I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating – simple desserts are my favorite. It’s not that there’s isn’t place in my heart for multiple-course dessert “experiences,” or elaborate tiered cakes – there is. It’s a place that’s been cultivated by family summer vacations to San Francisco, dinners out in Seattle at all the Tom Douglas restaurants, and a childhood spent obsessively reading Martha Stewart Living.
But most of the time, I prefer to make and eat simple desserts – the kind that the household cook has been rolling out for weeknight dinners for generations. Pound cakes, pies, every day cake – even ice cream was a simple dish until Ben and Jerry tarted it up.
The final entry in the July Cooking Project – recipes that won’t heat up your kitchen – is one of these desserts. Five ingredients, easy assembly, great flavors, and no oven required. It is a great example of minimal effort with maximum results.
I’m talking about ice box cake. Yes, you heard me, ice box cake. The “cake” is made from layering chocolate wafer cookies and whipped cream. After a couple of hours in the refrigerator, the cream softens the wafers, making a cake that is a cross between an ice cream sandwich and an Oreo.
According to The Washington Post, the recipe dates from at least from the 1920s; a 1929 ad for Nabisco’s ‘Famous Chocolate Wafers’ suggests to layer the wafers with whipped cream, chill, and serve. The ice box cake was one of a number of refrigerator desserts that food companies developed in the 1920s as a way to market their products to busy housewives. The cake is a stripped down version of a charlotte, a dessert popular in the late 19th century that is made by lining a mold with cake strips and filling it with gelatin-thickened custard.
I would like to raise a glass to those 1920s Nabisco recipe testers, because this is one hell of a cake. I brought this to a pot lock dinner and it was a big hit. And it’s easy to see why – the cookies become soft and yielding, the cream is billowy and sweet, and the chocolate and cream are a wonderful flavor combination. This cake was so good I’m afraid it might be addictive – and all for almost no effort.
A couple of notes: I based my recipe on two sources, Alice Q Food and Chowhound. Based on Alice Q Food’s post, I layered my whipped cream very thick – otherwise the cookies will absorb all the cream, defeating the layering effect. I also doctored up my whipped cream – adding mint extract and quite a bit of powdered sugar – with the goal of making the cake taste like a mint Oreo. And it did. Actually, I think it tasted better than a mint Oreo.
Recipe: Mint Chocolate Ice Box Cake
EDITED – Hey guys, there was an error in the original recipe – it uses 3 and 3/4 cups cream, not 1 and 3/4 cups cream. This is what happens when you’re editing your post at midnight! Sorry about the confusion.
3 and 3/4 cups heavy cream, chilled
7 tbs powdered sugar
1 3/4 tsp mint extract
Green food coloring (4-5 drops, to taste)
Two packages Nabisco’s ‘Famous Chocolate Wafers’. Apparently these can be hard to find, but I found them in the Columbia Heights Giant.
Before you whip your cream, place a large bowl and whipping implement (wire whisk, whisk attachment, or beater) in the freezer for 15 minutes, to chill.
Place cream, powdered sugar, mint extract, and food coloring in the chilled bowl. Beat on high until the cream is stiff.
Lay a wafer in the center of a serving platter, and anchor with a smear of whipped cream. Arrange six wafers in a circle around the center wafer (the sides of the wafers should be touching), also anchoring with a bit of cream. This is your first cake layer.
Using a spatula, cover with a layer of whipped cream, 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Top with another layer of wafers, then cover those with another layer of whipped cream. Repeat until all the wafers are used up. If you have any extra wafers, use them to decorate the top of the cake, if you so desire.
Place cake in the refrigerator and chill for at least six hours, or overnight. Remove from refrigerator and serve.