A dessert that lets the fridge do most of the work

Key Lime Icebox Cake
Credit: Photo: Hector M Sanchez; Prop Stylist: Heather Chadduck; Food Stylist: Vanessa Rocchio

Icebox cakes. The name alone recalls sticky, summer days made a bit more comfortable by the cool creaminess of this favored dessert. Long before electricity brought modern refrigeration to the rural South, an innovative homemaker stirred leftover cookies together with sweetened cream and kept the dish cool and firm in the icebox until she could serve it to her family. The icebox cake, a direct descendent of Charlottes and Trifles, was, like a lot of other nostalgic desserts, created out of a need to use up whatever food items were in the kitchen.

An icebox cake is not only the easiest dessert you will ever make, it is oftentimes the first dessert a novice cook will attempt. Layer chocolate wafers with whipped cream, freeze, and, if you are really ambitious, drizzle chocolate sauce and sprinkle peanuts across before serving. Bam! You have an awesome dessert that will impress your friends. Now that the basic icebox cake is mastered, you'll be motivated to try more adventurous recipes.

Choose Your Cookie
Ladyfingers are often used for icebox cakes, like in this Southern-inspired spin on the classic Tiramisu. However, using store-bought cookies add a fun and convenient twist to an icebox cake. Chocolate cookie wafers or crispy spice cookies form a fantastic base for lighter whipped fillings, while the traditional Graham crackers are a good choice for thicker custards.

Now for the Filling
If you are using a whipped cream filling, think about adding a touch of extra flavoring. A little vanilla extract for a classic twist, some lemon zest for a citrus twang, or for a coffee-flavored filling, dissolve a little espresso powder in a tablespoon of hot water, let cool, then stir into the whipped topping. You get the idea? A simple addition to sweetened whipped cream will go a long way in creating a delicious, but unique, dessert. Many icebox cakes, like this indulgent Chocolate-Bourbon-Butterscotch Icebox Cake, call for a cooked filling—a simple pudding of eggs, sugar, and flavorings, cooked and thickened on the stovetop, and then chilled before layering with the cookies. If you think a key lime pie is the ultimate summer treat, try this Key Lime Icebox Cake. And here is a tip for spreading the filling, whether it is the whipped or pudding variety: use a spatula to spread it evenly across the cookies, as you don't want it pooling up in one area. You want a nice, level surface for the next layer of cookies.

Chill Out—It's Really the Hardest Part
Once you have assembled your icebox cake, put it in the fridge or freezer, according to the recipe instructions. And wait. And wait some more. You want the filling to get really cold and firm, all the while softening the cookies so you can slice through them with ease when your wait is finally over. One more tip: warm your serving knife under hot water, dry it off, then make a clean slice. Do this for each cut.

So what are you waiting for? Choose an easy recipe that you can make up as you go—cookies, whipped topping, garnish—or something a little more elaborate. Either way, your summer days are about to get a bit cooler.