When strawberries are involved, all other desserts just take a back seat.
Sun-ripened, straight from the patch strawberries were made for springtime desserts. And, when paired with another fruit, they get even better. Strawberry season in the South is tragically way too short. This sweet gem suddenly appears at farmers’ markets and U-Pick farms and then, before you have time to say “strawberry shortcake,” the best and the brightest are gone. Which is why you need to be armed with your strawberry recipes the minute the season hits; head to the market in the morning and spend the weekend making seasonal favorites such as ice box pies, strawberry cakes, jams and preserves. Given the popularity of strawberries, it comes as no surprise that the most popular Southern Living recipe last month was the Strawberry-Banana Pudding Icebox Cake.
How do we love this recipe? Let’s count the ways. First, it combines two all-time favorite fruits – strawberries and bananas. Is it a banana pudding with strawberries, or a strawberry cakewith bananas? Either way, the two fruits blend beautifully to create a cool and creamy warm-weather dessert. Next, we nixed the traditional vanilla wafers that usually accompany a banana pudding and instead used crispy graham cracker squares, another throwback favorite, to add some cake-like texture to the dessert.
The cooked custard, another reason to love this recipe, is seriously good enough to eat straight out of the saucepan, right after you have whisked in the butter and lemon zest. It would be so good, so very good, served warm, topped with crumbled gingersnap cookies. For this application, however, resist the urge to dig in and proceed with the recipe, for how can you have banana pudding if you have eaten all the pudding?
Another reason this recipe was an immediate hit could be found in the name – “icebox cake.” Long before electricity made its way to the rural areas of the South, people stored blocks of ice in their icebox in order to keep foods cold. Icebox pies and cakes don’t require much cooking, usually just a few minutes on the stovetop is all that is needed, then the dessert is stored in the icebox until time to eat. Cooks enjoy making icebox cakes and pies because you don’t have to heat up the kitchen, and everyone enjoys eating them because they are so refreshing. The name itself, icebox cake, implies that this is the supreme treat for a warm, languid afternoon.
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The Strawberry-Banana Pudding Icebox Cake is a good choice if you need a recipe that can be made in advance. It needs to chill at least 4 hours, but you can make it up to two days ahead.