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A Hunt for the Classic Icebox Cake Leaves a Cold Trail

Recently 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

Icebox 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.