An easy dessert that shows its stripes. 

The Every Kitchen

Envision a festive slab of Zebra Icebox Cake on a steamy Southern day. What’s not to love, especially when it’s crazy easy, includes chocolate, and looks like we paid attention in geometry?

This cake is assembled, not baked, by layering chocolate wafers spread with sweet, vanilla-scented whipped cream into the shape of a cake or by stacking them into a tower that is then turned on its side and slipped into a loaf pan. Some people get all fancy and augment the vanilla with a couple of drops of mint flavoring or Kahlua, but purists tsk.

During a big chill, the cookies absorb enough cream to soften and coalesce into a firm, but tender, icebox cake. Each slice reveals impressive black and white stripes worthy of a bakery window with a taste reminiscent of an ice cream sandwich or timeless chocolate cookies with a cold glass of milk. Even though most homemade assemblages aren’t as precise as seen in photos, they’re plenty impressive, and people shouldn’t complain with their mouths full.

“Ice box” is the charming name used to describe old-fashioned, creamy desserts that are chilled instead of baked. Ice box cakes were once considered to be examples of modern sophistication in cooking and were served as posh party food. Believe me, when you taste this cake, it will feel like a party.

WATCH: No-Bake Key Lime Icebox Cake

There are recipes for zebra cake with homemade chocolate cookies, but the truth is that the best renditions take advantage of store-bought paper-thin “Famous Chocolate Wafers” from Nabisco. These fragile, wafer-thin cookies seem special and exotic, perhaps because almost all grocery stores inexplicably display them with the ice cream toppings instead of with other packaged cookies. This ingredient is so integral that some recipes for Zebra Cake are called Nabisco’s Famous Chocolate Refrigerator Roll, its creator.

The National Biscuit Company (Nabisco, get it?) started selling wafer cookies in 1924, packaging chocolate with ginger and sugar. They soon switched to all chocolate. In a 1929 ad, Nabisco introduced the idea of layering the wafers with whipped cream. A year later, the recipe was printed on each tin of wafer. Yes, the wafers once came in a tin, which makes me wonder who was the first enterprising cook to tuck the stacks back into that tin to form an icebox cake roll. No matter who was first, you should be next.

Some kitchen regulars have evolved the Zebra Cake into something worthy of a cake stand. We love how Danielle from The Every Kitchen stacked her wafers high to create a layer cake.

Chocolate Wafer Zebra Cake

Makes 8 servings

3 cups whipping cream, chilled
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 (9-oz.) package Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers

  • Line a loaf pan with plastic wrap or mist with cooking spray to aid in release.
  • Whip cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla to soft peaks in a chilled bowl.
  • Spread a thin layer of cream along the bottom and up the sides of a loaf pan. Spread the cookies with cream to form stacks of 9 to 11 cookies, depending on the width of the pan. Turn the stack on its side and place crosswise in the pan. Repeat to make two more stacks, which should fill the pan.  Cover the stacks with the rest of the cream.
  • Cover and refrigerate until deeply chilled, at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.
  • Turn cake out onto a platter and remove plastic wrap, if used. Smooth any dislodged cream and place in freezer for 30 minutes or until firm enough to slice. Slice while frozen, but let stand a few minutes to return to lightly chilled before serving.