This incredibly delicious and easy icebox cake is the perfect dessert to make for Thanksgiving and the holidays. It’s made with just 3 simple ingredients: cranberry sauce, graham crackers and whipped cream or whipped topping. Make it ahead and decorate it before serving for the easiest dessert that everyone will love!
What Is Icebox Cake?
Traditional icebox cake is made with chocolate wafer cookies and whipped cream and refrigerated for a day which allows the cookies to soften with a moist cake like texture. The basic method is the same for this graham cracker icebox cake, but with added layers of cranberry sauce for a festive flavor. I love these vintage recipes that stand the test of time, which proves how delicious they are. If you’ve never tried ice box cake or refrigerator cake, now is the time!
This easy recipe was shared with me by my mother-in-law who has been making this delicious dessert for decades. The traditional version for this no bake dessert is made with layers of graham crackers, canned cranberry sauce and cool whip. My version is made with Swedish ginger thins cookies, homemade cranberry sauce, and homemade stabilized whipped cream. This ice box cake recipe is even vegan friendly by using a vegan whipped topping aka coco whip. It’s a great recipe to make for your next party. Everyone who tries this easy dessert absolutely loves it!
Table of contents
The graham cracker layers soften up as the cake refrigerates for 24 hours and they absorb moisture from the layers of whipped cream and cranberry sauce. The resulting graham crackers are soft and have the texture of a moist cake.
Substitutions: I opted to use Swedish ginger thins cookies instead of graham crackers as you can see in the photos. Because these cookies are thin they softened up faster and were very moist. They didn’t have as much bite as graham crackers. I wouldn’t say one was better than the other, but it is more a personal choice for you to make. The ginger flavor is excellent with the cranberry sauce and vanilla cream flavors.
Alternatively you can use Biscoff cookies, but because they are a bit thicker, they might take longer to soften as the cake sets up. If you really want to go all out you can use homemade gingerbread cookies too. Try it with chocolate wafer cookies or Oreo cookies for chocolatey version.
Traditionally this simple cake is made with canned cranberry sauce – the jelly kind that you slice. The sliced cranberry jelly is layered on top of the graham crackers and topped with whipped cream. I used my homemade cranberry sauce recipe made with whole cranberries, maple syrup and spices. I like the bite of the whole cranberries and the flavor with maple and spices just can’t be beat!
Substitutions: The cranberry layer can be swapped with any fruit jam, fresh berries or fruit compote to make other icebox cake flavors. Some suggested holiday flavors are raspberry jam with fresh raspberries added, orange marmalade or apricot jam, citrus curds like blood orange curd or lemon curd, or try dark sweet cherries that are soaked in heavy syrup to make a black forest cake version with chocolate wafers.
Whipped topping is traditional to use for icebox cakes because it holds up better than whipped cream as the cake refrigerates. You can use cool whip or vegan whipped topping to make a vegan version. Or for the best flavor make homemade stabilized whipped cream like I did for this version.
Homemade whipped cram is incredibly easy to make and can be stabilized by whipping heavy cream with mascarpone. The mascarpone acts to thicken the cream and helps hold it shape over time.
Cream cheese also works as a stabilizer but mascarpone has a mild flavor and tastes just like heavy cream so it is the preferred choice. Cream cheese would add a tanginess to the heavy whipping cream.
How to Make the Best Ice Box Cake
Step 1: Assemble the no bake refrigerator cake.
First gather the ingredients and the cake plate or servings platter on which you will serve the cake. Start by spreading a thin layer of stabilized whipped cream or cool whip on the platter in a rectangle shape roughly 3-4″ wide by 8″ long.
Place graham crackers or cookies in an even layer over the whipped cream. Break them into smaller pieces if necessary to make them fit into one layer. Spread a thin layer of cranberry sauce over the graham crackers. Then spread a layer of cream over the cranberry sauce.
Repeat the layers 2 more times so you have a total of 3 layers of each ending with whipped cream as the last layer. Spread a thin layer of whipped cream over the sides of the cake.
Step 2: Refrigerate the berry icebox cake.
Stick toothpicks on the sides and top of the cake and loosely cover it with plastic wrap. The toothpicks will keep the clingfilm from touching the top of the whipped cream. Refrigerate the cake for 24 hours to allow the graham crackers to soften.
Step 3: Optionally decorate the cake.
The next day remove the plastic wrap and toothpicks shortly before you are ready to serve it. Spread another layer of cream over the sides of the cake and pipe more cream over the top of the cake.
Garnish the cake with sugared cranberries, orange slices, fresh cranberry slices and rosemary sprigs or edible evergreens such as pine, spruce or fir tips. Slice and serve the old fashioned icebox cake immediately.
The full recipe is in the recipe card below.
Icebox cakes can be made up to 2-3 days ahead and stored in the refrigerator, loosely wrapped with plastic wrap. The longer the cake sits the softer and mushier the cookie layers will become. Store leftover icebox cake covered in clingfilm or in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a total of 3 days. So if you made the cake the day before leftovers will keep for 2 more days.
How to Make Stabilized Whip Cream
To make whipped cream more stable so that it will hold up over a longer period of time simply whip it with mascarpone. Mascarpone is soft Italian cream cheese that tastes just like heavy cream or double cream. It is unsalted and more mild than American cream cheese.
Add the mascarpone at the beginning with sugar and vanilla extract. Start whipping them together in a stand mixer fitted with a balloon whisk or with a hand mixer then add the heavy cream and continue to whip the cream into stiff peaks at high speed. The cream will thicken quickly so be watchful not to over-mix it or it will split and turn into butter. I like to stop whipping the mixture when it reached soft peaks and then slowly whip it at a lower speed to my preferred consistency from there.
