Cafecito-Inspired Icebox Cake

published Oct 15, 2021
Cafecito-Inspired Icebox Cake Recipe

This decadent icebox cake features layers of cookies, dulce de leche cream, sesame candy, and coffee-cinnamon syrup.

Serves10 to 12

Prep1 hour

Cook3 minutes

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Angled-down photo of a coffee icebox cake decorate with whipped cream and cookies on platter. Gold runner underneath. Red plate with fork and green and white napkin in background
Credit: Photo: Amber Gress; Food Styling: Krystal Rack; Prop Styling: Vanessa Vazquez

In a Puerto Rican household, you’re usually greeted in the mornings by the sound of salsa/house music (or, in my case, my dad playing the congas) as an alarm. When stepping out of your bedroom the smell of freshly brewed coffee hits your nose and sticks with you throughout the day. I didn’t understand why I loved coffee so much until my mom told me how my grandmother would add a drop of it to my bottle, which honestly goes a long way toward explaining my vibrant ways. 

I always knew I wanted to cook, serve my community, and bring a different style to the food scene. Pastries and baking are my first love because my bloodline is full of chefs, bakers, and people who love to work with their hands. One of my favorite fun facts about my ancestry is that my great-grandfather, a slave who came from the Canary Islands, was a bread baker. My dad came from Puerto Rico and joined the army, where he was a cook. All of my childhood memories are of him cooking large meals for the family, and to this day I only eat his style of home fries. Whether it was holidays or a regular day of the week, we always had the best meals. 

The coffee in this icebox cake recipe represents the wholesome moments shared around the dinner table or in the living room. The pure, warm energy that surrounds a hot cup of coffee (usually mixed with condensed milk) followed by an assortment of pastelitos de guayaba, Maria cookies, and cheese and guava paste can really ground you after a chaotic day. 

In a spiritual sense, coffee is connected to strength, hard work, and dedication. We’re very passionate about our coffee and how strong it is, which is why Café Bustelo is usually found in most Latin households. It’s not like your typical American coffee, which is usually a bit milder. Café Bustelo has a kick! A cup will keep you awake for hours, unless you’re my parents. They can drink a cup before going to bed; it’s like water to them at this point. When I was growing up, I remember my dad upcycling the empty coffee cans and turning them into a coin holder, a pencil can, a pot for some seeds — or whatever his heart desired at the moment.

Credit: Photo: Amber Gress; Food Styling: Krystal Rack; Prop Styling: Vanessa Vazquez

Coffee is at the heart of this cake, but it’s paired with some of my other favorite ingredients. A coffee simple syrup is drizzled over Maria cookies, the slightly sweet cookies that are great with guava paste and cheese or simply dunking in your coffee. The coffee-infused cookies are layered with a dulce de leche cream and crunchy sesame cookies. Sesame candies remind me of Puerto Rico because once you land and start driving, you’ll find people on the side of the street selling various candies they make at home. Condensed milk is usually what’s added to our coffee, but I felt like dulce de leche was the right move for this cake.  

When I make this cake, I like to prep all of the components ahead of time to save mess and stress along the way. After you remove the cake from the freezer, let it sit at room temperature for a few minutes so it softens slightly, then decorate with whipped cream and a dulce de leche drizzle. And don’t forget to serve with hot cups of coffee!

Cafecito-Inspired Icebox Cake Recipe

This decadent icebox cake features layers of cookies, dulce de leche cream, sesame candy, and coffee-cinnamon syrup.

Prep time 1 hour

Cook time 3 minutes

Serves 10 to 12

Nutritional Info


For the espresso simple syrup:

  • 2 tablespoons

    ground espresso, preferably Café Bustelo

  • 1 cup


  • 1 cup

    granulated sugar

  • 1 teaspoon

    ground cinnamon (optional)

For the filling and dulce de leche drizzle:

  • 8 ounces

    cream cheese

  • 2 (7-ounce) packages

    Maria cookies, such as Iberia, divided

  • 4 ounces

    sesame brittle bars, such as El Faro

  • 1 (about 13-ounce) can or jar

    dulce de leche, such as ​​Nestlé La Lechera, divided

  • 1 tablespoon

    vanilla extract

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt, plus more for the cream cheese mixture

  • 2 tablespoons


For the whipped cream:

  • 1 quart

    (4 cups) cold heavy cream

  • 1 1/2 cups

    powdered sugar

  • 1 tablespoon

    vanilla extract

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt


Make the espresso simple syrup:

  1. Brew 2 tablespoons ground espresso with 1 cup water.

  2. Place the espresso, 1 cup granulated sugar, and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (if using) in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Set aside to cool until warm.

Make the filling and whipped cream:

  1. Place 8 ounces cream cheese in a medium bowl or stand mixer and let sit at room temperature until softened. Meanwhile, prepare the pan, cookies, and sesame candy.

  2. Line the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan with plastic wrap.

  3. Set aside 3 whole cookies from 1 package of the Maria cookies. Break the remaining cookies from that package into large pieces and place in a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Pulse into coarse crumbs, about 20 (1-second) pulses. Transfer to a bowl.

  4. Place 4 ounces sesame brittle in the food processor and pulse until finely chopped, about 15 (1-second) pulses. Transfer to a separate bowl.

  5. Add 2/3 cup of the dulce de leche and a pinch of kosher salt to the cream cheese. Beat with the paddle attachment on medium-high speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. If using a stand mixer, transfer the cream cheese mixture to a large bowl, then clean and dry the mixer bowl.

  6. Place 1 quart cold heavy cream, 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt in the stand mixer (or large bowl if using an electric hand mixer or sturdy whisk). Beat with the whisk attachment, starting with low speed and increasing to medium-high speed, until stiff peaks form, 1 to 3 minutes.

Assemble the cake:

  1. Make sure there is enough room in the freezer for the springform pan.

  2. Transfer 2 cups of the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture and fold until completely combined. Cover and refrigerate the remaining whipped cream for topping.

  3. Using the 3 reserved cookies plus the second package of Maria cookies, arrange a single layer of the whole cookies in the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle the gaps with some of the processed cookie crumbs to completely cover the bottom of the pan. Arrange more whole cookies around the edge of the pan, patterned-side facing out.

  4. Drizzle the cookie and crumb layer with 1/2 cup of the coffee syrup. Top with 1/3 of the dulce de leche cream (about 1 heaping cup) and spread into an even layer. Sprinkle with 1/3 cup of the sesame candy.

  5. Repeat layering the whole cookies and crumbs, coffee syrup, dulce de leche cream, and sesame candy two more times, making sure to use up the dulce de leche cream. Sprinkle some more cookie crumbs on the top layer. Reserve the remaining cookie crumbs and sesame candy for garnishing the final cake. You will have leftover coffee syrup; save for another use if desired.

  6. Freeze the cake until firm, at least 8 hours or overnight.

Make the dulce de leche drizzle and serve:

  1. When ready to serve, place the remaining dulce de leche and 2 tablespoons milk in a small saucepan. Place over low heat and whisk until the mixture is smooth. Let cool slightly, then transfer to a squeeze bottle or pastry bag for drizzling if desired; you can also just drizzle with a spoon.

  2. Release the sides of the springform pan and peel back the plastic wrap. Transfer the cake to a platter or cake stand.

  3. Transfer the whipped cream to a pastry bag with a star tip if desired. Decorate the cake with the whipped cream. Sprinkle with the reserved cookie and sesame brittle crumbs. Decorate with the dulce de leche drizzle.

Recipe Notes

Storage: The assembled cake can be frozen for up to 1 week.