You Should Be Making (and Eating) More Icebox Cakes

Photos by Claire Lower.

I have always enjoyed a good church supper. Not only do I appreciate the wide variety of choices offered at such an affair, but I’m always impressed by how these church ladies could craft tasty dishes from seemingly unimpressive ingredients. Rather than brag about how how “homemade” and “from scratch” everything was, these women would boast about how easy, quick, and cheap their dishes were to make.

It’s a completely different mindset from that of today’s average home cook. (No one cares if you whipped the cream yourself, Barbara.) One of the dishes that frequently popped up at these suppers was the icebox cake. Not only did this cake feature whipped cream in a major way, it required barely any effort at all besides some spreading and stacking.

In its simplest form, an icebox cake is comprised of only two ingredients: thin cookies and whipped cream. Once you have these two pre-packaged wonders, you simply have to layer, starting with some cookies.

I use the bottom of my springform pan, as it keeps the bottom layer of cookies from sliding around.

I use the bottom of my springform pan, as it keeps the bottom layer of cookies from sliding around.

The most iconic icebox cake cookie is actually not Oreos, but Famous Chocolate Wafers, which are basically Oreos without the creme filling. I couldn’t find any for some reason, but luckily Oreo Thins exist, and they work just as well. (I also happen to like the creme filling, so I’m totally OK with this swap.)

Outside of Oreos, any thin-ish cookie will do, including graham crackers, ginger thins, or even a tim-tam. Lay down that first layer of cookies in whatever shape you wish them to take, then fully cover them with a layer of creamy topping.

Continue to alternate cookies and cream, until you reach your desired cake height. Finish with a final layer of whipped topping.

You could frost the sides as well, but I like to leave the contrasting layers exposed. Once built, the whole thing goes into the fridge for at least three hours, preferably overnight. The whipped topping will soften the cookies, resulting in a sliceable, amazingly devourable cake that will disappear with alarming ease.

Before you start slicing, however, you need a topping of some sort. I like to crown mine with more cookies and whatever fruit I happen to have around. Isn’t that special?

Now that you have constructed the simplest of icebox cakes, you are ready to eat it. Once that’s done, you’ll be ready to level up, and construct increasingly elaborate creations. Here are some fun ways you can play around with the format:

  • Make your own whipped cream, and flavour it: I’m happy with my Cool Whip, but you might be fancier than me. For basic whipped cream, add two tablespoons of powdered sugar for every cup of heavy whipping cream to a mixing bowl and whip until you just get some stiff peaks in there. For chocolate whipped cream, add a couple of tablespoons of cocoa powder in there. For mint whipped cream, add a teaspoon of mint extract in between the soft and stiff peak stage. (This can actually be done with any extract, I just love mint.)
  • Get fruity: Slice up your favourite fruit and place the slices on top of your whipped cream layer. Bananas, strawberries, whatever – it’s all good.
  • Sprinkle in some fun: Cinnamon, peach sugar, cocoa powder, citrus zest, toasted nuts, candied ginger, or even actual sprinkles can all be used to add flavour and texture.
  • Use ice cream instead of whipped cream: This will require letting your ice cream get quite soft, or you can cheat and just stack a bunch of ice cream sandwiches on top of each other. Obviously this cake should be stored in the freezer, not fridge.

There’s almost no wrong way to make an icebox cake, and the only rule I would impose would be to shun the oven, and resist the urge to make your own Oreos. Oreos are already their best selves, and baking flies in the face of the whole spirit of the icebox cake.