No whipping, stirring, or baking required.

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Though she's a skilled cook, my mom's baking efforts typically begin with a box. But one year, in preparation for the Christmas Eve meal we share with our large extended family, she tried her hand at a decadent chocolate-almond torte. For what seemed like hours, she labored over the sophisticated sweet, whisking egg whites, stirring ganache, and methodically coating the outer layer in thin, slivered almonds. It was undeniably beautiful—a baking triumph. Even so, my mom knew we kids would turn up our noses at a dessert covered in nuts, so she also hastily threw together an ice cream sandwich cake for us, alternating layers of mini ice cream sandwiches and Cool Whip in a cake pan before finishing it with a decorative drizzle of hot fudge and a sprinkle of festive M&Ms.

What happened the next day at our Christmas Eve lunch has since become something of family folklore.

Ice Cream Sandwich Cake
Credit: Caitlin Bensel

Just as my mom had anticipated, the sticky-fingered, picky-eater occupants of the kids' table shirked the nutty torte in favor of the frozen concoction. What she hadn't expected was that nearly all the adults would follow suit, leaving the chocolate-almond torte to languish on the sideboard as they dug into fudge-y, frozen layers of Cool Whip and ice cream sandwiches instead. Only my grandmother helped herself to an ambitious slice of the torte—a quietly magnanimous acknowledgement of the time and effort her youngest daughter had put into it.

The chocolate almond torte has never again graced our Christmas Eve table, but my mom's on-the-fly ice cream sandwich cake—and the recounting of my saintly grandmother's thoughtful gesture—make an appearance every single year.

Here's how to get in on our accidental holiday dessert tradition:

Our Christmas Eve ice cream sandwich cake is fairly similar to this one, though my mom skips the homemade whipped cream in favor of Cool Whip and trades the cookie crumbles for festive M&Ms. Her dessert requires only four ingredients and just a few minutes of active assembly time: Place a layer of mini ice cream sandwiches (we like Blue Bell) in a 9x13 cake pan, then top with a layer of Cool Whip topping. Add another layer of mini ice cream sandwiches, then cover in Cool Whip topping. Drizzle hot fudge on top, and sprinkle with red and green M&Ms for a festive touch. Pop in the freezer until the whipped topping is frozen, then serve.

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