How to make a summer icebox cake: Simple Assembly, Stunning Results

When it’s hot out, instead of turning on the oven, consider assembling an icebox cake for dessert. I can hear you now, “A cake you make in the refrigerator instead of baking? Nonsense!”

But rest assured, icebox cakes are both a classic dessert and a modern summer essential. These delicious layered confections are traditionally made with extra-thin chocolate wafer cookies sandwiched between pillowy mounds of sweetened whipped cream. The entire pile is chilled, allowing the cookies to soften slightly to the point where you slice through the stack and enjoy a pie-like wedge of cold dessert bliss.

But who are we to stop at just a single dessert? Never! The icebox cake template is infinitely variable and ripe for your creativity. It’s perfect for those sweltering days of summer.

Whipped cream + cookies = icebox cake: an easy, delicious, chilled summer dessert! Click To Tweet

Here’s a guide for how to put together a perfect icebox cake. Follow the basic components, and choose any flavors you like. You can stick with the simple formula (alternating layers of whipped cream + baked goods), or get fancy and add texture and flavorings.

Ready? Let’s begin!

How to Make Icebox Cake via @kingarthurflour

Choose a cookie

The key to a great icebox cake is choosing the right cookie. After you layer together your whipped cream and cookies, along with any extras, the cake will sit overnight and the whipped cream will soften the cookies, so they slice easily like cake layers. It’s important to select a cookie that will stand up to the whipped cream, but will soften too.

The most iconic icebox cake recipe uses thin chocolate wafer cookies. Graham crackers are also an excellent choice. Try to stick to cookies that are thin and crisp, without too many add-ins (like nuts or chocolate chips), as those make the “cake” layers too thick and hard to slice. Important note: That doesn’t mean you can’t make an icebox cake using chocolate chip cookies or fudge cookies (when it comes to baking, we never say never!), it’s just a little less elegant-looking.

Just keep in mind that you want your cookie of choice to soften over time and absorb the flavors of the whipped cream, so thinner is better.

Some of our favorite cookie bases are digestive biscuits, vanilla wafers, brown butter sugar cookiesladyfingers, and chocolate cutout cookies.

Add whipped cream

To build your cake, you’ll alternate each layer of cookies with a layer of whipped cream. Now, plain whipped cream is a perfectly wonderful option. (I would personally never turn down a spoonful of freshly whipped cream!) However, the whipped cream layers are a good place to add flavor. Here are some tips on whipping cream perfectly.

Note: I suggest sweetening your whipped cream. You don’t need to go overboard here; a teaspoon of confectioners’ sugar per 1/2 cup of cream will lightly sweeten it. Think about how sweet your cookies are, and adjust the sugar accordingly.

Let’s think about flavorings

Delicate flavors and extracts should be added before whipping. For chocolate whipped cream, add some cocoa powder. A blend of cinnamon and cardamom will make a chai-style whipped cream. Add a splash of extract (like vanilla or almond) or an oil (like lemon or peppermint) for an easy way to change the flavor profile of your icebox cake.

Heavier ingredients should be added at the very end of the whipping time, or folded in with a spatula to the already-whipped cream.

Craving something nutty? Try adding a few spoonfuls of peanut butter, almond butter, or tahini during the final 30 seconds of whipping.

Don’t forget about dairy! Another option is to fold in some Greek yogurt, ricotta, or mascarpone. This gives the whipped cream a thicker, more stabilized texture along with more flavor.

To sweeten and add a nutty note, fold warmed-up almond or pistachio paste into your fully-whipped cream. When adding heavier ingredients like nut pastes, fruit jams, tahini, or lemon curd, be careful not to overmix and deflate the whipped cream. Just fold it in until it’s streaky-looking, then stop.

Finishing touches

A traditional icebox cake is made up of layers of cookies and whipped cream. But who are we to stick to tradition?! Icebox cakes are very soft affairs, texture-wise, so they benefit from added texture.

For some crunch, try:

  • A layer of chopped chocolate
  • A layer of toasted, chopped nuts
  • A layer of crushed candy (like toffee bits or peanut brittle or even nougat)

For more fun extra-ingredient ideas, think about the sort of ingredients you’d find at an ice cream sundae bar:

  • Rainbow sprinkles
  • Mini marshmallows
  • Cacao nibs
  • Toasted coconut

You can either add these as a separate layer or fold them into your whipped cream layers.

Other ways to add creative flavors:

  • Brush your cookies with a layer of flavored syrup or glaze
  • Spread a thin layer of caramel sauce, hot fudge sauce, or cake frosting over your cookie layers
  • Garnish the top of your cake with an ingredient that hints at the cake’s flavor, like chocolate shavings for a chocolate icebox cake or lemon zest for a lemon icebox cake.

Assembly tips

The key to a good icebox cake is time. The cookies need to soften enough to be sliceable, so you should let the cake chill in the refrigerator for a minimum of 8 hours.

