Turn Off the Stove

The No-Bake Oreo Dessert That's Legendary in My Family

This unfussy frozen treat will never get old.

October 22, 2021
Photo by Ty Mecham

No-bake 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.” It’s not an Oreo cheesecake or sheet cake or trifle—it’s a layered ice cream dessert. It only requires six ingredients, one of which is store-bought ice cream. Sure, you could make your own ice cream, but that kind of defeats the purpose of this simple, no-bake dessert. The only other ingredients you need to make it are Oreo cookies (of course), salted butter, German sweet chocolate, granulated sugar, and a can of evaporated milk.

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. Somehow, I think a stained index card with a handwritten family recipe is almost a guarantee that it will work out magically.

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. (The heat of summer is the best time to make a no-bake dessert.) 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 Ice Cream 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 Ice Cream 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.

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? Will we ever get sick of it? The answer to the last question is most certainly no. Here’s what we’ve learned about how to make it:

How to Make No-Bake Oreo Dessert

The Crust

The crust for this Oreo Ice Cream Dessert is made from a classic combination of Oreo cookie crumbs and salted butter. 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. However if you have a food processor, throw them in there and pulse until you have a large batch of Oreo cookie crumbs. Be sure not to over process them as too-fine of a crumb will fall apart when you go to slice a piece. And just 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 flavor (chocolate chunk! cookies and cream! coffee!), but each time we’ve strayed from plain vanilla, we’ve regretted it. Vanilla is 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. Let it soften on the counter so that it becomes easier to spread over the Oreo cookie crust, and do so using the back of a spoon or a rubber spatula, which ensures that it will be spread in one smooth, even layer.

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.

Do you have a legendary family recipe? Tell us about it in the comments below.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Written by: EmilyC

I'm a home cook. I love salads. Two things you'll always find in my refrigerator are lemons and butter, and in my pantry good quality chocolate and the makings for chocolate chip cookies.


DonaB September 13, 2023
I stumbled upon your recipe and read your lovely story. I live in Sacramento so it was fun to read about about your visits to Vic's ice cream (we live near Gunther's ice cream) and Amador. Thank you for sharing your recipe. I'll have to try it.
Laura W. July 10, 2023
I just have to ask…..you use the whole cookie right? Including the middle?
EmilyC July 10, 2023
Sue November 5, 2022
This has become a family favorite! Can't say enough how good it is!
Vivian December 13, 2021
What size pan do you use?
Thank you
Dianne M. October 23, 2021
This is my go to recipe for when we have guests. My sister-in-law grabs midnight bites and isn't ashamed of it! I love this recipe!!
Claire March 8, 2021
I had bookmarked the recipe and commented that “I never make this but...” I did make it long after that, I think it would have turned out well has I not made several errors. Not sure I’ll try it again, but I still think it’s a guest concept and done right, well worth the. effort.
RachelinNY March 7, 2021
So amazing....the fudge sauce is everything to a super simple decadent dessert. It’s March of 2021...and this is bookmarked and saved. I’m sure it will be one I make all summer long this year. The fudge sauce, I want to just make that and bottle it up in the fridge(which I will next time I make it). Thanks for sharing this one!
bakingchocolatess July 9, 2020
Thank you for sharing your wonderful topics!
SarahWarn April 26, 2019
My grandma made this desert growing up. I think it's all the butter in the oreo crust that makes it.

