Delicious cakes without an oven

Jessie and JeanJessie Sheehan got her start in the world of sweets at Baked in NYC. She currently works as a freelance recipe tester, editor, and developer, and is the head recipe developer for all of the Baked cookbooks. Jean Sagendorph is an ice box cake expert. She can make a cake with one arm tied behind her back and has mastered the use of the fork as both a vertical and horizontal tool. When not being silly, or wielding her mixer, Jean is a literary agent and author. Jessie and Jean came together to create the recently-released Icebox Cakes: Recipes for the Coolest Cakes in Town. (You can enter our contest for a chance to win a copy of the book.) Find out more about the book, and these cool cakes, in our author Q&A:

Can you explain to non-US members what an icebox cake is and what is the history of this dessert?

An icebox cake is a dessert that never sees the inside of an oven. Instead, cookies (or ladyfingers or graham crackers) are layered with whipped cream (or pudding) and placed in the refrigerator where the cakey ingredient absorbs the moist ingredient creating a final dish that is cake-like.

Icebox cakes can be traced back to the early 1800s in France. Marie-Antoine Careme's charlotte is well-documented in his cookbook, The Royal Parisian Pastry Cook and Confectioner. The icebox cake that we more commonly know really took off in 1920s America with the advent of National Biscuit Company's (now known as Nabisco) Famous Chocolate Wafers.

Icebox cakes would seem to be a great do-ahead dessert for parties and entertaining. How long do icebox cakes last once assembled?

Icebox cakes are a fantastic do-ahead dessert for many reasons. First, an icebox cake made with homemade ingredients (like the ones in our book) actually needs 24 hours to set up in the refrigerator once it is assembled, allowing you to make your cake a day (or even two) before you want to serve it to guests. Second, icebox cakes freeze beautifully, offering those plan-ahead types the opportunity to make a dessert three weeks before the guests arrive. To freeze an icebox cake, after allowing it to set up in the fridge for 24 hours, carefully wrap it in plastic wrap and freeze for up to three weeks. Allow the cake to defrost in the fridge for at least 8 hours before serving.

How labor-intensive are the recipes and can store-bought ingredients be substituted, e.g. for the cookie layers?

Making icebox cakes with homemade ingredients does take longer than making them with store-bought ingredients, but only a bit longer than it takes to make cookies from scratch (the homemade pudding and whipped creams come together in a jif). And here's the thing, desserts always taste better when assembled with homemade ingredients.

Although the recipes may look long, they are super simple and easy to follow. All that said, substituting is totally fine, and we even make suggestions in the book for various brands of store-bought cookies, graham crackers and ladyfingers that will make an excellent icebox cake.

What is your favorite recipe in the book?

Jessie's favorite recipe in the book is a tie between the Marshmallow Peanut Butter (which tastes like the most amazing fluffer-nutter sandwich you've ever had) and the Black and White Malted (think of a malted vanilla milkshake with chocolate syrup in cake-form). Jean favors the Old School (it appeals to her love of Oreos) and the Raspberry Ganache because raspberries and chocolate work together like Fred and Ginger.

strawberry lemon icebox cakeWere there any experiments that you tried that didn't work as icebox cakes?

Jean remembered having a spectacular dessert in California with mascarpone and figs, and so Jessie tried desperately to develop an icebox cake with a mascarpone whipped cream and a fig compote of sorts, but to no avail - and off-season it was insanely expensive to produce. Jessie also tried to launch a pear icebox cake, but once layered in the cake, the pears never softened enough (not a big surprise) in the fridge - even when poached prior to cake assembly.

With July 4th approaching, which of your recipes are best suited to a red white and blue theme?

The Red Velvet cake is a perfect red and white cake that you could easily decorate with blueberries to create a fun red, white, and blue cake. The Lavender-Blueberry and the Raspberry Ganache aren't exactly red, but they are very colorful. The Strawberry Lemon (pictured right) is also a perfect early-summer dessert, with strawberries still around in many farmers' markets, and you could top the cake with some blueberries for the full Americana experience. The S'mores cake is not red, white, and blue per se, but what summer BBQ is complete without a s'more?

Icebox cakes would seem to be summer desserts but are there any recipes that are suited to other holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas?

Absolutely, given the spices, the Chai Ginger is the perfect dessert for Thanksgiving and the Peppermint Chocolate makes for a spectacular Christmas dessert.

I see from your bios that Jessie is a baker and Jean is a literary agent. How did you divide the book writing duties between you?

Jessie is a recipe developer and blogger who has worked with the guys from Baked for many years and Jean is a literary and licensing agent who worked with Food Network for more than a decade , as well as being free labor in the various bars and eateries that her family owned. Jessie primarily worked on the recipe development (especially when the pistachio paste threatened to make Jean go nuts, pun intended) and Jean focused on the writing, but each had a hand in the whole process, they probably should have given Dropbox a shout-out in the book.

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