How to Make Icebox Cake via @kingarthurflour

Icebox cakes can come in any size and shape. Just choose a pan or dish that’s high enough to accommodate a few layers: standard-size loaf pans are good, as are round cake pans. If you’re using a pan and you don’t want to serve straight from the pan, line it first with plastic wrap so it’s easy to flip over and unmold.

How to Make Icebox Cake via @kingarthurflour

You can also make a freeform icebox cake on a plate, platter, or cake stand. Just start with a layer of cookies, add the whipped cream, and continue from there.

You can start with cookies or whipped cream. If you plan to flip and unmold the cake, bear in mind that your base layer will end up being the top layer of the cake.

Other tips:

  • Make sure to whip your cream to stiff peaks. The “sturdier” your whipped cream, the better it will hold up over time.
  • When making your cookie layers, try to have as few spaces as possible. If your cookies don’t fit together perfectly (as round cookies don’t), you can break some apart to fill in any big gaps.

Here are a few of our favorite riffs on the icebox cake concept. Get creative! You can make any combination you dream up, just remember that the alternating layers should play off each other in flavor.

Some favorite icebox cakes

Classic Icebox Cake

Sandwich chocolate wafers with sweetened whipped cream to create the iconic, beloved original version of an icebox cake.

Bonus! Make it malted. Fold malted milk powder into the whipped cream for a soda shop twist.

How to Make Icebox Cake via @kingarthurflour

Pretty in Pink Icebox Cake

Rhubarb isn’t just for pie. This gorgeous recipe layers vanilla sugar cookies with homemade stewed rhubarb and whipped cream.

Bonus! Try a strawberry-rhubarb version by adding 1 cup of chopped strawberries to the rhubarb mixture.

How to Make Icebox Cake via @kingarthurflour

Chocolate Lover’s Icebox Cake

Chocolate whipped cream (cream whipped with dark cocoa and confectioners’ sugar) and chocolate wafers make a decadent, rich chocolate dessert.

Bonus! To up the chocolate flavor, add a layer of chocolate chips and some chocolate shavings on top to garnish.

Milk and Cookies Icebox Cake

Layer circles of thin chocolate chip cookies with whipped cream on a plate for a freeform icebox cake with all the best flavors of a cookie dipped in milk.

Bonus! Use brown butter chocolate chip cookies or oatmeal chocolate chip cookies for a little twist.

How to Make Icebox Cake via @kingarthurflour

The Elvis Icebox Cake

Fold a few spoonfuls of peanut butter into your whipped cream. In a plastic wrap-lined loaf pan, alternate layers of the whipped cream with layers of graham crackers and layers of sliced bananas.

Bonus! Add a layer of chopped candied bacon.

How to Make Icebox Cake via @kingarthurflour

Lemon-Ginger Icebox Cake

Fold lemon zest into your whipped cream (or follow our lemon whipped cream recipe). Layer that with gingersnaps or other crisp ginger cookies.

Bonus! Top the cake with diced crystallized ginger.

Birthday Cake Icebox Cake

Fold rainbow sprinkles into your whipped cream and layer with ladyfingers and thin layers of buttercream frosting.

Bonus! Instead of ladyfingers, bake a regular vanilla cake. Tear the cake into chunks and toast them slightly, then use that as the “cookie” layer.

How to Make Icebox Cake via @kingarthurflour

Berry Delicious Icebox Cake

Spread a thin layer of strawberry jam over five sugar cookies. Stack the sugar cookies on top of each other with a layer of whipped cream between each. Cover the stack with whipped cream and chill.

Bonus! Fold jam into your whipped cream and serve the icebox cake with fresh berries.

How to Make Icebox Cake via @kingarthurflour

Chai Latte Icebox Cake

Brush ladyfingers with chai syrup (you can follow the syrup part of this cake recipe), and stack with whipped cream.

Bonus! Use snickerdoodles instead of ladyfingers, skip the syrup step, and flavor your whipped cream with chai spice.

How to Make Icebox Cake via @kingarthurflour

Nilla Vanilla Icebox Cake

This cake packs a wallop of vanilla flavor. Layer Nilla Wafers (here’s a similar make-at-home recipe) with vanilla extract-infused sweetened whipped cream (1 cup of heavy cream whipped with 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract and 2 teaspoons of confectioners’ sugar).

Bonus! For those distinctive vanilla bean flecks, use vanilla bean paste instead of vanilla extract in your whipped cream.

Feeling inspired? Tell us what icebox cake combinations you’ll be trying out this summer!

comments

  1. Margy

    One of my favorites is Carlota de Limon, a Mexican icebox cake made of Maria cookies, lime juice and sweetened condensed milk. You mix the juice and milk in the blender, then layer with the cookies. Simple and not too sweet. Add sliced fruit and whipped cream to the top if it suits your fancy!

