Kitchn Love Letters

This 100-Year-Old No-Bake Cake Recipe Is as Easy as It Is Delicious

published Aug 30, 2019
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: Meghan Splawn

At Kitchn, our editors develop and debut brand-new recipes on the site every single week. But at home, we also have our own tried-and-true dishes that we make over and over again — because quite simply? We love them. And we decided to start sharing some of our absolute favorites with you. Here’s a peek into what we’re cooking and eating in our own kitchens.

I grew up on a two-ingredient icebox cake that my grandmother made from frozen Cool Whip and Nabisco’s Famous Wafers. It’s incredibly delicious — and about as easy to make as can be. She served it practically any time guests came for supper, the ingredients unfussily piled in a Pyrex bowl. The combination of vanilla-flavored whipped cream and dark chocolate was nothing short of culinary magic — it still is.

Although you can dress it up, the original icebox cake recipe is essentially just whipped cream layered with wafer cookies, left to set in the fridge. The fat and moisture from the cream gets absorbed by the cookies, which turn soft and cake-like.

Wafers are the standard cookie, but you can use all kinds of things — even graham crackers or buttery crackers. You can fancy up icebox cakes by flavoring the whip cream and adding strawberries or peanut butter. But what makes icebox cakes great is their simplicity. Even the most stunning versions typically have just a handful of ingredients, require little prep (and no oven), and can still be sliced and served with an air of celebration. Of all the icebox cakes I have eaten, made, and loved — that classic back-of-the-box recipe still has my heart.

Credit: Meghan Splawn

The Classic Icebox Cake

Nabisco’s original back-of-the-box recipe has been around since the 1940s, and later it became known as the Famous Icebox Cake or Famous Refrigerator Roll. Nabisco didn’t invent the icebox cake — printed recipes can be found as early as 1920 — but they did make it famous. Nabisco’s original recipe calls for freshly whipped cream sweetened with a little sugar and flavored with vanilla. It promised to give the busy housewife a from-scratch-tasting chocolate cake without having to heat up the kitchen. The idea really stuck. Like my Grammie’s version, the original icebox cake was built in a dish — the concept of stacking the wafers on their sides for better presentation came later.

Why I Love This Old-Fasioned Dessert

An icebox cake never fails to delight. A gaggle of friends for a playdate? Let’s make and eat an icebox cake together! A long Labor Day barbecue? Bring an icebox cake.

Although my grandmother’s Cool Whip version still makes me nostalgic, these days I stick with whipped cream, and I stack the wafers on their side to create a roll. And I especially love making this cake with my two young kids. We start by whipping a pint of heavy cream with about 1/4 cup of powdered sugar and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. We get out our hand mixer and a really big bowl. Each kid gets a turn whipping until medium-sized peaks form.

To make the roll, you need to stack the chocolate wafers up with some whipped cream between each one. Each kid works on a small stack of three to four wafers at a time — there’s no worry if they break a wafer or get whipped cream on the wrong side. Icebox cakes are charmingly imperfect. Then I move the stacks to a serving plate or baking tray and set them on their sides, straightening any wafers that are a little wonky. Once the log is fully assembled, I cover it with the rest of the whipped cream, and the whole thing goes into the icebox (read: the fridge) for at least four hours — although overnight is best.

Credit: Meghan Splawn

I made this particular cake the night before and put it in the fridge to set, planning to take photos in the morning. But my husband got home late and happily ate about half the roll while I was sleeping. He swears (SWEARS) that I groggily gave him permission. That’s how good they are — and why there isn’t a better picture of the inside of this rolled version.

Here’s the thing that boggles the mind, though: For serving, you cut the roll on an angle, and as if by magic the vertically stacked wafers appear horizontally in each slice, just like a layer cake. All you really need to serve the cake is a sharp knife. And a finished slice on a plate requires nothing more than a fork for devouring it.

Get the classic recipe (with an optional rainbow twist): Easy Rainbow Icebox Cake