3-ingredient strawberry icebox cake: replace the cranberry sauce with strawberry jam or fresh strawberries
Oreo icebox cake recipe: Scrape the cream centers from Oreo cookies and whip the creamy filling in with the whipping cream. Replace graham crackers with the Oreo cookie halves. Leave out the cranberry sauce. Garnish with chocolate shavings or cocoa powder.
Chocolate version: The original icebox cake recipe was made with layers of chocolate wafer cookies and whipped cream. The cookies were stacked on their sides so when you cut a piece of cake vertical layers are shown.
Icebox cake will last for up to 3 days properly stored in the refrigerator.
Yes, to freeze icebox cake assemble it on a piece of parchment paper on a small sheet pan. Freeze it on the sheet pan until firm then wrap it tightly in a few layers of plastic wrap and tore it in a freezer bag or freezer safe air tight container. Alternatively, assemble the refrigerator cake in a disposable aluminum loaf pan, wrap the pan tightly with plastic wrap then store it in a freezer bag. Icebox can will keep frozen for up to 2 months. Thaw it in the fridge for 24 hours before serving it. Optionally decorate it after it thaws right before serving it.
Icebox cake can be assembled up to 3 days before serving it and kept in the refrigerator, loosely wrapped with plastic wrap.
Traditional icebox cake gets it name from the fact that it is a no bake cake that is meant to store in the refrigerator. Refrigerators used to be called iceboxes when ice box cakes weren’t first invented. Icebox cakes are also called refrigerator cakes.
No bake refrigerator cakes take about 24 hours to set.
Yes, use whipped topping or vegan whipped topping instead of whipped cream. Spray whipped cream and spray vegan whipped cream will not work in icebox cakes because they destabilize and become soupy quickly after they are sprayed from the can.
Yes, simply use gluten free graham crackers or gluten-free cookies to make a gluten free icebox cake.
Yes, this recipe is vegan friendly already. Simply swap dairy cream with vegan cool whip also called coco whip, found in the frozen section at grocery stores. Homemade vegan whipped cream like whipped coconut cream won’t hold up them same as the whipped topping so I don’t suggest it for this recipe. Vegan reddi-whip does not work at all for this recipe because it liquifies quickly after it’s sprayed from the can. You could try using a thick vegan cream cheese frosting in place of the whipped cream.
More delicious Holiday Desserts
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Easy 3 Ingredient Cranberry Icebox Cake Recipe
- 9 whole graham crackers 1 sleeve (150g), or one 150g package of Swedish ginger thins, or 27 Biscoff cookies (200g).
- 400 g cranberry sauce one 14 oz. can or 1-1/2 cups of homemade cranberry sauce
- 454 g whipped topping one 16 oz. tub or 6 cups of homemade stabilized whipped cream detailed below
Stabilized Whipped Cream – makes enough for piped decoration
- 227 g cold mascarpone 8 oz. container, or softened cream cheese
- 150 g granulated sugar 3/4 cup or more to taste for a sweeter version
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 720 g cold heavy cream 3 cups/12 oz., or double cream
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup sugared cranberries
- 4 whole fresh cranberries sliced
- 3 half slices of navel orange
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
Stabilized Whipped Cream
- If making homemade whipped cream start by whipping the mascarpone, sugar and salt together in a stand mixer or with a hand mixer on low-medium speed for 15 seconds just to incorporate them together.
- Add the cold heavy cream and vanilla extract and continue whipping at medium speed then increase to high speed until soft peaks form. Lower speed and whip until stiff peaks just start to form being careful not to over whip the cream or it will split and turn into butter.
- Divide the whipped cream in half and store half in an airtight container in the fridge to use for decorating the cake the following day.
Assemble the Cake
- Spread a thin layer of whipped topping or whipped cream in a roughly 3-4" wide by 8" long rectangle onto the plate or platter you will serve the cake on.
- Place graham crackers or cookies on top of the cream layer, breaking them into smaller pieces to fit the rectangle shape.
- Spread a thin layer of homemade cranberry sauce or canned cranberry sauce slices over the graham crackers.
- Spread a layer of whipped cream or whipped topping over the cranberry sauce.
- Repeat layering graham crackers, cranberry sauce and whipped cream two more times for a total of 9 layers ending with whipped cream.
- Spread whipped cream over the sides of the cake with an offset spatula. It's ok if the cake looks messy at this point or if some of the cranberry sauce bleeds through the cream because it will be covered with more whipped cream the following day.
- Stick toothpicks into the top and sides of the cake an loosely cover it with plastic wrap. Refrigerate the cake for 24 hours.
Decorate the Cake
- The following day remove the plastic wrap and toothpicks close tot he time you are ready to serve the cake.
- Refresh the reserved whipped cream if it looks deflated by adding a splash of heavy cream to it and whipping it back to stiff peaks. If using whipped topping then skip this step.
- Coat the sides of the cake with more whipped cream with an offset spatula. Spread a thick layer as the final decoration or if doing a piped decoration then just spread a thin layer of cream on the top of the cake first. To pipe the cream fit a pastry bag with a large tip (I used #686) and fill the bag with the cream. Pipe the cream in a decorative manner as you like.
- Optionally garnish the cake with sugared cranberries, fresh cranberry slices, fresh orange slices and tiny rosemary sprigs.
- Serve immediately or return the refrigerator until ready to serve within 1-2 hours.
- Nutrition facts listed are for a cake made with graham crackers, whole cranberry sauce, and whipped topping.
- Store leftover icebox cake wrapped in plastic wrap or in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days total.