When Bobbie Crew was growing up, her favorite treat was her mom’s lemon icebox pie.
The pie was far from fancy: It consisted of a vanilla wafer crust cupping a cool pool of custard-like filling made with sweetened condensed milk and lemon juice. It didn’t bake in the oven — it set in the refrigerator.
Crew, who lives in Lee’s Summit, Mo., and blogs about vegan food at TheVeganCrew.com, now makes a dairy-free version of her mom’s lemon icebox pie with soy milk.
“It’s very silky and smooth,” Crew says. And like all icebox pies, it’s exceptionally sweet on hot summer days.
Icebox pies and cakes gained popularity between 1930 and 1950, when refrigerators became fixtures of American kitchens, according to the book Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson. Most were made by topping a simple crust with a no-bake filling, then chilling the dessert in the refrigerator or freezer for several hours.
Because they’re easy to assemble, icebox pies are often considered “cheat” recipes by serious pie bakers, says Meg Heriford, owner and operator of Ladybird Diner in Lawrence, Kansas.
“I’m totally into icebox pie,” Heriford says, “but it’s not really pie. It’s chilled dessert in a shell.”
Heriford makes a mean chocolate icebox pie, but her favorite recipe is “Millionaire Pie,” an everything-but-the-kitchen sink dessert made by mixing whipped cream with cherries, nuts, coconut, pineapple and canned mandarin oranges.
Most old-school icebox pie and cake recipes are seductively simple, but in the new book Icebox Cakes, you’ll find multistep recipes that feature homemade cookies, graham crackers and wafers.
New York-based co-author Jessie Sheehan developed many of the recipes with her favorite childhood treats in mind: The Marshmallow-Peanut Butter icebox cake was inspired by Fluffernutter sandwiches, and Peppermint-Chocolate is a nod to Baskin-Robbins’ mint chocolate chip ice cream.
Sheehan says icebox cakes are always a hit with her dinner guests, and they make entertaining easy because they’re made hours or even a day ahead of time.
“I like to get a lot done before anyone arrives,” she says. “I love these cakes because that aspect of the dinner party is taken off my plate.”
Sheehan says icebox cakes also freeze well. She recommends letting them set up in the refrigerator first so that the dry components (cookies, wafers, graham crackers) have time to absorb moisture from the filling. Icebox cakes made with homemade cookies take longer to set than cakes made with store-bought cookies, she adds. Most of the recipes in “Icebox Cakes” are best when they chill in the fridge for 24 hours.
Some cakes are even better after two days in the fridge, Sheehan says, “but I wouldn’t go longer than two days.”
Icebox Cake Tips
▪ Icebox cakes are best made a day in advance, but most should be eaten within two to three days.
▪ Never layer a pudding-based icebox cake with cookies, because the cookies will get mushy. “Cookies go with whipped cream,” author Jessie Sheehan says, “and pudding goes with graham crackers or ladyfingers.”
▪ Decorate icebox cake right before serving or the toppings might sink.
▪ Freshly whipped cream makes for the best icebox cakes.
▪ To make individual icebox cakes, layer ingredients in a Mason jar, chill, then serve the jarred desserts in a bucket of ice.
▪ For recipes that require a springform pan, remove the outer ring just before serving. Don’t use a springform pan to contain icebox cakes with runny pudding and caramel layers: The structure could collapse.
BLUEBERRY REFRIGERATOR PIE
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 pint blueberries, plus 1/2 pint for topping
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons arrowroot powder or cornstarch
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Grated zest of one lemon
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 cups ricotta cheese, at room temperature
Graham cracker crust, store-bought or homemade
Melt the butter in a medium-size saucepan. Add the blueberries and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, until the berries begin to release their juices. Mix together the sugar and starch in a small bowl. Stir into the blueberry mixture, then add the lemon juice and zest and cook 5 minutes longer, until the mixture thickens and becomes jammy. Remove from the heat and stir in the cream cheese and ricotta.
Transfer the mixture to a food processor or blender and puree for about 1 minute, until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Pour the blueberry and cheese mixture into the prepared crust. Arrange the half-pint of blueberries evenly over the surface of the pie, then refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight. Serve chilled. Makes one 9-inch deep-dish pie.
Per serving: (one-eighth of pie) 454 calories (52 percent from fat), 27 g fat (14 g saturated), 66 mg cholesterol, 44 g carbohydrates, 11 g protein, 310 mg sodium, 2 g fiber.
Source: “A Year of Pies: A Seasonal Tour of Home Baked Pies” (Lark, 2012).
PEANUT BUTTER PIE
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup peanut butter
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup heavy cream, whipped (about 3 cups)
1 (9-inch) graham cracker crust, store-bought or homemade
2 tablespoons chocolate syrup
Place the cream cheese in a large bowl and beat with a hand mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy. Add the sweetened condensed milk and peanut butter and beat until well blended. Stir in the lemon juice and vanilla. Fold in the whipped cream. Pour into the graham cracker crust. Drizzle with chocolate syrup, then refrigerate for several hours. Makes 6 servings.
Per serving: 953 calories (60 percent from fat), 66 g fat (28 g saturated), 118 mg cholesterol, 77 g carbohydrates, 22 g protein, 642 mg sodium, 3 g fiber.
Source: “Southern Cooking for Company” (Thomas Nelson, 2015).
2 cups heavy whipping cream
6 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 1/2 (9-ounce) packages chocolate wafers, about 60 wafers
1 (4-ounce) semisweet chocolate baking bar, finely chopped
1/4 cup hot fudge sauce, warmed
2 (1.4-ounce) chocolate-covered toffee candy bars, chopped
Beat whipping cream at high speed with an electric mixer until foamy; gradually add powdered sugar, beating until soft peaks form. Spoon whipped cream into a zip-top plastic freezer bag. Snip one corner of the bag to make a hole about 1 inch in diameter.
Arrange one-third of the chocolate wafers in the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan; pipe one-third of the whipped cream over the wafers, spreading evenly with a spatula. Sprinkle with one-third of the semisweet chocolate. Repeat layers twice, then cover and chill for 24 hours. Drizzle with fudge sauce and sprinkle with toffee candy bars just before serving. Makes 8 servings.
Per serving: 591 calories (55 percent from fat), 37 g fat (20 g saturated), 93 mg cholesterol, 63 g carbohydrates, 6 g protein, 335 mg sodium, 2 g fiber.
Source: “The Southern Pie Book” (Oxmoor House, 2013).