My first unsupervised baking experiment, at age 10, resulted in three-dozen rock-hard chocolate peanut butter cookies. They were so salty that one could feel the taste buds disintegrate on their tongue. The misguided baked goods lived in a Tupperware container in the cupboard until long after my pubescence as a reminder that I was unskilled at baking and throwing things away.
A year or two later, a couple middle school teachers informed me of leavening agents, sifting, and the importance of not over-mixing. Baking became chemistry. Combine these powders with these liquids and heat to make delicious science. The preciseness and preciousness of baking made it a passion I carried well into adulthood. And when I landed an opportunity to work on Land O'Lakes' digital, it felt kismet.
This week, three events were to collide: Jesse Gadola, former copywriting and baking partner of mine, was hosting a party for her boyfriend, Joshua Van Patter; Minneapolis was under a heat advisory; and I discovered the Icebox Dessert Recipes Collection while digging for Land O'Lakes' assets. I have owed Mr. Van Patter a confectionery item for approximately one year and four months, so his backyard barbecue felt like an opportune moment to try an unbaked good: Italian Cherry Cream Icebox Cake.
An icebox cake is a combination of whipped cream and wafers left in the freezer overnight to set. This creative variation uses ladyfingers, an oblong-shaped sponge cake and a cherry-pudding-cream mixture. The prep time is less than a half an hour, but the best part is that you do not actually bake anything, so you're not heating your home on a hot summer day.
The hardest part of this cake was finding pre-made ladyfingers (second, finding the mascarpone). I had to ask a couple of grocers before one even knew what ladyfingers were. The store I went to kept them in them in the bakery section and not on display. I had to ask an employee to retrieve them from the back room.
Italian Cherry Cream Icebox Cake
from Land O'Lakes
Makes: 12 serving
- 1 cup half & half
- 1 (3.4-ounce) package instant vanilla pudding and pie filling mix
- 1-1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
- 3 tablespoons maraschino cherry juice
- 1-1/2 teaspoons almond extract
- 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
- 2/3 cup maraschino cherries, chopped
- 2 (3-ounce) packages small ladyfinger sponge cakes
- maraschino cherries with stems
- Combine half & half and pudding mix in bowl; beat with whisk until thickened.
- Combine whipping cream, cherry juice and almond extract in bowl; beat until stiff peaks form. Add whipped cream mixture, mascarpone cheese and cherries to pudding mixture; gently stir until combined.
- Cover bottom of 9-inch springform pan with half of 1 package of ladyfingers. Spread half of filling over ladyfingers. Place another layer of ladyfingers over filling; top with remaining filling. Cover; refrigerate at least 5 hours or overnight.
- Remove side of springform pan. Press remaining ladyfingers into dessert edge. Garnish with maraschino cherries.
The cake sets beautifully over night. I drove from Bryn Mawr to Nordeast with my foot heavy on the pedal, fearing the cake might melt in my tote bag. The time outside of the freezer made it easy to press the ladyfingers into the side, but did not compromise the consistency. Ladyfingers cut terribly, so I can see the merits of peeling them individually to assist in the serving.
While I was slicing the cake, Jesse distributed it to family and friends. We had no idea whether or not it would melt so we treated it like it was ice cream. After I cut the last slice, I went outside with my camera to find one person who hadn't finished eating. Josh's father was too busy manning the grill to dig in and happily agreed to be my hand model. He was very proud of the 18 ribs he had acquired for the occasion. I cannot remember all the details, but in my recollection there was the back of a truck and a "guy" .
I caught one of Josh's cats slinking down the back steps. He was off to tease the dogs tied up in the backyard. When Jesse and Josh dogsat Arlie and Etta a couple of years ago, both cats spent the entire time hiding in the wine rack above the refrigerator.
The night ended with fireworks and a bonfire. We chatted about Josh's adventures in Portland until the mosquitos got the best of us. And after a proper thirty-minute Minnesota-goodbye, I headed home with an empty springform pan.