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The no-bake summer cake, perfect for your final cookouts

Pastry chef Chris Works makes an icebox cake at Red's Table using key lime and pistachio. (WTOP/Rachel Nania)

WASHINGTON — Come August, the thought of spending an afternoon reaching in and out of a hot oven to test the doneness of cookies, or rotate a tray of cakes, is enough to send homecooks into a total meltdown.

But here’s some sweet news: Thanks to homemakers in the World War I era, there’s a cake you can whip up with very few ingredients, minimal effort and absolutely no heat.

It’s called an icebox cake.

Simply put: “It’s that whipped cream and chocolate cookie cake that everyone’s grandma made,” said Chris Works, pastry chef at Red’s Table in Reston, Virginia.

Works is a fan of the summer-friendly dessert. He’s had it on his menu for the past two years, and customers won’t let him take it off. This summer, Works is making a key lime and pistachio icebox cake. The traditional version is much simpler, but either is sure to win over a crowd at your final summer cookouts and block parties.

“Classically you buy those thin, chocolate wafers that aren’t very good by themselves — in the grocery store, they’re like $1 a box, or something like that. And then it’s just whipped cream and you layer them and you let it sit in the fridge for a few hours and it soaks up all the moisture and becomes very cakelike,” Works said.

“It’s a great little summer dessert.”

Some recipe developers jazz the cake up with berries or graham crackers. Others keep it simple with just four ingredients and a loaf pan.

No matter what recipe you settle on, Works said just make sure you allow yourself time. An icebox cake doesn’t require a lot of labor, but it does need to sit in the fridge for several hours to reach, what he calls, its “cream cake” consistency — “that true, mushy, cookie, layered dessert.”

Works’ recipe (below) does require an oven, since he makes his cookies from scratch. So if you can stand the heat and want to get in the kitchen, give it a try.

Prefer to keep the oven off? Bon Appétit and Serious Eats have icebox cake instructions, as well.


Key Lime and Pistachio Icebox Cake
Courtesy Chris Works, pastry chef at Red’s Table

Pistachio Shortbread

  • 50 grams pistachios
  • 30 grams sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 113 grams room-temperature butter
  • 120 grams all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. In a food processor, grind pistachios, sugar and salt until they look sandy in texture.
  2. Add the butter to the food processor. Pulse until the mixture is combined and scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula. Pulse the mixture again to incorporate any unmixed ingredients scraped from the sides.
  3. Add the flour and vanilla and mix until a dough forms.
  4. Roll the dough out between two sheets of parchment paper about ¼-inch thick and refrigerate until firm.
  5. Cut the dough to fit in your chosen mold and bake at 325 degrees for 12 to 14 minutes.

Key Lime Curd

  • 125 grams key lime juice
  • 75 grams sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 113 grams cold butter, diced
  • Zest of 1 lime
  1. Combine juice, sugar and eggs in a heat-safe bowl, beat the eggs well.
  2. Cook gently over a double boiler, whisking regularly, until the mixture thickens.
  3. Remove from the double boiler and add lime zest and one-third of the butter. Whisk until the butter is fully incorporated and repeat with the remaining two-thirds of butter.
  4. Press plastic wrap against the curd and place in the refrigerator until cold.

Lime Cream

  • 1 batch of lime curd
  • 250 grams heavy whipping cream
  • 2 sheets silver gelatin
  1. Bloom gelatin in ice water until softened. Once soft, wring out any extra water.
  2. Whip the cream until it is stiff and will hold its shape.
  3. Gently warm one-fourth of the curd over a double boiler with the gelatin; whisk until the gelatin is fully melted.
  4. Add the remaining curd in thirds, whisking quickly to avoid chunks of set gelatin.
  5. Gently fold in one-third of the whipped cream, incorporating fully before repeating with the remaining cream.
  6. Pour into a mold on top of shortbread and allow it to set fully in the refrigerator (three to four hours) before unmolding.
  7. Garnish and serve with fresh raspberries, toasted pistachios and white chocolate bits.


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