Right about the time you pull the white sandals and beach gear out of the closet, big, easy, and delicious party desserts also come into high style. What are you taking to that family potluck or graduation party this month? May I suggest the easiest yet most impressive dessert I know? It doesn't even require an oven!
The icebox cake is a no-bake confection that needs literally no cooking or baking, and yet it yields what you would swear are slices of tender cake layers, filled with airy whipped cream and fresh summer fruit. Come see how to make one; you don't even need a recipe.
I grew up in a very large family, as I've told you before, and so everything in the kitchen was done on a larger scale. We never made dessert in pans smaller than 9x13-inches; easy, generous dishes were prized.
I learned icebox cakes from my mother and grandmother, who both made them frequently for big parties — and why not? They feed a crowd, and they're so easy. You simply layer whole graham crackers (or another crisp, not-too-sweet cookie) with whipped cream and thinly-sliced fruit. No baking required.
This may sound a little odd — crunchy graham crackers? Where's the cake? But that's the genius of the icebox cake. In the refrigerator, the crackers soften just enough to be tender and flaky, melding with the cream and fruit into a dessert that resembles a fancy layered torte, with thin layers of cake.
I adore icebox cakes, in all their Midwestern glory. (I even wrote a cookbook about them, and other no-bake desserts.) I love how the nutty graham crackers contrast with the rich cream and bright fruit. I look for crackers that aren't too sweet and that have as much whole grain flour as possible. As far as filling goes, almost anything goes. You can use plain fresh strawberries and bananas as I do here, or other thinly-sliced soft fruit, such as mangos or raspberries. Or branch out from fruit entirely and use a tart jam instead.
I also appreciate that these let me turn just a few ingredients into a gloriously delicious and easy dessert for a whole table of friends — all without turning on the oven. Zero heat, very little work, plenty of happy people. Isn't that the best?
To make an icebox cake, you'll need graham crackers, fresh fruit, and heavy cream.
How To Make a No-Bake Icebox Cake
Serves 8 to 10
What You Need
3 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 pounds fruit, peeled and sliced, about 4 cups
25 to 30 graham crackers, from about 4 sleeves
2/3 cup chopped nuts or additional fruit, to garnish
Stand mixer, hand mixer, or large whisk
9x13-inch baking dish
Beat the cream until it holds stiff peaks: Combine the powdered sugar, vanilla, and salt with the cream in the bowl of a stand mixer (or large mixing bowl). Beat on low, then high, until the cream holds stiff peaks. You can do this with a stand mixer, hand mixer, or whisk.
Divide the cream into 4 parts: Use a spatula to evenly divide the cream into four quadrants.
Smear a spoonful of cream in the bottom of the baking dish: Smear just a small spoonful of cream in the bottom of the dish. This will hold your first layer of graham crackers in place.
Cover the bottom with graham crackers: Lay down a full layer of graham crackers in the dish, breaking some down the middle if necessary to form a full layer.
Spread whipped cream on top of the crackers: Gently spread 1/4 of the cream (one whole quadrant) on the crackers.
Spread 1/3 of the fruit on the cream: Lay about a third of the fruit (1 1/3 cups) on top of the cream.
Top with a second layer of crackers: Top with another full layer of crackers, again breaking some if necessary to make a layer that fits snugly in the dish.
Top with cream and fruit: Top this second layer of crackers with another 1/4 of the cream and another third (1 1/3 cups) of fruit.
Top with a third layer of crackers: Add another full layer of graham crackers.
Top with cream and fruit: Top with another quarter of the cream and the remaining fruit. At this point you'll have three layers of graham crackers, three layers of cream, and three layers of fruit.
Top with a final layer of crackers and cream:Add a fourth layer of crackers and the final quarter of the cream. Spread gently or swirl the cream.
Garnish the cake: Sprinkle chopped nuts or fruit on top of the cake.
Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate: Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight. The cake is ready when a knife inserted in the center goes in easily and comes out with soft crumbs. Refrigerate any leftovers.
Best eaten within two days. It does get soggy after more than two or three days in the fridge, especially if very juicy fruit is used.
Any kind of soft, juicy fruit is very good. Try thinly-sliced banana and strawberries, as shown here, or kiwi, mango, chopped raspberries and blueberries, or peaches.