Cool down with an icebox cake.
Last week I was feeling rather nostalgic in anticipation of our annual trip to the beach. As a native Floridian turned Tennessean, this little spot on Indian Rocks Beach captured our hearts early on, and has been calling us home for a week’s refuge for decades. Nothing fancy — more along the lines of comfort, convenience, and camaraderie. We’ve enhanced our stay in the sun and surf by dedicating one special night to a cookout with extended family who still live nearby. This invitation to the beach allows us to catch up without leaving the crashing waves and unforgettable sunsets. I guess the nostalgia kicked in when I thought about the span of five generations who have graced this space. The faces may have changed over the years, but the familial ties still bind.
For tonight’s shindig, the traditional fare has always been hamburgers. The guys will do their share while swapping stories around the grill, and our guests will show up with sides — leaving me to come up with a dessert. Already feeling reminiscent, I wanted to uncover a blast-from-the-past treasure. Something easy to concoct, yet cool and refreshing against the August heat. I did a little digging through my Nana’s recipe box and found a true treat, as she liked to say— the classic icebox cake. The magic happens in the icebox (thus the name) when whipped cream and pudding meld with graham crackers to form a cake-like texture. Icebox cakes became a crowd pleaser in the 1920s and 30s with the introduction of the compact nonmechanical refrigerator chilled by a block of ice. But the real claim to fame came when Nabisco® placed recipes on the back of their chocolate wafer boxes.
Along the poolside row of picnic tables, new delicious dishes arrive with the newlyweds, coupled with the familiar spread of old favorites passed down by our grandmothers, Kitty and Grace — the family matriarchs. Though they are no longer with us, their legacy lives on among their great-great-grandchildren playing Marco Polo in the pool.
After dinner, my dad leans in over his dessert and shares a story about his dad delivering ice — Papa’s first job upon moving to St. Petersburg, Florida. I pause between bites to take it all in — the setting sun, gulls squawking over a discarded hamburger bun, and the shivering little bodies with mommies in tow dripping their way to the hot tub. And suddenly, through this sweet confection, I can feel an even greater connection to all that matters.
Here’s to a slower pace, simpler times, and tried and true treats.
Butter Icebox Cake ▶ Makes 8 servings
2 c. heavy whipping cream
4 oz. cream cheese (room temperature)
1 c. peanut butter (smooth)
1 c. confectioners sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
50 Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers®
Cocoa powder (for garnish)
1/4 c. dry roasted peanuts (chopped)
Line a 9-inch-by-5-inch loaf pan with plastic wrap, allowing enough overage to cover top and overlap the pan for storing. In a large bowl, beat heavy cream with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. In a separate bowl, combine cream cheese, peanut butter, sugar, and vanilla extract. Beat with an electric mixer until smooth. With a rubber spatula, fold in whipping cream until well-combined. Add two-thirds of the cream mixture to the prepared pan. Starting at the short end of the pan place, place 12 cookies in a row, standing them on edge in the cream mixture. Follow in the same pattern with the second row, slightly overlapping the cookies from the first row. Make a total of four rows using 48 cookies, reserving the last two cookies for garnish. Cover the cookies in the pan with the remaining cream mixture and smooth with a spatula. Wrap the plastic wrap over the top and refrigerate for four hours or overnight. To serve, take the loaf pan out of the refrigerator and unwrap the plastic. Choose a platter and invert the pan onto it. Carefully remove the plastic from the desert and dust the top with cocoa powder. Add crushed remaining wafers and chopped peanuts. Slice with a sharp knife and serve cold.
Lining the pan with plastic wrap helps you easily remove the contents.
Easy Oreo® Icebox Cake ▶ Makes 8 servings
3 c. heavy whipping cream
1/2 c. confectioners sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
64 Oreo Thins®
In a large bowl, add cream, sugar, and vanilla. Beat with a hand mixer until stiff peaks form. Spread a thin layer of cream mixture on the bottom of a springform pan. Top with 16 Oreos. Repeat until you have four layers. Spread a final layer of whipped cream on top. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least four hours, preferably overnight. Transfer to a cake plate. Garnish with crushed cookies.
Place cookies in a zip-lock bag before crushing them. This makes for less mess!
Boston Cream Icebox Cake ▶ Makes 8 servings
2 – 3.5 oz. packets of instant vanilla pudding
8 oz. container whipped topping (thawed)
3 -1/4 c. cold milk (whole or 2%, divided)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
14 oz. box graham crackers
1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips (divided)
1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. sugar
In a large mixing bowl, add dry pudding, whipped topping, and three cups cold milk. Using a whisk, combine ingredients. In 9-by-13-inch dish, add a single layer of graham crackers completely covering the bottom of the pan. Spread half the pudding mixture over the layer of graham crackers. Add a second layer of graham crackers, then pudding mixture. Top with a third and final layer of graham crackers. In a medium saucepan, add 1/2 cup chocolate chips, butter, sugar, vanilla, and remaining 1/4 cup of milk. Over low heat, whisk continually until chips are melted and well-combined. Turn off heat and pour chocolate mixture over the top layer of graham crackers. Smooth with a spatula. Cover and chill for four hours or overnight. Before serving, top with remaining chocolate chips.
Laura Schupp is the author of Our Newlywed Kitchen: The Art of Cooking, Gathering & Creating Traditions. Learn more about Laura at OurNewlywedKitchen.com.