When Bobbie Crew was growing up, her favorite treat was her mom’s lemon icebox pie.
The pie was far from fancy: It consisted of a vanilla wafer crust cupping a cool pool of custard-like filling made with sweetened condensed milk and lemon juice. It didn’t bake in the oven — it set in the refrigerator.
Crew, who lives in Lee’s Summit, Mo., and blogs about vegan food at TheVeganCrew.com, now makes a dairy-free version of her mom’s lemon icebox pie with soy milk.
“It’s very silky and smooth,” Crew says. And like all icebox pies, it’s exceptionally sweet on hot summer days.
According to the book “Vintage Cakes” by Julie Richardson (Ten Speed Press, 2012), icebox pies and cakes gained popularity between 1930 and 1950, when refrigerators became fixtures of American kitchens. Most were made by topping a simple crust with a no-bake filling, then chilling the dessert in the refrigerator or freezer for several hours.
Because they’re easy to assemble, icebox pies are often considered “cheat” recipes by serious pie bakers, says Meg Heriford, owner and operator of Ladybird Diner in Lawrence, Kan.
“I’m totally into icebox pie,” Heriford says, “but it’s not really pie. It’s chilled dessert in a shell.”
Most old-school icebox pie and cake recipes are seductively simple, but in the new book “Icebox Cakes” (Chronicle Books), you'll find multi-step recipes that feature homemade cookies, graham crackers and wafers.
New York-based co-author Jessie Sheehan says icebox cakes also freeze well. She recommends letting them set up in the refrigerator first so that the dry components (cookies, wafers, graham crackers) have time to absorb moisture from the filling. Icebox cakes made with homemade cookies take longer to set than cakes made with store-bought cookies, she adds. Most of the recipes in “Icebox Cakes” are best when they chill in the fridge for 24 hours.
Some cakes are even better after two days in the fridge, Sheehan says, “but I wouldn’t go longer than two days.”
If you are really lazy, use a bag or box of sugar cookie mix to move this recipe along a bit faster. Also, this time of year, fresh peaches could be substituted for the strawberries.
Strawberry Icebox Cake
1 stick butter, softened (salted is OK)
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups flour
2 cups cold heavy cream
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon orange zest (optional)
2-1/2 to 3 pounds fresh strawberries
2-3 tablespoons sugar
To make the cookies: Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cream butter and sugar until well mixed.
Add egg and vanilla and mix again, scraping down the sides of the bowl to make sure everything is combined.
Add flour, baking soda and salt and mix on low speed until the dough comes together. Finish mixing with a spoon or your hands.
Scoop 1-2 tablespoon-sized balls and place on a baking sheet, leaving a few inches in between each scoop. Flatten slightly.
Bake for about 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown. Overbaking slightly is OK here since you want the cookies to be crunchy. Let cool completely on a wire rack.
To make the cake: Cut stems off strawberries, then slice into 1/4-inch slices. Place in a bowl and cover with the 2-3 tablespoons sugar. Stir gently and set aside to let the berries macerate while you make the whipped cream.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the heavy cream, cream cheese, sugar and vanilla. Mix on low speed to combine and then slowly raise the speed, until it forms firm peaks.
To assemble the cake: Arrange cookies flat in an 8-inch springform pan, covering the bottom as much as possible. (You can break some cookies to fill in the spaces.)
Spread a fourth of the whipped cream mixture evenly over the cookies.
Place an even layer of strawberries on the cream, fitting as many as possible without overlapping.
Place another layer of cookies on top, lying flat and touching, followed by strawberries and another fourth of the cream.
Continue layering cookies, strawberries and cream until there are 4 layers of each, ending with a final layer of strawberries. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Run a small sharp knife around the outside of the cake and remove the sides of the pan.
Use two large spatulas to remove the cake from the bottom portion of the pan. Place on a serving dish. Cut in wedges, and serve cold.
BLUEBERRY REFRIGERATOR PIE
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 pint blueberries, plus 1/2 pint for topping
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons arrowroot powder or cornstarch
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Grated zest of one lemon
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 cups ricotta cheese, at room temperature
Graham cracker crust, store-bought or homemade
Melt the butter in a medium-size saucepan. Add the blueberries and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, until the berries begin to release their juices.
Mix together the sugar and starch in a small bowl. Stir into the blueberry mixture, then add the lemon juice and zest and cook 5 minutes longer, until the mixture thickens and becomes jammy.
Remove from the heat and stir in the cream cheese and ricotta.
Transfer the mixture to a food processor or blender and puree for about 1 minute, until the mixture is smooth and creamy.
Pour the blueberry and cheese mixture into the prepared crust. Arrange the half-pint of blueberries evenly over the surface of the pie, then refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight. Serve chilled.