It was most traditional on fourth of july - we'd walk to the park near her house for the fireworks and walk back to have our Oreo dessert while watching all the cars that had to drive in for the show make their way home. Then traffic and plates cleared, we'd go home too. Another Illinois memory.
Jennifer J. August 23, 2018
I've had this recipe in the back of my mind for weeks and made it with my daughter tonight. We used regular oreos, salted butter, the specified amounts of everything in a Pyrex dish-and we struggled mightily to get it out of the pan. Looking at the recipe again, I'm wondering if it is because we were too impatient and didn't let it sit out a few minutes first. Or maybe our crushed Oreo texture was wrong- is yours quite pulverized? Don't get me wrong, we ate it and it was delicious, but I would love to crack the crust code before serving it at a gathering.
EmilyC August 29, 2018
Hi Jennifer: I was with my mom when I got your note, and she said that the last time she made this (about a month ago), she had the very same problem with the crust sticking!! She was surprised because she’s made it a gazillion times over the years without this issue. We wonder if there have been small changes to the Oreo recipe to cause this difference? In any case, you could line your pan with foil the next time, or generously butter it (which is what I’ll do). I updated the recipe to reflect this change! Thanks for your note, and glad you liked it!!
Jennifer J. August 30, 2018
That is so interesting. We did find that we had better luck the second night when we let it sit out for a few minutes first- as you advised in the first place ;-)
Anne-Marie August 6, 2018
Thank you for sharing your wonderful memories! There is nothing like a particular food, or aroma, to bring back the very best times in our lives. Your recipe looks amazing, and will be added to my "did this" list before summer is over.
EmilyC August 6, 2018
Thanks so much Anne-Marie! : )
Margaret D. August 2, 2018
I 'tweeked' it a bit using 'reduced fat' Oreos, cut back on the sugar in the fudge topping, and replaced the sweet bakers chocolate with semi-sweet and it was perfectly delicious!
EmilyC August 6, 2018
Amber G. February 28, 2020
Thats what I was thinking or it'd be waaaay too sweet for us.
Steven W. July 24, 2018
Sweet story, shared food bonds are lifelong. I have to tell you though I will never make or try this because I have a very strong aversion to Oreos and everything Oreo cookie related. Just me I suppose, because I understand how popular these chalky discs filled with plastic can be. I would definitely try it with just about any other cookie, perhaps.
EmilyC August 6, 2018
Hi Steven: thanks so much for reading! Re: the Oreos, a few people have commented that they're using Newman's and Trader Joe's versions of Oreos. Maybe they would appeal more? FYI, I've crushed up waffle cones before and used them instead (delicious).
KATHERINE B. October 31, 2021
This is very late to the party for Steven, but before the days of GF Oreos, I made this recipe as a GF ice cream cake for a celiac friend. I used GF oatmeal cookies, SLICED RIPE BANANAS, caramel ice cream and your incomparable fudge sauce. It tastes like a variant of Bananas Foster. I used your tip for salted butter, but the fudge sauce is the true secret ingredient. Many thanks.
lillianstrange July 22, 2018
Your story brought me to tears. The bond that you and Trisha share that is based on a recipe is so touching. The fact that she'd named her child after you, that both her children were included in your wedding, and that Emilie is now close to your own children and continues the tradition of making the Oreo dessert with them, is a testament to how food has the ability to bring people together and provide lasting memories. The recipe looks incredible too.
EmilyC July 24, 2018
Aw, thank you so much for reading and your kind note! I really appreciate it.
chefpatty July 22, 2018
We have a coffee sundae pie recipe that is so similar to this recipe. The topping is the same. Ours is made in a pie plate with coffee ice cream. And at Christmas we use peppermint pattie ice cream. Yummy.
EmilyC July 22, 2018
This sounds great! My mom LOVES peppermint ice cream. She'd be all over this version!
Raine X. June 14, 2019
I have been looking for a recipe for a specific coffee ice cream pie for years now! I can't remember the name of it. It may have been called Mississippi mud pie? It had an Oreo crust, topped with fudge, coffee ice cream and generous caramel and chocolate drizzle. The texture of the fudge sundae topping and oreo crust together with the coffee flavor was to die for!
Do you have a recipe you could share for your coffee sundae pie by any chance?
Karen July 22, 2018
Great memories! We made this (I grew up in Michigan) for Christmas, substituting peppermint ice cream - made by Hudsonville) for the vanilla. We also added a layer of Cool Whip on top - with crushed peppermints scattered on top of that.
EmilyC July 22, 2018
This sounds so good, Karen! I'll bet it's really pretty, too, with the crushed peppermint on top. Thanks for your note.
KATHERINE B. July 22, 2018
Less the fudge topping, this is my exact recipe for Hawaiian Mud Pie, subbing Kona Coffee Chip ice cream for the vanilla. Now my mud pie has a fudge topping! O Happy Day!
EmilyC July 22, 2018
Oh, this is great! You'll love the fudge topping with the rest! : )
Claire C. July 22, 2018
i may never make this fantastic dessert, but I know it's delicious. How do I know? Because I can feel the joy of your connecting with Trisha around sneaking seconds (and thirds), and the lifelong bonds you created. And your delight in sharing this recipe with us. Thank you.
EmilyC July 22, 2018
Aw, thanks so much for reading the story and your sweet note.
Chris L. July 22, 2018
Emily - Thanks for tantalizing recipe and super well written post! Thoroughly enjoyed and will make soon! Happy Summer!
EmilyC July 22, 2018
Thanks so much Chris! Really hope you enjoy the dessert!
Linda S. July 22, 2018
Loved the passion for this dessert in your story. My family has a similar tradition of chocolate cookie stackups, made with whipped cream and chocolate wafer cookies. But my husband is an ice-cream man, so this is going on the menu for his upcoming birthday. Thanks for the inspiration!
EmilyC July 22, 2018
Thank you Linda for your nice note, and I hope this is a big hit for your husband's birthday party!