Oreo Dessert is the yardstick for all other desserts in my family. “Oh, this triple-tier chocolate cake covered in perfect buttercream is good and all...but it’s no Oreo Dessert." Or: “I ate the most amazing dessert at the most amazing restaurant last night...but it was no Oreo Dessert.”
My mom got the recipe years ago from my late Aunt Vicki, who got the recipe from a church or community cookbook. My mom copied it down on an index card (remember those?), and our attempts to find that cookbook have always come up short. I’m glad, actually, because it seems much more legendary that way.
When I was 12, my dad’s cousin Trisha from Sacramento came to spend about a week with us in southeastern Illinois where I grew up. It must have been July or August, when the smell of corn hangs heavy in the hot, humid air. Trisha would have been in her early thirties at the time, and I remember marveling that she had dimples bigger and deeper than my dad’s, and a warmth that immediately filled a room. Even though I didn’t know her well, I knew that she loved this little stretch of land we called home from her summer visits here as a child.
We had dinner that night at my grandpa’s, a white wooden farmhouse a stone’s throw from our own. I don’t recall the meal, only the Oreo Dessert that my mom made. She served big squares of it immediately following dinner. After the table was cleared and everything put away, Trisha and I tiptoed back to the kitchen and pulled the frosty Pyrex pan out of the freezer. We peeled back the foil and broke off slivers with a blunt butter knife. (The slivers never count.) We returned to the family room without saying a word, then tiptoed back again. We must have done this three times that evening.
After that visit, I spent several weeks for the next seven summers with Trisha in Sacramento. I got to watch her two daughters—Stasia and Emilie (who’s named after me)—grow up. Trisha taught me how to make pesto using Biba Caggiano’s recipe (the recipe I use to this day). She introduced me to Thai, Vietnamese, and Japanese food, coaching me on how to use chopsticks and the difference between maki, sashimi, and nigiri. We’d spend at least a day in San Francisco on each visit, and when I got a little older, we’d go wine tasting in Napa or in closer-by Amador County. Every visit included a stop at Vic’s, an old-school ice cream parlor in Sacramento, for thick, hand-scooped chocolate malts. And every visit always involved a pan of Oreo Dessert.
When I got married, Stasia and Emilie stood by my side at the altar. Emilie, now in her twenties, lives within 20 minutes of me in Washington D.C. She’s a huge part of my own children’s lives. We make Oreo Dessert together every chance we get.
Several years ago, Trisha told me that she knew that we’d be lifelong friends after those trips to the freezer. Whether or not Oreo Dessert deserves the credit, we’re not sure. We’d like to think it does.
In case you haven't had enough chocolate
We’ve had countless conversations about Oreo Dessert over the years along the lines of: Why is this so good? Why are we so crazy for it? Can it be improved? What’s the best way to streamline prep when you haven’t planned ahead but want it right now? Here’s what we’ve learned:
- The crust: The easiest way to crush 24 Oreos at once is in a gallon-sized, sealable plastic bag with a rolling pin. The easiest way to remove them is to turn the bag inside out (scraping off any that stick to the bag with a table knife) and mix them right in the pan with the melted butter. And make sure the butter is salted! Unsalted butter plus a pinch or two of salt just isn’t as good.
- The ice cream: Vanilla ice cream is key. It’s tempting to get fancy with the ice cream (chocolate chunk! cookies and cream! coffee!), but each time we’ve strayed from plain vanilla, we’ve regretted it. It’s the perfect counterpoint to the Oreo crust and fudge topping. Use your favorite vanilla ice cream, whether it’s from a gallon bucket, the pints of premium stuff, or homemade.
- The fudge topping: The fudge topping is the pièce de résistance. The list of ingredients and method defy how good it is—salted butter, sugar, evaporated milk, and German’s sweet chocolate—brought to a boil and cooked for four minutes. It stays thick and velvety even when frozen. For best results, fully cool the fudge topping before pouring it over the ice cream; otherwise it’ll melt down into the Oreo crust. Set the pan of hot fudge in an ice bath to speed up the cooling. If you’re thinking—I don’t like sweet chocolate, I’ll just substitute dark chocolate—well, I get it. But trust me, use German’s sweet. Its flavor with the Oreos is truly special.
And all of the parts together? True, frozen bliss.
When you’re ready to serve it, take it out of the freezer a few minutes ahead of time. The flavor and texture are best this way. Cut it into big squares. Leave the pan on the counter while everyone’s eating their first piece because seconds will happen. And once it goes back into the freezer? Just know there’s no shame in peeling back the foil and breaking off slivers for a late-night snack. Because, remember: The slivers never count.
- 24 Oreo cookies (272 grams) (the classic kind, not double-stuff)
- 1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons, 170 grams) salted butter, divided (use salted; it makes a big difference!)
- 1/2 gallon (2 quarts) of your favorite vanilla ice cream
- 4 ounces (113 grams) German’s sweet chocolate (such as Baker's brand)
- 2/3 cup (135 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 small can evaporated milk (5 fluid ounces, 147 mL)
Do you have a legendary family recipe? Tell us about it in the comments below.