Coconut is a polarizing ingredient. I have met people who can't get enough of it, and people who flick it away like a bug. I can empathize with both. Coconut wafts in with the scent and taste of the tropics, but the problem, I suspect, for most haters is the texture; on a scale of tenderness, shredded dried coconut can fall somewhere between hay and chopped toothpicks.
So this icebox cake avoids shredded coconut entirely. The creamy layers come by their coconut richness without it, and the top is sprinkled with toasted flakes, which have more in common with nuts than hay. And then there's the mango — lots and lots of mango.
If you've made one icebox cake, then you probably have a good idea of how this one goes. Whipped cream — heartened up this time by cream cheese, and sweetened by cream of coconut (ah, the secret ingredient!) — is layered with graham crackers and fresh sliced mango. Rum is optional but I wouldn't do without it, personally.
The whole thing softens up in the refrigerator and becomes an eminently sliceable cake, delicately flavored with coconut, and topped with nutty toasted flakes. And more mango, of course — lots of tangy, tropical mango — without a bit of shredded coconut in sight.
Mango Coconut Icebox Cake
3/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
8 ounces cream cheese, softened at room temperature for 1 hour
15-ounce can sweetened cream of coconut, such as Coco Lopez
3 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon rum, optional
24 to 28 whole graham crackers (4 sleeves, about 19 ounces)
5 large mangos, peeled and chopped (5 to 6 cups)
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar, optional
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread the coconut flakes in a pie pan or baking dish and toast for 5 to 6 minutes, stirring every 2 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove and cool completely. (Cooled toasted coconut can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 1 week.)
Whip the cream cheese until smooth and creamy in the bowl of a stand mixer or using a hand mixer. Add the coconut cream, and whip until well blended. Slowly add the heavy cream and whip until it forms soft peaks. Whip in the rum, if using.
Spread a small spoonful of whipped cream on the bottom of a 9x13-inch baking pan, or a similarly-sized platter. Lay down six graham crackers. Lightly cover the top of the graham crackers with more whipped cream, and then a single layer of chopped or sliced mango. Repeat three times, until you have four layers of graham crackers. Spread the last of the whipped cream over the top and swirl it lightly with a spoon. Add the remaining mango.
Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or until the crackers have softened completely. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar just before serving. Best served within 3 days.
Sliced vs. chopped mango: You can slice the mango in thin strips, as pictured above, or chop it roughly. I like a mix of chopped and sliced mango on the top of the cake.
Building the cake on a platter instead of in a pan: You can build this cake in a 9x13-inch pan as I mention above, or you can build it up on a platter as shown in the Strawberry Icebox Cake recipe. Either way works nicely. The 9x13 pan makes it easier to transport the cake, but if you're staying at home, the platter makes it look a little fancier. You don't need to do anything differently when building it on a platter. I do, though, like to smear a bit of cream on the bottom of each cracker as I add it to the stack to keep it steady and in place.
(Image credits: Faith Durand)