Cake

The King of Easy-Yet-Impressive No-Bake Summer Desserts, Updated!

June 21, 2017

When you make an icebox cake, you participate in an act of magic. You make something out of nothing. You perform alchemy! And, if you go cuckoo at the thought of all the possible combinations, you can fashion yourself an artiste (we certainly did!).

From two (sometimes three) ingredients and a simple layering process, a spoonable dessert—nearly unbelievable in its moussey lightness and its unified flavor—is born. One food writer compared eating icebox cake to sampling a freshly-made Oreo. Or imagine licking just-churned cookies and cream ice cream straight off the paddle—except no brain freeze, and the texture is so airy, you can swipe up every last bit with your finger.

Just a fraction of the possibilities. Photo by Julia Gartland

The icebox cake has its roots in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, when masterful desserts, like charlottes (custard-filled, lady finger-lined chilled monstrosities behemoths) were reconfigured for middle-class housewives who were looking for streamlined simplicity (and commercial food companies that were searching for new ways to market their products).

But if that classic cake—Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers and softly-whipped, lightly-sweetened cream—is the zebra of no-bake cakes, consider these other options the peacocks, the cockatoos, the unicorns, the leafy seadragons (I did not make this up—these incredible animals exist). Which is all to say, are your cameras ready? These icebox cakes 2.0 are a little showier, a touch glitzier, but they're nearly as easy to assemble and they rely on the same basic formula...


The Icebox Building Blocks

Cookies of choice

Nilla wafers, Graham crackers, animal crackers, chocolate chip cookies, gingersnaps, Oreos, amaretti cookies, Milanos, Biscoff, butter waffles—just avoid "coated" cookies (like frosted animal crackers) that will not be able to absorb the moisture from the whipped cream, as they'll remain firm

Whipped cream of choice

Coffee- and/or booze-spiked; swirled with jam, peanut butter, tahini, caramel, dulce de leche, lemon curd; folded with cocoa powder, grapefruit zest, a splash of Campari; tangy with crème fraîche or Greek yogurt

Add-ins

Chopped chocolate, nuts, chocolate-covered espresso beans, or Luxardo cherries; cocoa nibs; fresh fruit; pistachio paste

Toppers and garnishes

Chocolate shavings or curls; marshmallows (brûlée them!); chocolate, strawberry, or caramel sauce; sprinkles; the streusel from your freezer

Shop the Story

Customize each category to your liking. If you're hunting for a unifying theme, look for inspiration from classic desserts—like tiramisu or banana cream pie or strawberry shortcake, or choose a color schemes—pink, green, yellow, golden—or a flavor profiles (fruity, chocolatey, nutty, salty-sweet).

Once you've picked your materials, arrange a layer of cookies, a layer of whipped cream, a layer of cookies... repeat until you're finished. You can make a freestanding icebox cake on a round plate or tuck it into a plastic wrap-lined loaf pan for the neatest appearance. Finish with a layer of whipped cream if you want softness throughout, or end on a layer of cookies if you're looking for more of a top crust sort of situation. Stick it in the fridge for 8 to 12 hours and the next time you see it, the cookies and cream will have joined in a perfect union.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Both the Meyer Lemon and Coconut make wonderful icebox cakes. I layer my lemon ice box cake with sliced strawberries and decorate the top with whole strawberries.”
— tucsonbabe
Comment

You'll find yourself with so many possibilities that you might not need to make any other type of dessert for the rest of your life the summer (and there's always the classic chocolate cookies and cream to fall back on).


Icebox Cakes 2.0

We took that basic formula, along with some inspiration from our favorite desserts, and made seven icebox cakes with seven very different personalities:

Straight from the fridge. Photo by Julia Gartland

Clockwise, from top left and spiraling inwards to the center:

Tirami-icebox:

Biscoff cookies + whipped cream spiked with 1 tablespoon of espresso power and 1 tablespoon amaretto + cocoa powder and chocolate shavings

Photo by James Ransom

Birthday Cake:

Animal crackers + vanilla bean-flecked mascarpone whipped cream + rainbow sprinkles

Photo by James Ransom

Spumoni:

Milano cookies + whipped cream mixed with pistachio paste + halved strawberries and chopped chocolate

Matcha Mint:

Thin Mints (but we'd recommend Oreos instead—Thin Mints remain firm because of their chocolate shell) + mint-infused matcha whipped cream + sifted matcha

Cherry Chip:

Tate's chocolate chip cookies + whipped cream mixed with chopped Luxardo cherries and miniature chocolate chips + additional cherries and chocolate

Berry Shortcake:

Belgian butter waffle cookies + whipped cream folded with raspberry preserves and almond extract + fresh fruit, confectioners' sugar, and sliced almonds

Photo by James Ransom

Lemon Meringue:

Graham crackers + whipped cream folded with lemon curd + marshallow "meringue" topping

But this is just the beginning! If we had had more time (and more loaf pans), we would have made a chocolate-covered almond icebox cake, a chocolate blackout icebox cake, a pumpkin pie icebox cake, a peanut butter-oatmeal icebox cake... (And for even more ideas, there are whole cookbooks you can reference, like Icebox Cakes: Recipes for the Coolest Cakes in Town.)

