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Light, refreshing, and full of cool, creamy, citrus flavor, this key lime icebox cake is the perfect easy, no-bake dessert for summer. With layers of graham crackers, pudding, and Cool Whip, there’s no cooking necessary — just assemble and chill!

Close up side shot of key lime icebox cake on a table with a bite on a gold fork.
Table of Contents
  1. Key Lime Cake
  2. What is an Icebox Cake?
  3. Ingredients for a Key Lime Cake with Graham Crackers
  4. How to Make Key Lime Pie Icebox Cake
  5. Garnish and Serving Suggestions
  6. Preparation and Storage Tips
  7. Recipe Variations
  8. Tips for the Best Key Lime Icebox Cake Recipe
  9. Key Lime Icebox Cake Recipe

In the heat of summer, when we don’t want to turn on an oven, no-bake desserts are the only way to go! From an old-fashioned chocolate icebox cake to a no-bake eclair cake and a 5-ingredient ice cream sandwich cake, these cold treats are always crowd-pleasers. If you love key lime pie, then you’ll really love this key lime cake with graham crackers and pudding — yet another option to add to your list of no-bake summer favorites!

Mixing key lime pudding with an electric mixer in a white mixing bowl.

Key Lime Cake

This key lime cake is the perfect cross between a classic key lime pie and a traditional icebox cake. Best of all, it’s incredibly easy! You really don’t need any special culinary skills for this one, friends — just some Cool Whip, graham crackers, limes, and pudding mix. And since an icebox cake doesn’t require turning on the oven, it’s perfect for those who aren’t interested in baking an actual cake!

Folding cool whip into key lime pudding icebox cake filling.

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) and Nilla wafers, others (like this one) that use pudding in the layersThis particular recipe includes the classic flavors from a key lime pie (graham cracker crust, rich citrus custard, and creamy whipped topping), but makes the process easier by simply layering the ingredients in a 8-inch square dish. It has a soft, light, and fluffy texture and a rich, creamy, lime flavor!

Process shot showing how to make key lime cake with graham crackers.

Ingredients for a Key Lime Cake with Graham Crackers

This is just a quick overview of the simple ingredients that you’ll need for a pudding icebox cake. As always, specific measurements and step-by-step instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.

  • Cream cheese: make sure to use block-style, full-fat cream cheese for the best flavor and texture. Do not substitute with a tub of spreadable cream cheese.
  • French vanilla instant pudding mix: just the dry mix — do not prepare the pudding according to the package directions. This is an important ingredient in the recipe, as it helps the filling set.
  • Key lime juice: I use this bottled key lime juice, which I can find in my regular grocery store. You can also order it online. If you don’t have key lime juice, regular fresh lime juice or bottled lime juice works, too.
  • Milk: helps make the creamy filling. Do not use non-dairy milk, or the pudding might not set.
  • Lime zest: when grating the peel from the lime, make sure that you don’t scrape off any of the bitter white pith underneath. The outer layer of peel is where you’ll find all of the essential oils that provide the strong lime flavor. Use key lime zest if you’ve got it!
  • Cool whip: adds a light, fluffy, and creamy texture to the filling, and also acts as a nice topping on the finished dish.
  • Graham crackers: similar to the crust on a key lime pie, the layers of graham crackers provide great flavor and texture throughout the cake. Nilla wafers would also work really well!
Adding cool whip to the top of a key lime icebox cake.

How to Make Key Lime Pie Icebox Cake

This no bake key lime icebox cake is an easy recipe that comes together with just a handful of simple ingredients — and no oven or stovetop prep time! I’ve included the detailed directions in the recipe card below, but here’s the quick version:

  • Beat together the filling.
  • Fold in half of the Cool Whip.
  • Layer the pudding mix and graham crackers in a dish.
  • Spoon a layer of Cool Whip on top.
  • Chill overnight in the fridge, or freeze for at least 4 hours.
Side shot of key lime icebox cake in a glass dish on a turquoise rustic wood table.

Garnish and Serving Suggestions

Once the cake is chilled and set, slice it into squares and serve it immediately. If it’s frozen, you will need to let it sit out at room temperature for 15-20 minutes before you can easily cut through it. The frozen cake tastes like an ice cream cake, while the refrigerated cake is softer with a texture that more closely resembles key lime pie.

Garnish the cake with extra toppings, such as sliced strawberries, raspberries, or blackberries; fresh lime slices; fresh lime zest; or a dusting of green and yellow sprinkles (these sprinkles are particularly cute!).

Fork taking a bite of key lime pie icebox cake on a white plate.

Preparation and Storage Tips

  • Refrigerate the cake overnight or freeze for at least 4 hours. This allows the filling to firm up and set, and gives the graham crackers time to absorb the moisture and soften, taking on a cake-like texture.
  • Icebox cake needs to be refrigerated. Covered loosely and packed in an airtight container, it will last in the fridge for 3-4 days (but it’s best within the first two days).
  • Wrapped tightly, the key lime cake will keep in the freezer for up to 1 month. Just make sure that you allow the dish to sit on the counter at room temperature for about 15-20 minutes before slicing and serving. It will be firm, like an ice cream cake.
Side shot of no bake key lime cake on a table.

Recipe Variations

  • Instead of Cool Whip, prepare homemade whipped cream sweetened with powdered sugar to use in this recipe. You’ll need a total of about 3 ½ cups of whipped cream total.
  • Regular instant vanilla pudding mix (rather than the French vanilla flavor) will work fine. I just prefer the French vanilla because it has a yellowish color that more closely resembles the color of the custard filling in a true key lime pie.
  • I have not tested this recipe with sugar-free instant pudding mix or with sugar-free Cool Whip, but I imagine that those versions would work fine. Let me know if you give it a shot!
Close up side shot of a slice of key lime icebox cake in front of a black background.