    Reply
    1. Posie Harwood, post author

      Love the idea of using sweetened condensed milk — so clever. Thanks for the tip! -Posie

  2. Amanda Vuu

    These all sound amazing and you provided SO much info to DIY other flavors. This is a must try. Thanks!

    Reply
  3. Robin Wolf

    I’ve made Ina Garten’s Tate’s Cookies icebox cake in a springform pan. Delicious and pretty to look at!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We won’t tell if you won’t, SLD. But really, if you’re looking for a shortcut you’re welcome to use frozen whipped topping. Consider jazzing it up a bit for a semi-homemade effect. Lemon zest and a flavored extract can make this store-bought ingredient much more exciting than it otherwise would be. Enjoy! Kye@KAF

  4. Mary Hooke

    My Mother made ice box cake, usually in the Summer. It was always in a 9 x13 glass pan, layer of graham crackers, layer of chocolate pudding, another layer of grahams, another pudding. Let set for awhile, cover with vanilla homemade whipped cream. Delicious! A family hit forever! Made it for Fathers Day this year!

    Reply
  5. Shawn Markel

    I don’t see the traditional icebox cake, prepared like it says on the chocolate wafer box. They place the chocolate wafers with whipped cream between each cookie as a single long roll of cookies. Then, frost all over with remaining whipped cream. Refrigerate. Garnish with chocolate curls or as desired.

    Reply
    1. Anne Hege

      I remember this one from when I was a child. Delicious. I was surprised it wasn’t included here.

  6. Cecilia freeman

    What about using. Stabilizer in the whipped cream such as a teaspoon on unflavored gelatin dissolved in a tablespoon of warm water?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Ceilia, we like using Instant ClearJel to stabilize whipped cream because it’s fast, easy, and effective. However, if you’d like to experiment with using unflavored gelatin you’re welcome to do so. Bloom 1 teaspoon of gelatin by sprinkling it over 4 teaspoons of water until it’s all translucent, and then melt it by heating the mixture in the microwave for short bursts (10 seconds) until it looks completely dissolved. Let it cool slightly and whip your cream (about 1 cup is just right for this quantity of gelatin) until soft peaks form. Slowly pour in the gelatin with the mixer running and beat until you have medium-stiff peaks. Your whipped cream should hold quite nicely. Also check out this article on our blog for additional tips that you might find helpful. Kye@KAF

    2. sandy

      Hi Kye-

      Question… I have always used the Whipped Cream Stabilizer KAF used to sell. I liked it but it did leave a little taste in the whipped cream. Does the instant ClearJel work as well? Does it add any taste to the cream?

    3. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Sandy,
      It sounds like taste buds might be especially sensitive, but most taste testers can’t tell if Instant ClearJel has been added to a recipe purely based on taste, which is one reason why we love it. We think it’s worth giving a try, especially since you don’t need very much Instant ClearJel to stabilize whipped cream. Just mix 1 tablespoon of Instant ClearJel with a few tablespoons of sugar (to taste) and sprinkle it into the cream once it reaches soft peaks. We hope you love it too! Kye@KAF

  7. Rose

    Hello! Where is the actual recipe for the Chocolate Lover’s Icebox Cake? I see all these beautiful icebox cakes listed but there’s no links to the recipes themselves. Am I going crazy? Thanks for your help, I’m a huge KAF fan! -Rose

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Rose, the variations listed here are meant to serve as more of inspiration rather than step-by-step recipes. To make the Chocolate Lover’s Icebox Cake, you can use this recipe to make the chocolate wafers and then add dark cocoa powder and confectioners’ sugar to 2 cups of whipped heavy cream (to taste). Posie offers the suggestions of adding a layer of chocolate chips and some chocolate shavings on top to garnish. We hope that helps! Kye@KAF

  8. Kaelyn

    There is a Filipino version of icebox cake that’s very tropical, called “Mango Float”. It’s very good!

    Reply
  9. Lily

    I’m thinking I’d like a chocolate raspberry torte sort of thing. I could thin some raspberry preserves, and add cocoa to the whipped cream, then alternate between layers. I’ve never made chocolate whipped cream; if I normally add two tablespoons of regular sugar per pint, how much would that be in powdered, which I see you use in your recipes? I’m guessing that’s better for something meant to eat later on.

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid

      Lilly: try putting 1/4 cup of confectioners’ sugar and 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa in a bowl. Bring 1/2 cup of heavy cream to a simmer and pour over the mixture. Stir well; the warm cream will hydrate the cocoa and dissolve the sugar, giving you a nice, even color later on. Cool the mixture, then put in your bowl with another 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream and a splash of vanilla extract. Whip away, and you should have what you’re after. Susan

  10. Cheryl Williams

    My mother made her icebox cake with graham crackers and applesauce layers topped with cream cheese frosting.

    Reply

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