A Hunt for the Classic Icebox Cake Leaves a Cold Trail

QRecently I’ve read a bunch of materials about icebox cakes but haven’t found anything too convincing, and plenty that’s contradictory! So I just thought I’d ask to see if your research has ever turned up anything about this subject and whether or not you’ve found anything interesting, definitive.—Sarah F., Des Moines, IA

AIcebox cakes were a favorite when I was a child. They seemed almost magical in their simplicity, and they still appeal to a kind of retro-sensibility. (In fact, I made one for my parents when they were visiting a few months ago.) I’ve seen some fancy versions that attempt to improve on the original by adding coffee or even mint candies, but it’s hard to do better than the classically simple recipe that’s still on the Nabisco chocolate wafer box. The recipe, known as “The Famous Icebox Cake,” has been around at least since the 1940s.

To make the “cake,” simply alternate layers of chocolate wafers with lots of sweet vanilla-flavored whipped cream in a deep dish, and put it in the refrigerator overnight. The cookies absorb moisture from the cream and develop a dense texture, a bit like devil’s food cake. My mother used to make these cakes in the summer, before we had air conditioning, when using the oven would have been brutal.

Not only was it easy and cool (in every sense), but we kids could join in and were always ready to assist with licking the last bit of whipped cream from the beaters.—Gary Allen

Article © 2006 Gary Allen. All rights reserved. Visit Gary’s Web site, On the Table.

About Gary Allen

Our food history editor, Gary Allen, teaches food writing and various food and culture courses at Empire State College, has been vice-president, newsletter editor and webmaster for the Association for the Study of Food and Society. His books include The Resource Guide for Food Writers, The Herbalist in the Kitchen, The Business of Food: Encyclopedia of the Food and Drink Industries and the anthology Human Cuisine.
His latest book, Herbs: A Global History, a volume in The Edible Series of Reaktion Press, will be published in May 2012. He’s currently at work on another book for the same series—on sausage. Visit him at his website, On the Table, and blog, Just Served.

Comments
Comments
  1. bob smith says:

    what is the history/culture of iceboxcake?

    • gary says:

      All I know is that Nabisco printed the original recipe on packages of their chocolate wafers box. Nabisco, BTW, was the first company to sell crackers and cookies in individual packages (as opposed to the old cracker barrels), beginning in 1899, and started advertising their name to distinguish their products from competitors. At that time, very few foods were sold on a national level.

      Recipes, such as for the ice box cake, on packaging were a major part of its success.

      Nabisco chocolate wafers came out in the early 1940′s, about the same time as people began replacing ice boxes with refrigerators–so the name already had an old-fashioned ring to it (which probably appealed to women who might otherwise have felt guilty about not baking a real cake for their families).

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