This cake was one of my favorites as a child. We called it zebra cake, because you get zebra stripes when you slice it. As I got more and more into baking, I would run across mentions of icebox cake. It took me some time to figure out that was something similar to zebra cake. When I checked the box the primary ingredient comes in, it called it the Famous Chocolate Refrigerator Roll. Go with what works for you.
Planning for Thanksgiving, in a moment of uncharacteristic friendliness toward children, I asked some of the younger participants in the celebration what they’d like for dessert. One requested chocolate cake.
Chocolate is my preferred medium. I have a deep bench of chocolate cakes, all of which are geared for the adult palate. No offense to my niece, but I’m not going to blow $15 worth of dutch process cocoa or 70% bittersweet chocolate on her. Plus, I had all that pastry to do, which challenges me to no end.
Aha! Zebra cake! Store-bought cookies, whipped cream, and a few hours in the fridge. Perfect.
Almost perfect. I already knew that my go-to neighborhood grocery does not carry the cookies you need for this cake, but finding them the day before Thanksgiving proved to be as difficult as finding an actual zebra on a safari.
Maybe it isn’t exactly hard to find zebras on a safari, so let me revise my statement. Finding these cookies was like going on a safari to see zebras – it took some work and cost a pretty penny. Almost $5 a box, in fact, and I got 3 boxes.
I know that some people out there in the world of food blogs have mocked these cookies for their unwholesome ingredients. Here’s the deal. You can find recipes to make chocolate wafer cookies, using ingredients as pure as you want, but if your goal is a no-bake cake for a group of kids who have never met a preservative they didn’t pluck out of a pre-packaged snack tray and suck right down, why worry?
Here’s how easy it is. Like I said, I got 3 boxes of cookies. I did so to allow for some breakage and snackage. I whipped a quart of heavy cream with about 1/3 c. powdered sugar. Didn’t even bother with vanilla or any other extract, although you can.*
Whip the cream, then make stacks of cookies with a generous tablespoon or two of whipped cream between each one. About 10 is as tall a stack as I can hold; I tend to start with stacks of 5, then add on to each side once I’ve made the roll as long as I want. Basically, you want it to look like this:
Once you get the stacks lined up, cover the whole megillah with the rest of the whipped cream. Stick it in the fridge (or, as my GiGi used to call it, the icebox), and let it rest for a few hours. The moisture in the whipped cream will turn the cookies into cake-like mush, but in a good way, so when you slice it, it slices like a piece of, well, cake.
You can get fancy, if you wish, and cut on the diagonal to enhance the stripe effect.
The cake was a huge hit, and not just with the nephews and nieces, whose faces were covered with chocolate and hair was sticky with whipped cream. Allen’s grandfather ate a whole piece, and he doesn’t eat a whole piece of anything these days. I even convinced him to have a big bite of my slice when none of the food police were looking.
Few things satisfy the dessert chef like people who enjoyed the cake so much they got it in their hair.
The Fluffy Menace got into the act. Fortunately, she did not get any of the chocolate cookies, preferring instead to surf the counter and plunge her snoot into the remains of the whipped cream. I couldn’t get her to stand still for a photo – she was too busy trying to lap up every last dollop she’d managed to fling around the floor after she shook her whipped-cream covered face.
* I’ve made a variation with a drop of peppermint extract, a few drops of red food coloring, and a pile of crushed hard candy peppermints stirred into the whipped cream. Pretty tasty.