What Is an Icebox Cake?

Icebox cakes first appeared around 100 years ago. Now, they're a classic.

Mocha Chocolate Chip Icebox Cake
Photo: Yoly

When you think of icebox cake, you're likely hit with a wave of nostalgia. The cool, creamy dessert became popular thanks to the advent of widespread refrigeration.

But icebox cake is far from some fleeting trend. No-bake desserts certainly aren't a novelty these days, but nearly a century after they first surfaced, icebox cakes remain beloved for their simplicity and unbeatable taste.

What Is an Icebox Cake?

Icebox cake is a no-bake dessert made by layering ingredients such as wafer cookies, cream, condensed milk, and fruit that set in the refrigerator. It's less of a recipe and more of a technique, because it's infinitely customizable as long as you stick to a cream-and-cookie base.

Why Is It Called Icebox Cake?

As you may have suspected, icebox cake gets its name from the icebox, a non-mechanical form of refrigeration that was popular during the early 20th century.

Fun fact: iceboxes were called refrigerators before mechanical, electricity-powered refrigerators surfaced. Unlike the refrigerators we know and love today, iceboxes couldn't regulate their own temperatures and users had to supply the ice that would keep food cool.

In order to capitalize on the growing popularity of iceboxes, food manufacturers, such as Nabisco, printed icebox recipes onto cookie and wafer boxes. These marketers didn't create the icebox cake, but they sure helped popularize it.

What Goes in Icebox Cake?

The beauty of icebox cake lies in its simplicity — if you really want, you can make one with as few as two ingredients: cookies and cream. Historically, the go-to wafer for icebox cakes has been Nabisco chocolate wafers (this is especially true with zebra cakes), but your options are pretty much endless — graham crackers, homemade cookies, and store-bought favorites like Nilla Wafers and Oreos all make good icebox cakes.

Icebox cake recipes traditionally call for homemade cream, but a pre-made topping such as Cool Whip makes a convenient shortcut. With additional ingredients, you can be flexible: fresh fruit, chocolate shavings, cookie crumbles, pudding, Jell-O, and cream cheese all make tasty icebox cake fillings.

How to Make Icebox Cake

Once you've got your ingredients picked out, it's time to start assembling your icebox cake.

  • Place the ingredients, starting with the cookies, in a springform or baking pan or large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients in as few or many layers as you'd like. If you're using a larger variety of ingredients, though, lots of thinner layers can make your icebox cake shine.
  • When you're finished, cover the cake and chill in the refrigerator. Smaller icebox cakes will only need about four hours, but large icebox cakes work best if they're chilled overnight.
  • Provided it's not gobbled up instantly, icebox cake will last two to three days in the fridge.

Icebox Cake Recipes

Ready to make your own icebox bake? Check out these icebox cake recipes below:

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