It’s no secret we love a good no-bake dessert around here, especially in the dead of summer when turning the oven on can feel like end of days. An icebox cake is an especially good option which is why we were so lucky to score a stunning original recipe and some serious intel on no-bake cakes from Jessie Sheehan, who (quite literally) wrote the book on “Icebox Cakes.”
Icebox Cakes: Recipes for the Coolest Cakes in Town, $15.16 on Amazon
From the classic chocolate wafer version to lemon curd and Black Forest cake-inspired takes.
Read on for Jessie’s tips for perfect icebox cake execution, one fabulous icebox cake recipe and a few other bonus no-bake summer desserts—including a decadent blueberry fool—that’ll get you safely and sweetly from 4th of July weekend straight through to Labor Day.
The cakey component:
Cookies, graham crackers, or ladyfingers make up the “cakey component” of an icebox cake. Cookies should be thin and very crispy and go best with whipped cream (as opposed to pudding). Graham crackers work perfectly well with pudding due to their sturdiness, and ladyfingers also do nicely [with pudding], though I prefer a soft, cakey finger, to a crunchy one.
Avoid soft and/or thick cookies (such as shortbread or biscotti) which will not easily absorb whipped cream, and make for a soggy cake; and don’t combine cookies with pudding, as they get too mushy.
The creamy component:
Whipped cream or pudding generally compose this layer. For whipped cream, best to whip until stiff peaks form—a bit longer than you might think necessary—as a stiff peak equals a more stable cake. This is particularly important if you assemble a free-form cake or cupcake, like my Mexican Hot Chocolate Icebox Cake, whereby the pan gets removed after the cake sets up.
Pudding is best combined with graham crackers or ladyfingers, as it will turn cookies to mush.
Flourishes, flavors & add-ins:
Flavor your cream or pudding. A Black & White Malted Icebox Cake, for instance, is made with malt-flavored pudding. Use flavored cookies like lemon wafers, ginger wafers, chocolate graham crackers, or use other flavored add-ins such as lemon curd, salty caramel, dark chocolate ganache, or marshmallow whipped cream (marshmallow whipped cream makes for a delicious S’mores Icebox Cake).
Related Reading: 8 Naturally Gluten-Free Desserts
Icebox cake assembly:
The best vessels for an icebox cake are springform pans and loaf pans (with both you can remove the sides after the cake sets). You can also do freeform, where you assemble on a plate using cookies and whipped cream and build [them] up like a layer cake. Or stack cookies and cream in a log shape. Pyrex pans—either 13 x 9 x 2-inch or 8 x 8 x 2-inch—are nice, too. Cakes made with pudding or runny add-ins such as caramel or ganache do best in vessels with sides to eliminate oozing and spillage (i.e., stay away from springform pans and loaf pans and free-form shapes).
Pyrex Baking Dish with Lid, $22.95 on Amazon
Build your icebox cake and bring it along in the same pan.
Layering an icebox cake:
First the creamy layer, then cakey layer, with add-ins on top of the cakey. Keep the layers relatively thin and always even; and break the cakey component up if necessary, so you leave no gaps when making a layer.
How long should an icebox cake set?
Many say that when using store-bought cookies, etc. your cake only needs a 4 – 6-hour rest but Sheehan always likes to go at least 8 hours (preferably overnight) which makes for the best texture and a firm hold.
Icebox Cake & Other No-Bake Dessert Recipes
Strawberry Vanilla Icebox Cake
- 2 cups chopped strawberries
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
- 8 1/2 ounces of vanilla wafer cookies
- red sanding sugar for decorating
- Combine strawberries & sugar in a small saucepan over med. heat, stirring occasionally for about 15 minutes until fruit breaks down
- Off the heat, add 1 teaspoon vanilla, and set the mixture aside to cool to room temperature
- In a bowl or stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment, whisk cream on medium speed until cream begins to thicken, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the confectioners’ sugar and the remaining vanilla, and whisk until stiff peaks form
- With a rubber spatula, gently fold the strawberries into the cream
- Using a small offset spatula or the back of a spoon, spread a layer of cream on the bottom of 8x8x2-inch pan
- Cover as much of the cream as possible with a layer of vanilla wafers, filling any gaps with broken wafers. The goal is a solid layer of cookies
- Continue layering whipped cream & cookies until you run out or reach the top of the pan
- Spread the top of the cake with whipped cream and gently cover it with plastic wrap
- Refrigerate the cake for 6 to 8 hours, or preferably overnight
If for whatever reason you are not feeling an icebox cake (and don’t worry, Sheehan won’t hate you for it), try whipping up a fool which has many of the same components as an icebox cake. A fool requires nothing more than a quick fruit compote (fruit + sugar + a little water, cooked on the stovetop until jammy), folded into some freshly whipped cream—perhaps flavored with lemon juice and zest or lavender if you’re feeling frisky, with the two layered in cups with some crushed, crisp cookies (I’m partial to shortbread). Get Jessie’s Easy Blueberry Fool recipe.
Or do you fancy a chocolate cream pie with a cookie crust and a billowy topping of freshly whipped cream? You can easily make chocolate whipped cream by adding a bit of cocoa powder to plain whipped cream—and maybe a little extra confectioners’ sugar. You never have to bake a cookie crust, despite what recipes often call for: if you freeze it, before filling it with your stovetop chocolate (or vanilla) pudding, it’ll hold up awfully well. Get our Chocolate Mousse Pie recipe.
As creamy and tangy as its baked cousin, Sheehan loves how easy no-bake cheesecakes are to throw together (cream cheese + sweetened condensed milk + lemon juice, and voila!!). A little cherry compote alongside is pretty nice, too. The graham cracker crust can be baked—or not—and freezing it before filling it will keep it nice and crisp even after you add the cream cheese mixture. Get Jessie’s No-Bake Almond Cheesecake with Cherry-Kirsch Compote recipe.
The Vintage Baker: More Than 50 Recipes from Butterscotch Pecan Curls to Sour Cream Jumbles, $22.46 on Amazon
Get even more of Jessie's tips, tricks, and recipes in this sweet 2018 release.
Header image courtesy of Jessie Sheehan