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You only need 5 ingredients for this simple old-fashioned icebox cake! Layers of chocolate graham crackers or chocolate wafer cookies and freshly whipped cream create an easy and delicious no-bake dessert that has been loved for generations.
Graham Cracker Icebox Cake
You can’t beat a classic chocolate icebox cake when you need a simple, crowd-pleasing dessert. In fact, this recipe is so darn easy, my 8-year-old son prepared it for these photos! You really don’t need any special culinary skills for this one, friends — just some whipped cream, chocolate graham crackers, or chocolate wafers.
What is an Icebox Cake?
An old-fashioned icebox cake is a dessert that’s typically made by layering cream, fruit, nuts, and wafers, and then set in the refrigerator. There’s no baking required!
The classic icebox cake became popular in the 1920’s and 1930’s, as housewives began using the “icebox” (a compact, non-mechanical refrigerator) as a kitchen appliance. Companies like Nabisco started printing icebox cake recipes on the back of boxes of Nabisco chocolate wafers, and the dessert took off.
The original Nabisco cake recipe involved stacking chocolate wafers with whipped cream to form a log, and then turning the log on its side. A second log was formed and the two were set side-by-side, with more whipped cream covering the exterior. As the cake set in the refrigerator (or icebox) overnight, the wafers absorbed the moisture from the whipped cream and could then be served in slices.
There are now endless variations of these no-bake cakes, some that add sliced bananas or strawberries, some that involve cookies (like Oreos) instead of wafers, and others that use pudding in the layers. This particular recipe includes the classic flavors from the old-fashioned Nabisco recipe, but makes the process easier by simply layering the ingredients in a 9 x 13-inch dish. It has a soft, light, and fluffy texture and rich, creamy flavor!
Ingredients for a Chocolate Icebox Cake
This is just a quick overview of the simple ingredients that you’ll need for a homemade icebox cake. As always, specific measurements and step-by-step instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.
- Heavy whipping cream: since whipped cream creates the fluffy filling for this cake, you’ll need plenty of heavy cream for whipping!
- Powdered sugar: the confectioners’ sugar sweetens the whipped cream.
- Vanilla extract: adds just a hint of warm flavor to the whipped cream.
- Salt: balances the sweetness and adds depth. It does not make the dessert taste salty!
- Chocolate graham crackers (or chocolate wafer cookies): create the layers for the cake, which absorb the moisture from the whipped cream and soften as the cake sets in the fridge.
How To Make Icebox Cake
As I mentioned above, this easy no-bake dessert is so simple that it can be assembled by a child! The hardest part is waiting for the cake to set, since you’ll need to let it refrigerate for at least 4 hours (or overnight). It’s always a huge hit at potlucks, picnics, and other gatherings!
- Make the Whipped Cream. In a large bowl, use an electric hand mixer or stand mixer to beat the heavy cream, powdered sugar, vanilla, and salt until stiff peaks form.
- Layer the Graham Crackers and Whipped Cream. Spread a very thin layer of the whipped cream in the bottom of a large baking dish (just to hold down the graham crackers), and then place a layer of graham crackers on top. You’ll see that Casey broke the graham crackers to make them fit, as necessary. It doesn’t need to look perfect!
- Repeat the Layers. Top with a layer of whipped cream. Repeat the process for a total of 4 layers, ending with whipped cream on top.
- Garnish with Toppings. Garnish the top of the cake with crushed graham crackers or cookies, chocolate sprinkles, or chocolate shavings, if desired.
- Refrigerate. Cover the cake loosely with foil and plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or overnight. Then it’s time to slice and serve!
How to Serve Icebox Cake
Once the cake is chilled and set, slice it into squares and serve it immediately. Feel free to garnish the cake with extra toppings, such as sliced strawberries, a drizzle of chocolate syrup or caramel sauce, or crushed Oreo or chocolate cookies.
Preparation and Storage Tips
- Refrigerate the cake for at least 4 hours (or overnight), to allow the wafers time to absorb the moisture from the whipped cream.
- Icebox Cake needs to be refrigerated. Covered loosely and packed in an airtight container, leftovers will last in the fridge for 3-4 days (but it’s best within the first two days).
- I do not recommend freezing this icebox cake.
- Icebox Cake with Cool Whip: We prefer the old-fashioned version with homemade whipped cream, since it only requires a few extra minutes of prep. That said, you can also make the cake using thawed Cool Whip. You’ll need about 7 total cups of Cool Whip.
- Swap out the chocolate wafers and try other flavor combinations. Good options include regular graham crackers, cinnamon graham crackers, Oreo cookies, sugar cookies, or gingersnaps.
- Add fruit to the layers in your icebox cake. You can use sliced bananas, or make a berry icebox cake with fresh berries such as blueberries, raspberries, or sliced strawberries.
- Lemon Icebox Cake: use regular graham crackers and include layers of lemon curd throughout. You might like to add some fresh lemon zest to the whipped cream, or include vanilla pudding.
- Use instant chocolate pudding mix to add a layer of chocolate pudding to the chocolate icebox cake. Layers of chocolate ganache would also be decadent and delicious!
- Make a smaller icebox cake by using fewer ingredients and layering them in an 8-inch square baking dish or in a loaf pan.
Tips for the best icebox cake recipe
- The cream needs to be very cold when you whip it, so keep it refrigerated up until the last minute. I also like to chill my mixing bowl and whisk attachment (or rotary blades) in the refrigerator for at least 15-30 minutes before using them to whip the cream.
- An offset spatula is a great tool for evenly spreading the cream mixture.
- Use either chocolate graham crackers or Nabisco famous chocolate wafers for a classic taste. You can find either of these ingredients in almost any grocery store. Break the crackers and cookies, as necessary, so that they fit in a single layer in the pan.
- Allow plenty of time for the cake to set. It will need at least 4 hours in the refrigerator, or overnight.
Old-Fashioned Icebox Cake
- In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat heavy cream, powdered sugar, vanilla and salt until stiff peaks form.
- Spread a very thin layer of the whipped cream in the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch dish.
- Place a layer of the graham crackers or chocolate wafers in the bottom of the dish, breaking them as necessary in order to fit.
- Gently spread ¼ of the whipped cream on top of the crackers. Top with a second layer of crackers and then another layer of whipped cream.
- Repeat the layers until you have used a fourth layer of crackers and the final ¼ of the cream.
- Garnish the cake with crushed chocolate grahams, sprinkles, or grated chocolate.
- Cover loosely and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or up to overnight.
- How to store Icebox Cake: Icebox Cake needs to be refrigerated. Covered loosely, it will last in the refrigerator for 3-4 days (but it’s best within the first two days).
- The cream needs to be very cold when you whip it, so keep it refrigerated up until the last minute. I also like to chill my mixing bowl in the refrigerator for at least 15-30 minutes before using it to whip the cream.
- Icebox Cake with Cool Whip: I stuck with the old-fashioned version and used homemade whipped cream here, since it only requires a few extra minutes of prep. That said, you can also make the cake using thawed Cool Whip. You’ll need about 7 total cups of Cool Whip.
- Use either chocolate graham crackers or chocolate wafers for a classic taste, or mix up the cookies for different flavor combinations. You can use regular graham crackers, Oreo cookies, sugar cookies or gingersnaps.
- Add fruit to the layers in your icebox cake. You can use sliced bananas, sliced strawberries, or spread thin layers of lemon curd throughout.