Article and photo by Lisa Crockett
I love cake. All kinds of cake. But the dog days of summer don’t exactly make me long to turn on the oven. This time of year usually has me pulling out the ice cream maker to whip up a batch of something cold and homemade. Or perhaps just slicing some chilled watermelon to chase away the heat of the day.
But sometimes only cake will do. Luckily, about 100 years ago, someone got the ingenious idea to make something called an “icebox cake.” A cousin to sophisticated European desserts like tiramisu, these desserts are decidedly American and rely on pre-made, processed ingredients. It’s hard to argue with the delicious results that they produce, though. Most icebox cakes are a pairing of a cracker or cookie and some sort of moist, custardy filling. Combine those two things, along with a little time in the fridge, and you’ve got a delicious treat that doesn’t require the use of an oven.
Famous Wafers – crispy chocolate cookies made by Nabisco – have a flavor reminiscent of an Oreo, and they make one terrific and easy icebox dessert. In fact, when I served this cake, the “Famous Chocolate Refrigerator Roll” to my kids, they immediately dubbed it the “Oreo Cake.” Sandwiched between layers of whipped cream, the cookies soak up the moisture and become light, fluffy and cakey. The cake is made by spreading whipped cream on the wafers and then forming them into a log by standing them on edge. The log is then frosted with the remaining whipped cream and put in the fridge to chill. The whole process is a little messy, but takes almost no time (and I give you permission to lick your fingers clean once you’re done!) If you cut the log at an angle, you get an impressive layered effect, suitable for serving at a fancy affair.
An added benefit to this dessert is that it allows for a myriad of interpretations. Add a bit of mint flavoring to the whipped cream instead of the called-for vanilla, and you’ve got a chocolate mint cake. Whip in some strawberry preserves to add a pretty-pink tinge, then garnish it with strawberries and blueberries for something both delicious and patriotic. Garnish the cake with mini chocolate chips, chocolate shavings, fresh fruit, or chocolate syrup to add flavor and visual appeal.
I usually like this cake best in its original form, though I do sweeten the cream lightly. The original recipe, likely formulated just after the wafers appeared on store shelves in the 1920s, doesn’t call for sugar in the whipped cream, but I add about three tablespoons of powdered sugar to the whipped cream mixture anyway. This recipe is so easy, I can make it from memory, and have done so on more than one out-of-town trip. As long as you’re in a kitchen equipped with an electric hand mixer and a fridge, you’re ready to impress your guests.
It’s a great way to have your cake and eat it too. Even on a hot day.
Famous Chocolate Refrigerator Roll
2 Cups Whipping Cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 package (9 ounces) Famous Chocolate Wafers (available in the cookie aisle at most grocery stores)
Beat cream with mixer on high speed until stiff peaks form, gently stir in vanilla. Spread a teaspoon and a half of whipped cream on each wafer; stack, then stand on edge on a platter. Frost with remaining whipped cream. Refrigerate at least four hours (in my experience, six to eight hours is better). Cut into diagonal slices and serve.
Some variations to try:
Add three or four tablespoons of powdered sugar to the whipped cream during the whipping process for a little added sweetness.
Replace half the vanilla with mint extract.
Whip a cup of strawberry jam or preserves into the whipped cream before spreading on cookies.
Add a tablespoon and a half of Kahlúa and a tablespoon of instant espresso powder to the whipped cream mixture.