“When you taste this dessert, you will taste your childhood.” These are the words Tony used to describe this Old-Fashioned Icebox Cake at a recent dinner event where we served this dessert, and I couldn’t have said it better myself.

One bite of this cake immediately transports one back to a simpler time in life when things were easier, time moved slower and treats like cookies and cream were the big win of the day. Ah, the good old days.

Thankfully, food is a wonderful way to reconnect to our youth. This classic dessert had all our guests swooning, both from nostalgia and the sweet indulgence of cake. Even better, this Old-Fashioned Icebox Cake is easy to make — I have hardly ever had to do so little to create a cake that tastes, and looks, this delicious.

Icebox cakes originated around the time of World War I, and this simple dessert consists of chocolate wafer cookies and whipped cream. In 1924, in response to the rising popularity of this dessert, the Nabisco company introduced their Famous Chocolate Wafer Cookies with great success; however, this once-common cookie is becoming harder and harder to find in stores, and this is how I came to discover the magic of icebox cake.

Chocolate Wafer Cookies are delicious on their own and thin enough that you'll never stop at just one cookie. Meagan Deanne / The Forum
Chocolate Wafer Cookies are delicious on their own and thin enough that you'll never stop at just one cookie. Meagan Deanne / The Forum

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live

Last winter, during Bernbaum’s moving hiatus, I was craving their amazing chocolate babka bread so much that I decided to replicate it at home. I searched online until I found a recipe from Food and Wine magazine that resembled their version. That recipe included a chocolate cookie crumb filling, and I was crushed to find that the Nabisco cookies were no longer on the market.

So, I started searching for a recipe to make the cookies from scratch and found two that I tested, and one that I loved, from the popular food blog smittenkitchen.com. My babka turned out beautifully, and as a bonus I’d fallen in love with a new cookie that was just begging me to play with it.

While researching these cookies, I learned about their use in icebox cakes — another new dessert for me. Thin, crispy and rich with chocolate, these cookies are perfect on their own, but when layered between heaps of whipped cream and refrigerated overnight, they transform into a tender, moist and utterly delicious chocolate cake. This is the ultimate cookies-and-cream experience.

For such a spectacular cookie, these chocolate wafers are surprisingly easy to make, and if you have a food processor, you can whip up a batch of chocolate cookie dough in about 10 minutes. The dough is rolled into a log about 12 to 14 inches long, depending on what size cookie you desire, and then wrapped in wax paper and refrigerated for at least an hour before slicing into thin cookies. The dough log will keep in the refrigerator for up to one week, and the cookies, once baked, can be stored at room temperature for at least two weeks or frozen for several months, so that you can have them on hand whenever you’re craving a little youthful indulgence.

Once chilled, for best results use a sharp knife to slice the cookie dough log into thin cookies no more than an eighth of an inch thick. Meagan Deanne / The Forum
Once chilled, for best results use a sharp knife to slice the cookie dough log into thin cookies no more than an eighth of an inch thick. Meagan Deanne / The Forum

We may not be able to recapture our youth, but we can revisit it with this week’s Old-Fashioned Icebox Cake and Chocolate Wafer Cookies.

ARCHIVE: Read more Lost Italian columns and recipes

Old-Fashioned Icebox Cake

Ingredients:

5 dozen Chocolate Wafer Cookies (see recipe below)

2 ½ cups heavy whipping cream

¼ cup sugar

2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

Directions:

Line an 8-inch square baking dish with aluminum foil, leaving at least 3 inches hanging over each end. Repeat with 2 layers of plastic wrap, pressing it firmly into the corners of the dish; set aside.

In a large bowl, add the whipping cream, sugar, vanilla and salt. Use a stand or handheld mixer to whip the mixture on medium-high until firm peaks are achieved. Use an offset spatula or flat spreading knife and spread a half-inch layer of the whipped cream evenly over the bottom of the lined dish. Next, place a layer of chocolate wafer cookies atop the whipped cream, breaking some into pieces if there are large gaps between the cookies.

Repeat steps until you have 4 layers of cookies and 5 layers of whipped cream in total. Cover top of dish with plastic wrap, being careful not to touch the surface of the cake, and refrigerate overnight or at least 12 hours. You will need 4 to 4 ½ dozen cookies for this cake.

When ready to serve, crush the remaining chocolate cookies into crumbs and sprinkle over the top of the cake until evenly distributed. Carefully lift the cake from the pan and peel the sides of the foil and plastic liner down. Cut into slices as desired and serve with fresh fruit and/or ice cream. Leftover cake should be covered or transferred to an airtight container and will keep in the fridge for 3 to 4 days.

Sarah’s Tip:

  • You can alter the shape and size of an icebox cake by using a loaf pan, cupcake molds and rectangular pans.

For easy removal, line the cake pan with a layer of aluminum foil followed by two layers of plastic wrap. Meagan Deanne / The Forum
For easy removal, line the cake pan with a layer of aluminum foil followed by two layers of plastic wrap. Meagan Deanne / The Forum

Chocolate Wafer Cookies

Adapted from a recipe at smittenkitchen.com

Ingredients:

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon baking soda

1 ¾ sticks unsalted butter (14 tablespoons), cut into 12 to 14 pieces

3 tablespoons milk (2% or whole)

2 teaspoons+ pure vanilla extract

Directions:

In the bowl of a food processor, add the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, salt and baking soda and pulse until fully combined, about 12 to 15 times. Add the butter and pulse several times until well combined.

In a small cup, combine the milk and vanilla. Turn the processor on and add the milk mixture through the feed tube. Let the processor run until the dough begins to bind together around the center and sides of the bowl. Transfer dough to a large bowl and knead several times to ensure that all ingredients are incorporated.

Shape the dough into a log and then, on a clean work surface, use your hands to roll the log until it is about 14 inches long. Wrap the log in wax paper or foil and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour or until needed. The dough can stay in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Line baking sheets with a parchment paper. To form the cookies, place the chilled dough log on a cutting board and use a sharp knife to cut the log into thin cookies, approximately 1/8 to ¼-inch thick. Place the cut cookies on the lined baking sheets about 1 inch apart, as they will spread as they bake. Bake for a total of 12 to 15 minutes, rotating the baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back after 7 minutes. The cookies will puff up slightly as they bake, and then deflate; they are done about 1 ½ to 2 minutes after they deflate.

Transfer the cookies to a wire cooling and cool completely. The cookies will continue to crisp up as they cool, and if they appear too soft, return them to the oven and bake until they reach the desired crispiness, usually about 2 to 3 minutes. To maintain their crispy texture, these cookies are best stored in a tin or metal container as plastic will cause them to soften. Store in a cookie tin at room temperature for up to 2 weeks, or freeze for 2 to 3 months.

Recipe Time Capsule:

This week in...

“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.