Icebox cakes are like magic.
Coal-black cocoa wafers, dry and crumbly on their own, are layered with vanilla whipped cream and put in the fridge overnight. By morning, the crisp cookies become a tender cake, surrounded by a pillow of vanilla frosting. It’s as perfect a summer dessert as you can make without turning on the oven — a rich, creamy triumph.
This version appeals to fruit lovers, those of us who routinely choose berries, peaches and lemon over dark chocolate. It has the same easy charm and cloudlike lusciousness as the cocoa-wafer original, but this one is shot through with strawberries and ginger rather than fudge.
Like the recipe on the side of the wafer box, this one starts with store-bought cookies. I used Nabisco gingersnaps, but any brand should work, as could vanilla wafers. If you’re up for a bigger project, you can make your own cookies, though that is at odds with the dessert’s no-bake appeal.
Die-hard chocolate lovers can substitute cocoa wafers. You’ll end up with something that tastes like chocolate-covered strawberries, but a whole lot fluffier. Just don’t use any cookies (either chocolate or ginger) with a so-called cream in the center. That stiff white disk will never dissolve, leaving hard, sugary pockets where mousselike suppleness should reign.
Other than swapping the cookies and adding a little fruit, the biggest change I made to the classic recipe was in the cream itself. Instead of whipped heavy cream, I went for mascarpone. Its thicker texture is better able to absorb the strawberry purée without becoming too thin to hold the cookies in place. When I initially tried using regular whipped cream, the cake slid into a heap during its overnight rest. Sturdy mascarpone keeps everything in its proper place.
As a final garnish and to get even more fruit on the plate, I add a vivid topping of strawberries that have been macerated in sugar, lime and grated ginger until they turn syrupy and aromatic. Spooned over the cake just before serving, they’re spicy and bright against the mild airiness of the cream, a contrast in both texture and flavor.
Although this revamped icebox cake is certainly elegant enough for your next dinner party, it will also be right at home at any potluck, barbecue or picnic. It’s an untraditional dessert perfect for all of summer’s most traditional meals — a nice trick to have up your sleeve.
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