If you’re looking for a cool and yummy dessert to serve up on these hot, humid days, look no further than a no-bake icebox cake. Nothing is easier (except maybe cookies straight out of a box!). It combines layers of graham crackers or cookies, pudding, and fresh whipped cream or whipped topping, then the whole concoction is refrigerated until the cookies/crackers soften to a cake-like texture.
Why Are They Called “Icebox” Cakes?
Icebox cakes became popular in the 1920s and were most likely born of other chilled layered desserts that were commonly served at the time such as trifles. Recipes for these cakes can be found in cookbooks dating as far back as 1915. Achieving the desired cake-like consistency happened in the “icebox” rather than the oven. Even when refrigerators replaced iceboxes in kitchens, the name stayed with this dessert, adding to its nostalgic charm. The name conjures up thoughts of something cool, easy, and sweet that is as delicious as the memories every bite brings back.
One of the most famous icebox cake recipes appeared on the back of the Nabisco® Chocolate Wafer Cookie package, which simply called for layers of whipped cream and the cookies in a loaf pan. It was chilled and sliced, revealing the decorative pattern of layered chocolate cookies inside.
Modern cooks began experimenting by adding boxed pudding, sweetened condensed milk, or other additions to flavor the whipped cream—mocha, mint, almond, or banana—proving the sky’s the limit with these desserts.
As simple as these cakes are to make, their presentation yields a big impression!
Make It Your Own!
You can use most anything to make an icebox cake. Our version is made with bananas and instant pudding for a no-bake, no-cook dessert, but you can use any berries or even cooked pudding to make the dessert you may remember from your childhood. See “Variations” below.
Banana Cream Icebox Cake
2 boxes (3.5 oz each) instant vanilla pudding mix
2 1/2 cups milk (to prepare the pudding)
3 bananas, sliced
8 oz. tub whipped topping or 8 oz. whipped cream
3 1/2 sleeves graham crackers
Prepare pudding with the milk in a large bowl and whisk to combine. Once thickened, carefully fold in 1/2 cup of the whipped topping until combined.
Place a layer of graham crackers on the bottom of a 9×13 pan, covering the bottom. Break graham cracker pieces as needed to fit.
Slice 1½ bananas crosswise and arrange the slices evenly over the top of the graham crackers.
Carefully top the banana layer with half of the pudding mixture, spreading evenly to the edges of the pan.
Place another layer of graham crackers on top of the pudding layer and spread evenly to cover completely. Top with the remaining 1½ banana slices.
Add a final layer of graham crackers, arranged evenly over the pudding layer. Spread remaining whipped topping over the top of the final layer of graham crackers, evenly to the edges.
Cover the cake with wrap and set in the fridge for 4 hours, up to overnight. Dust with cocoa if desired. Slice and serve. Keeps in the fridge for up to 2-3 days.
- If you’re not a fan of bananas, you can substitute any other berry (or make it without fruit). Try strawberries, blueberries, or raspberries!
- Swap out the vanilla pudding for your favorite flavor. Or use banana pudding.
- You can also use vanilla cookies, sandwich creme cookies, ginger snaps, or chocolate wafers in place of the graham crackers to go with the flavors you choose.
- You can dust the top layer with coconut, nuts, or any toppings you like to complement the flavors of your icebox cake.
We realize there are so many variations of this recipe, we’d love to hear from you: what’s your go-to icebox cake recipe? Share it with us in the comments below!