Tips for the Best Key Lime Icebox Cake Recipe

  • Remember to thaw the Cool Whip before using it in this recipe. Cool Whip must be thawed in the fridge — not on the counter at room temperature.
  • You’ll need the smaller (3.4 ounce) box of instant pudding mix for this recipe. Make sure that you buy the instant mix or the filling will not set properly.
  • When grating the zest from the limes, be careful not to scrape off any of the bitter white pith underneath. The outer layer of peel is where you’ll find all of the essential oils that provide the strong lime flavor.
  • Make sure that you’re using a deep 8-inch square dish or baking dish with sides that measure about 2 ½ – 3 inches high. This way you’ll have plenty of room for the Cool Whip and garnishes on top.
  • Allow time for the cake to set. It will need at least 4 hours in the freezer, or overnight in the fridge.
Slice of key lime icebox cake on a white plate.

More No-Bake Dessert Recipes to Try

Old-Fashioned Icebox Cake

4 hours hrs 15 minutes mins

Easy Lemon Bars with Graham Cracker Crust

8 hours hrs 15 minutes mins

Ice Cream Sandwich Cake {Just 5 Ingredients!}

2 hours hrs 10 minutes mins

Fork taking a bite of key lime pie icebox cake on a white plate.

Key Lime Icebox Cake

5 from 1 vote
Prep: 20 minutes
Chilling Time 4 hours
Total: 4 hours 20 minutes
Servings 9 slices
Calories 238 kcal
This no-bake key lime icebox cake is a cool, creamy, and tangy dessert for summer!

Ingredients
  

  • 4 ounces (half of a block) cream cheese, softened at room temperature
  • 1 (3.4 ounce) box instant French vanilla pudding mix (just the dry mix – do not prepare the pudding according to package directions)
  • ¼ cup key lime juice (or sub with regular lime juice)
  • 1 ¼ cups milk
  • Zest from 2 small limes (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 1 (8 ounce) container Cool Whip, thawed, divided
  • 12 graham crackers (or more as needed)
  • Optional garnish: green sprinkles, lime zest, lime wedges, fresh berries

Instructions

  • In a large bowl, beat cream cheese with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 1 ½ – 2 minutes. Add the dry pudding mix and lime juice; mix until well combined. It will be very thick, which is fine! Gradually add the milk, mixing constantly, until the mixture is completely combined. It should look like a thick pudding at this point; a few little lumps are fine. Mix in the lime zest.
    Mixing key lime pudding with an electric mixer in a white mixing bowl.
  • Gently fold in half of the Cool Whip, being careful not to stir too vigorously, which will deflate the light, airy texture.
    Folding cool whip into key lime pudding icebox cake filling.
  • Spread about ¼ cup of the pudding mixture in a very thin layer in the bottom of a deep 8-inch square dish. Add a layer of graham crackers, breaking the crackers as needed.
    Process shot showing how to make key lime cake with graham crackers.
  • Spread ⅓ of the remaining pudding mixture on top of the graham crackers. Repeat with another layer of graham crackers, another layer of pudding, a final layer of graham crackers, and a final layer of pudding.
    Process shot showing how to spread pudding to make a key lime icebox cake.
  • Spread the remaining half of the Cool Whip on top.
    Adding cool whip to the top of a key lime icebox cake.
  • Freeze the icebox cake for at least 4 hours, or refrigerate overnight.
  • If frozen, allow the dish to sit on the counter for 15-20 minutes so that it softens slightly before you try to slice it. Garnish with optional toppings just before serving.
    Side shot of key lime icebox cake in a glass dish on a turquoise rustic wood table.

Notes

  • Remember to thaw the Cool Whip before using it in this recipe. Cool Whip must be thawed in the fridge — not on the counter at room temperature.
  • You’ll need the smaller (3.4 ounce) box of instant pudding mix for this recipe. Make sure that you buy the instant mix or the filling will not set properly.
  • When grating the zest from the limes, be careful not to scrape off any of the bitter white pith underneath. The outer layer of peel is where you’ll find all of the essential oils that provide the strong lime flavor.
  • Make sure that you’re using a deep 8-inch square dish or baking dish with sides that measure about 2 ½ – 3 inches high. This way you’ll have plenty of room for the Cool Whip and garnishes on top.
  • Allow time for the cake to set. It will need at least 4 hours in the freezer, or overnight in the fridge.
  • This recipe is adapted from this lemon icebox cake.

Nutrition

Serving: 1sliceCalories: 238kcalCarbohydrates: 33gProtein: 4gFat: 10gSaturated Fat: 6gPolyunsaturated Fat: 0.4gMonounsaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0.03gCholesterol: 16mgSodium: 264mgPotassium: 131mgFiber: 1gSugar: 21gVitamin A: 225IUVitamin C: 2mgCalcium: 86mgIron: 1mg
Keyword: key lime cake, key lime cake with graham crackers, key lime icebox cake, key lime pie icebox cake, no bake dessert
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Author: Blair Lonergan
blair

Hey, I’m Blair!

Welcome to my farmhouse kitchen in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Inspired by local traditions and seasonal fare, you’ll find plenty of easy, comforting recipes that bring your family together around the table. It’s down-home, country-style cooking!

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Comments

    1. Hi, Sue! Yes, ma’am! Here’s my suggestion:

      Instead of Cool Whip, prepare homemade whipped cream sweetened with powdered sugar to use in this recipe. You’ll need a total of about 3 ½ cups of whipped cream total.

      Hope you enjoy!

  1. 5 stars
    This was absolutely delicious! And not difficult to throw together. We used regular limes for the zest and juice, and it was just fine. Highly recommend this for summer cookout dessert!