Makes one 9-inch deep-dish pie. Serves 8, each with 454 calories, 27 grams fat, 66 mg cholesterol, 44 grams carbohydrates, 11 grams protein, 310 mg sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.
“A Year of Pies: A Seasonal Tour of Home Baked Pies” (Lark; 2012)
LEMON ICEBOX CAKE
1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 cup salted butter, very soft
3 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/8 teaspoon table salt
Zest of 2 large lemons
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
25-30 whole graham crackers (3-4 sleeves)
1 cup lemon curd, slightly warmed up (store bought or homemade)
In a small bowl, combine 1 teaspoon lemon zest and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar. Mix well and set aside at room temperature, uncovered.
In a large mixing bowl, whip the butter until very soft. Add in the heavy cream and continue beating until smooth.
Add sugar, salt and lemon zest. Whip until mixture forms firm peaks.
Gradually beat in lemon juice, beating until fully incorporated. The lemon whipped cream should hold peaks; don't worry if it starts to curdle.
Place warmed lemon curd in a zip-locked baggie, press out the air and seal bag. Cut a very tiny hole at bottom corner and set aside.
Spread a small amount of lemon whipped cream onto the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.
Lay down a layer of graham crackers (about 6). Spoon 3/4 to 1 cup of lemon whipped cream over crackers.
Drizzle about one-fourth of the lemon curd over the whipped cream layer. Repeat layering 3 more times. You should end up with four layers total, finished by the final drizzle of lemon curd.
Cover and let chill in fridge for 3-4 hours or overnight. Crackers will soften to a spongey cake texture.
Use a fork to break up lemon sugar and sprinkle over top of cake before serving.
Leftovers will keep well in fridge for 1-2 days. Serves 10.
ChewOutLoud.com, adapted from theKitchn.com
It doesn’t get much easier than this silky smooth and party-perfect recipe for peanut butter pie, which tastes a bit like Nutter Butter cookies.
PEANUT BUTTER PIE
8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup peanut butter
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup heavy cream, whipped (about 3 cups)
9-inch graham cracker crust, store-bought or homemade
2 tablespoons chocolate syrup
Place the cream cheese in a large bowl and beat with a hand mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy. Add the sweetened condensed milk and peanut butter and beat until well blended. Stir in the lemon juice and vanilla. Fold in the whipped cream. Pour into the graham cracker crust. Drizzle with chocolate syrup, then refrigerate for several hours.
Makes 6 to 8 servings, with each (based on 6) with 953 calories, 66 grams fat, 118 mg cholesterol, 77 grams carbohydrates, 22 grams protein, 642 mg sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.
“Southern Cooking for Company” (Thomas Nelson; 2015)
Short on time? Use whipped topping instead of whipped cream to make this dramatic and decadent dessert, which can also be served frozen. Look for the chocolate wafers in the ice cream toppings section of the grocery store.
2 cups heavy whipping cream
6 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 1/2 9-ounce packages chocolate wafers (60 wafers)
1 4-ounce semisweet chocolate baking bar, finely chopped
1/4 cup hot fudge sauce, warmed
2 1.4-ounce chocolate-covered toffee candy bars, chopped
Beat whipping cream at high speed with an electric mixer until foamy; gradually add powdered sugar, beating until soft peaks form.
Spoon whipped cream into a zip-top plastic freezer bag. Snip one corner of the bag to make a hole about 1 inch in diameter.
Arrange one-third of the chocolate wafers in the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan; pipe one-third of the whipped cream over the wafers, spreading evenly with a spatula. Sprinkle with one-third of the semisweet chocolate. Repeat layers twice, then cover and chill for 24 hours.
Drizzle with fudge sauce and sprinkle with toffee candy bars just before serving.
Makes 8-10 servings, each (based on 8) with 591 calories, 37 grams total fat, 93 mg cholesterol, 63 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams protein, 335 mg sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.
“The Southern Pie Book” (Oxmoor House; 2013)
Homemade red velvet wafers and cinnamon-flecked whipped cream make this red velvet recipe perfect for overachieving icebox cake-makers. Store-bought wafers will also work, according to “Icebox Cakes” co-author Jessie Sheehan.
RED VELVET ICEBOX CAKE
FOR THE RED VELVET WAFERS (MAKES ABOUT 60):
2 cups minus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons whole milk
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 tablespoon red food coloring
FOR THE CINNAMON-CREAM CHEESE WHIPPED CREAM (MAKES ABOUT 7 CUPS):
1 1/2 cups cream cheese, at room temperature
3 cups heavy cream
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus more for decorating
To make the wafers, in a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the granulated sugar, butter and 2 teaspoons vanilla on medium-low speed until slightly fluffy, about 2 minutes. Be careful not to overbeat. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
In a small bowl, whisk the milk, corn syrup and food coloring to combine. Add the milk mixture to the butter-sugar mixture with the mixer on medium-low speed; beat until just combined. Scrape the sides of the bowl with the rubber spatula.
