When a dessert chef renowned for her decadent chocolate pie didn’t show up one day in a restaurant I worked years ago, a prep cook whipped up a quickie dessert that I was sure would fail. With chocolate wafers bought at the market next door and whipped cream, he threw together the old-fashioned icebox cake that his mother used to make. It proved a giant hit. My elitist attitude about mass-market cookies and desserts fell away. Since then, I’ve done many riffs on that endlessly improvisable approach.
The beauty of an icebox cake is its simplicity and deliciousness. You need only understand the premise to improvise endlessly without a recipe: Cookies are layered with whipped cream. As the cake sits, the cream softens the cookies, transforming the whole into a sliceable cake. The cake can take many forms. Nabisco’s original recipe is a log slathered in whipped cream (you’ll find the recipe at bottom). Magnolia Bakery recreated the cake as a lovely flower-like dome. When sliced, they each make dramatic striped layers.
You can make the cake with bought or homemade cookies. I’ve used good-quality amaretti cookies, ginger snaps and chocolate chip cookies, as well as Nabisco’s classic chocolate cookie. Or you can make your own. Smitten Kitchen raves about the great Alice Medrich’s recipe for Homemade Chocolate Wafers.
The cream can be replaced or mixed with creme fraiche, sour cream or mascarpone, as well as flavored to taste with vanilla, bourbon, Kahlua, roasted hazelnut oil, spices, orange flower water, espresso powder etc.
This Chocolate Chip Icebox Cake with Mocha Whipped Cream looks pretty swell.
Rather than make a whole cake, you can make individual ones by simply making a sandwiched stack of cookies and whipped cream.
I hit on this years ago in a recipe I created for Food & Wine: a little stripey cupcake-size cake that tastes like something I’ve searched for since my childhood: Chocolate Mint Girl Scout Cookies (hard to come by in New York City) made out of stacks of chocolate wafers and minty whipped cream. Somehow individual stacks give the cake another kind of charm, with a cupcake-ish air…OR, as with my Amaretti Cake midnight snack, a freeform, Leaning Tower of Pisa effect.
Chocolate Mint Icebox Faux-Girl-Scout-Cookie Cakelets
To make the cake even easier, you can leave out the sour cream and use 1/2 cup heavy cream.
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
¾ cup sour cream
1 teaspoon sugar
1/8-1/4 teaspoons peppermint extract, to taste
1 package Nabisco Famous chocolate wafers (40 wafers)
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
Pour the cream into a medium bowl. Stir in the sugar and place in the freezer, along with beaters, to chill for a few minutes. While it is chilling, place the sour cream in another medium bowl, add the sugar 1/8 teaspoon peppermint extract and stir with a rubber spatula until smooth. With an electric mixer, whip the cream to stiff peaks. With the rubber spatula, gently fold the whipped cream into the sour cream. Add more peppermint extract to taste if desired.
With a dinner knife, spread each wafer with the cream (about 1 1/3 teaspoons worth), and stack them up in fives, making sure the top wafer of each stack has an extra nice swirl of cream. You will have 8 stacks in all. Place on a platter and position several small glasses, taller than the stacks, around them. These will keep plastic wrap from smearing the cream. Cover and chill at least 4 hours. Just before serving, place the cocoa in a fine strainer and sift over the top.
Alternatively, you can turn the stacks into a striped wafer roll. Lay the stacks end-to-end on their sides to form a long roll. Cover and chill as directed; omit the cocoa (it obscures the stripes) and cut diagonally with a thin, sharp knife.
Recipe: The Original Chocolate Wafer Whipped Cream Ice Box Cake
2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
One 9-ounce package Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers
Chocolate curls, sprinkles or cocoa powder
Whip cream, add sugar and vanilla and continue whipping until stiff peaks form. Spread one-half tablespoon whipped cream or topping on each wafer. Begin stacking wafers together on end (on a long serving platter) and stand on edge on the platter to make a 14-inch log.
Frost with remaining whipped cream. Refrigerate for four to six hours. Garnish with chocolate curls or chocolate sprinkles or dust with cocoal. Slice at a 45-degree angle so each serving shows the chocolate and white layers.
You may freeze this cake, covered with plastic wrap; thaw in refrigerator for one hour before serving.