When icebox cakes can turn into just about any dessert, is there any reason to power on your oven before September?


Is it obvious yet? That you could spend your whole life making icebox cakes? Or at least your whole summer? But here! Proof—from my real life—that I fully endorse icebox cakes as the easy and impressive summer dessert, even when talking to my actual friends:

Friends encourage friends to make icebox cake.

What's your favorite no-bake summer dessert? Tell us in the comments below.

24 Comments

Eve L. July 2, 2017
Love love love this article but would love the recipes? Want to marshmallow topping for the lemon meringue cake but I have no idea how.
 
Susan July 2, 2017
The photo above shows full marshmallows on top then they were probably browned under the broiler for a few minutes (watch carefully!) or maybe using a kitchen torch. I'm going to try this myself with marshmallow fluff, sort of like a Baked Alaska. Wish me luck!
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. July 2, 2017
Exactly, Susan! We piled full-sized and mini marshmallows on top, then used a kitchen torch to broil them. But a homemade marshmallow fluff (or a real-deal meringue!) would also work beautifully.
 
susan C. July 1, 2017
Thanks Susan for the whipped coconut cream idea. Am trying it today!
 
Maureen June 30, 2017
Can this be frozen a month or so in advance? If so must they be thawed? I have summer company coming and am desperate for anything I can freeze. Thank you!
 
Susan June 30, 2017
Are there any "don't"s with icebox cakes? I've read that coated cookies/biscuits don't work well because they won't absorb the cream but are there any other issues to consider?
 
susan C. June 30, 2017
Would love to make this but how to make it suitable for someone who can't eat dairy? What's a good substitute for the whipped cream layer?
 
Susan June 30, 2017
Coconut cream works as a cream substitute. Whip/beat it well and add some flavouring (vanilla, mint, whatever) then use the same way.
 
tucsonbabe June 30, 2017
Don't forget about TJ's thin cookies. Both the Meyer Lemon and Coconut make wonderful icebox cakes. I layer my lemon ice box cake with sliced strawberries and decorate the top with whole strawberries.
 
brokensaucer July 6, 2017
That sounds amazing! I love those cookies!
 
Robin F. June 30, 2017
What a timely post! I was just looking for some icebox cake inspiration--I made an orange & vanilla cream one the other day, and was trying to figure out how best to incorporate cherries...
 
Lisa D. June 30, 2017
My mom always made the classic Chocolate Wafer cookie icebox cake growing up, but for some reason we called it "Cookie Lert," which my daughter then renamed "Cookie Alert." When we see that yellow box in the market, we always snap up a few.
 
Linda M. June 30, 2017
Love the lemon meringue idea, but what do you mean by the marshmallow meringue topping? From a jar? Something else? N
 
cherie June 30, 2017
My mother made amazing ice cream cakes by crumbling up chocolate covered grams and using that in the center - that way it does absorb a bit, but retains some crunch - fabulous
 
Angela June 29, 2017
I have grand plans for an icebox cake, but I don't know how to serve it? If it's been in the fridge overnight, will it survive a trip to work? Can it sit out for a little bit and still be cohesive? I have images of a soupy mess scaring me off...
 
Anke T. June 30, 2017
I assume you won't be serving it first thing in the morning at work. In that case, maybe you could freeze it and take it out in the morning - any thoughts from anyone who may have tried this?
 
hilary July 2, 2017
Don't leave it out. Take it in a cooler, keep it refrigerator or in a cooler until you are just ready to serve it. It's not a firm cake and letting it get to room temp will result in a sloppy serving and mushy cake. i would not recommend freezing it unless you plan on serving it frozen.
 
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BerryBaby June 22, 2017
Chocolate graham crackers are amazing in ice box cake, as are the cinnamon. So many tasty variations!
 
bklyncook June 29, 2017
Classic childhood sleepover party icebox cake was graham crackers with chocolate pudding layers. Thanks Mom !
 
Brenda S. June 30, 2017
We call this combo 'ice box cake' too - it's my daughter's favorite dessert. With cooked pudding, REAL whipped cream, rainbow sprinkles and maraschino cherries on top. Guess what I'm making for the fourth.....
 
Margot W. June 21, 2017
Obsessed with these
 
drbabs June 15, 2017
Coincidentally, yesterday was aargersi's birthday. I made this for her three years ago.<br />https://food52.com/recipes/29391-gingersnap-icebox-cake-for-abbie-s-birthday
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. June 15, 2017
Yum!! Love the addition of orange zest—so smart! And happy birthday to Abbie!! <3