Add the flour mixture all at once to the mixer bowl. With the mixer on low speed, beat until the dough just begins to pull away from the bottom of the bowl and forms a cohesive mass. Scrape the sides of the bowl to fully incorporate all the ingredients.
Divide the dough in half and place each half on a sheet of plastic wrap. Loosely wrap the dough and form each half into a log about 2 inches wide. Roll the logs along the counter, still wrapped in plastic wrap, in order to shape into perfect cylinders. Tighten the plastic wrap around the logs and freeze them for at least 2 hours, or overnight. If you have trouble forming the soft dough into logs, form the dough into a disk (or loose log shape), wrap it in plastic wrap, and place in the freezer for about 20 minutes, just until it is cold enough to shape into the necessary log. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Once frozen, unwrap one of the logs and use a sharp paring or chef’s knife to cut it into thin slices about 1 / 8-inch thick; rotate the log as you slice, or the side sitting on the cutting surface will flatten.
Arrange the slices about 1 inch apart on one of the prepared baking sheets and place in the freezer for at least 10 minutes. Repeat with the second dough log and prepared baking sheet. If you need more room to fit all your dough slices, simply arrange them on additional sheets of parchment paper, layer the dough-covered papers one on top of the other on the second baking sheet in the freezer, and switch them out as you bake off each batch. (You can also wrap the baking sheets in plastic wrap and freeze the rounds for up to 1 week.)
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Place one baking sheet of the frozen dough rounds in the oven and bake until they appear dry, 10 to 12 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through the baking time. Using a stiff metal or plastic spatula, immediately press down lightly on each cookie to flatten it. Let the wafers cool on the baking sheet for 2 to 3 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely. The wafers should be very crispy when cooled. If they are not, place them back in the oven for 1 to 2 minutes more. Repeat to bake the additional sheets of dough rounds.
Store the wafers in an airtight container as soon as they have cooled. They will remain crispy at room temperature, tightly sealed, for about 24 hours. Freezing the baked wafers in a resealable plastic bag also works well, for up to 1 month. There is no need to defrost the wafers before assembling your cake.
To make the whipped cream, refrigerate the bowl of a stand mixer and the whisk attachment (or a medium metal bowl and beaters from a hand mixer) until quite cold, about 15 minutes. Once chilled, remove the bowl and whisk from the refrigerator, add the cream cheese, and whip it on medium speed until smooth. Add the cream and continue to whip on medium speed until the cream is incorporated. Add the powdered sugar, vanilla and cinnamon and, on medium-high speed, whip the cream mixture until it holds stiff peaks that stand upright when the whisk is raised (the stiffer the cream, the more support it will provide the wafers in your cake). Use it immediately.
Line a 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan with plastic wrap that hangs slightly over the pan sides. Using a small offset spatula or the back of a spoon, spread a generous layer of the whipped cream on the bottom of the lined pan. Cover as much of the cream as possible with a layer of the wafers, filling any gaps with broken wafers. The pieces should touch. The goal is a solid layer of wafers.
Continue layering whipped cream and wafers until you run out or reach the top of the pan, ending with whipped cream. Gently cover the cake with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 24 hours. Peel the plastic wrap from the cake, place the serving platter over the cake, and invert the cake onto the platter. Carefully remove the pan and plastic-wrap lining and lightly dust the cake with ground cinnamon. Using a knife, cut it into slices and serve.
Makes 12 to 15 servings, each, based on 12, with 618 calories, 44 grams fat, 145 mg cholesterol, 52 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams protein, 203 mg sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.
“Icebox Cakes” (Chronicle Books; 2015)
ICEBOX CAKE TIPS
Icebox cakes are best made a day in advance, but they don’t last long after you cut into them. Most should be eaten within two to three days, Jessie Sheehan says.
Never layer a pudding-based icebox cake with cookies, Sheehan says, because the cookies will get mushy. “Cookies go with whipped cream,” she says, “and pudding goes with graham crackers or ladyfingers.”
Decorate icebox cake right before serving or the toppings (banana slices, chocolate chunks, etc.) might sink into the soft top and make the dessert look droopy.
While it’s possible to stabilize whipped cream and store it in the fridge, freshly whipped cream makes for the best icebox cakes, Sheehan says.
To make individual icebox cakes, layer ingredients in a Mason jar, chill, then serve the jarred desserts in a bucket of ice at a party or picnic.
For recipes that require a springform pan, remove the outer ring just before serving. Don’t use a springform pan to contain icebox cakes with runny pudding and caramel layers: The structure could collapse.