faster your cake will be ready. Think Nilla Wafers, gingersnaps, chocolate wafers, graham crackers, or super-thin crispy cookies like Tate's.
Thick cookies, cookies with a lot of chunks or add-ins, or sandwich cookies tend not to soften as well and the flavors can get muddy.
The sweeter your cookie, the less sweet your filling needs to be (think lightly sweetened whipped cream). You can add a layer of fresh fruit to punch up your cakes, or a layer of jam or citrus curd in the middle for an extra flavor.
I usually make mine in either a loaf pan or bowl if I intend to unmold, or in a baking dish for more of a scoop and serve for a crowd. If you want to unmold, be sure to line your vessel with plastic wrap before layering.
Always start with a thin layer of cookies, then cream. Try not to overlap your cookies -- you want even layers, and you want the cream layers to be equal to or just slightly thicker than the cookie layers. Break up cookies to fill gaps rather than overlapping.
If you are going to unmold, the final "top" layer should be cookie to give it a base to sit on. if you intend to serve in the vessel, the final layer should be cream or custard and you can decorate before serving.
Cover your cake with plastic wrap and let hang out in your fridge for 24 hours before serving, but you can make up to three days ahead. You can also let sit for the 24 hours, then wrap well and freeze for a semi-freddo style dessert, or to serve at a later date (it will keep three months in the freezer!).
8 great icebox cake recipes for right now
With the half-half ratio, you can create any icebox cake combos you like (and base it on what you've got in the fridge), but here are 8 of my favorite recipes for inspiration to get you started!