When it comes to summer desserts, my philosophy is always more is more. I love desserts laden with sweet summer fruits picked at their peak and topped with softly whipped cream, ice cream sandwiches dipped in crunchy nuts (served with extra sprinkles), s’mores done up with sticky marshmallows and drippy chocolate—the whole shebang, if you will. After all, summer’s the season of being a little bit extra. Extra flavors, extra textures, and extra color, if it’s your thing. As we kick off no-oven summer, I’m taking this approach into the season with one of my favorite summer party tricks: the slightly retro but always crowd-pleasing icebox cake. And in the spirit of being extra this summer, we’re taking the classic up a notch with my lemon icebox cake.
I consider myself a bit of an icebox cake aficionado—especially after my mango and cardamom version hit viral status. So it only felt right to make a cake that screams summer with the flavor-packed hit of lemon. This recipe is no-bake, uses minimal ingredients, and it makes the most of store-bought shortcuts. Trust me, you’re about to be everyone’s favorite summer party guest.
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What is an icebox cake?
I don’t remember when I had my first icebox cake, but I do recall the flavors. Thin chocolate wafers sandwiched between whipped cream and served up in slices. That was it, and that’s the exact beauty of an icebox cake. The simple recipe layers cookies of your choice between soft clouds of whipped cream. Then it sits in the fridge to set, allowing the cookies to soften and the cream to firm up so that the whole thing becomes sliceable. Sounds like magic, right?
Because of the simplicity, there’s no shortage of variations on the traditional icebox cake. It’s incredibly forgiving. Once I didn’t properly freeze my cake and ended up just spooning blobs of the cake into bowls for dessert. Of course, my friends still raved. (It’s cream and cookies, who wouldn’t?) Truly, there’s nothing to find fault with when it comes to this lemon icebox cake.
Ingredients for Lemon Icebox Cake
The ingredient list for this lemon icebox cake is pretty short, so be sure to go for the good-quality stuff as it will make a huge difference in flavor!
Heavy whipping cream. I like to fresh whip my cream for this recipe as it lets me control the sweetness and flavor.
Cream cheese or mascarpone. A little something extra. I like the stability that cream cheese or mascarpone adds to the cream while also giving it a hint of savoriness to help balance out the sweetness.
Powdered sugar. I prefer powdered sugar to granulated in the whipped cream as it dissolves easier.
Vanilla. Just a splash to round everything out.
Lemon curd. This is where I recommend using the store-bought shortcut. Unless you really love making your own lemon curd, you can find some great versions at the store. Just get the good stuff.
Lemon cookies or wafers. We’re leaning all the way in on lemon flavor here with a lemon cookie. But feel free to use graham crackers or any other neutral cookie flavor!
Orange zest. Woah, wait. You said lemon icebox cake, right? Yes, but listen up. Orange is the secret ingredient that makes any lemon dessert special. Lemon-flavored sweets need something to balance them out. Similar to how I used cardamom in these lemon cheesecake bars, adding a slightly floral element makes the lemon pop more without feeling overwhelming.
Salt. I’m a huge proponent of salting your desserts properly. Nothing is worse than a cloyingly sweet dessert, so be sure to salt your whipped cream!
Tips for Assembling This Lemon Icebox Cake
The whole point of an icebox cake is that it’s made ahead of time to let everything set together in layers. To prep, line a loaf pan with plastic wrap or parchment paper to prevent any sticking and to ensure smooth edges. You can also serve this up like a trifle and scoop the cake out of whatever vessel you make it in. But if you want slices, you’ll need to line your pan.
For clean and very well-defined layers on the inside, keep each layer thick. Put down a proper thick layer of whipped cream before adding your cookie layer, and then another layer for the curd.
When it comes to serving, either save some of your whipped cream or make a little extra! Once you’ve removed your cake from its tin and placed it onto a serving board or plate, take the extra cream and use a spoon or offset spatula to cover up any “imperfections” on the cake with some swooshes or pipe on the cream for texture. It’ll add some visual interest and make the cake look party-ready.
Speaking of, don’t be afraid to decorate! You can go simple with some lemon slices over the top, add fresh herbs, or chop up fresh summer fruit for extra texture and flavor. You could even add more cookies or crushed almonds or pistachios for some crunch. Remember: this is a choose-your-own-adventure kind of cake.
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