Now for those of you who don’t know what an icebox cake is…well I’m sorry you had a sad childhood.
An icebox cake is a classic American dessert made from thin chocolate wafers and whipped cream, refrigerated overnight so the cookies become soft and cake-like. The hardest part of this recipe is actually finding the Nabisco “Famous” chocolate wafer cookies. Around thanksgiving I got the idea in my head that I wanted to make a Buche de Noel or a Yule Log cake, invented by some French dude in the 1800s. You can find an classic recipe for Buche de Noel here.
But I’m not one for involved baking recipes. Even though my version is still quite involved, it’s actually easy if you break it up into steps. Instead of making a flat sponge cake and rolling it with icing (a classic Yule Log cake), I decided to fake it with an icebox cake. Much to my chagrin, I discovered I wasn’t the first person to envision an icebox cake tarted up like a yule log. In fact, Joy the Baker has a very cute video (cough, sponsored) of how she made hers. But there’s crushed candy canes in her version which honestly sounds vile. The aesthetic of my yule log is inspired by her version.
Now first you’ve got your hands on some Nabisco “Famous” chocolate wafers.
I found mine (after trying 7 stores) at the Key Food on Grand St. in Williamsburg. Buy at least two boxes because so many of the cookies crumble before they can become cake. It’s amazing that Nabisco is still using the crappiest, flimsiest packaging for such delicate cookies.
Wafers in hand, make sure you make the cake at least 6 hours ahead of serving so it has time to get nice and soft. Now the meringue mushrooms are totally optional and require a little bit of work. But since they make this cake look absolutely drop-dead insane I think they are worth it.
I borrowed another recipe from Joy of Baking but didn’t have cream of tartar. My meringue was just perfect after about 50 minutes in the oven and an hour cooling. Throughout the day they got too sticky in my warm kitchen so I suggest making them just about two hours before you want to serve the cake.
If you happen to have a cutting board made out of an actual log, use that. If not, any serving tray or cutting board that fits in your refrigerator will do.
After this experience using my adorable vintage seafoam green hand mixer, I’m very seriously covetous of a Kitchen Aid stand mixer. Hello Kitchen Aid, are you listening?
Icebox Yule Log Cake
1.5 boxes of Famous Chocolate Wafers
1 quart heavy whipping cream (it’s good to have extra frosting, trust me)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tablespoons powdered sugar + 1 tablespoon (for dusting)
For the meringue mushrooms:
4 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice (to stabilize the egg whites)
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips or other melting chocolate
1 tablespoon cocoa powder (for dusting)
1 pastry bag or a practiced hand and a ziploc bag
1. Make sure you have a pretty cutting board or platter to display your cake. It’s nearly impossible to move once you begin.
2. Beat the heavy whipping cream until soft peak form (about 5-7 minutes with a hand held mixer and less in a stand mixer). When it thickens to almost a whipped cream cheese-like state, add the vanilla.
3. Assemble the cake by spreading about 1 tablespoon on a wafer and then sandwiching another. Make small piles of 4-5 wafers that can be glued together with more whipped cream to make a log. Assemble your log as you go out of whole wafers, using two broken halves when needed. You’ll want to use about 1 and a half packaged of wafers. The main log should be about 12-inches long and the branch about 4. To make the branch, just take a stack of 8-10 cookies and attach it to the log on a diagonal. Lightly cover the log in whipped cream (it doesn’t have to be pretty, the frosting comes next).
4. Make sure you have a fairly full bowl of whipped cream left (about 4 cups). Add the powdered sugar and unsweetened cocoa powder and beat for 30 seconds. Use a butter knife to carefully coat the log in the brown frosting. Use a fork to imitate bark (I can’t believe I just wrote that).
5. Refrigerate for at least 5 hours.
6. To make the meringue mushrooms (about two hours before you serve): pulse the sugar in a food processor to make it super fine. Make the meringue by beating the egg whites, processed sugar and lemon juice until stiff peaks form. It should take about 5-7 minutes. Remember the meringue needs to stand up on its own to make the mushroom stems.
7. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees. Place your pastry bag point down in a cup and fold the top over the sides. Spoon about half of the meringue into the bag and force it down to the tip. Cut a small 1/3 inch hole at the bottom of the bag. Pipe small 1.5 inch circles onto a parchment-lined baking sheet (I used 1 sheet pan for the caps and 1 for the stems). Then attempt to pipe the mushroom stems. Start slowly and with even pressure make a cone about 1.5 inches high. Some of them will wilt over but you only need 8-10 to stand up.
8. Bake the mushroom parts for about 50 minutes. They should just set and become slightly brown and toasted, like a perfectly cooked marshmallow. Turn the oven off, crack the door and let them dry out for 30 minutes, then remove the sheets so they can cool completely.
9. The meringue should be slightly hard but melt in your mouth. Melt the chocolate chips in a glass bowl in the microwave for about 40 seconds. Carefully remove the meringue pieces from the parchment (some may stick). Place about 1/2 teaspoon of melted chocolate on the flat side of a mushroom cap. Adhere the tip of the stem and set it to dry cap down on the parchment. Repeat until you have at least 6 acceptable mushrooms. The chocolate will take about 20 minutes to dry completely.
10. Remove your icebox cake from the fridge and add some last minute wood-like texture with a fork. Dust the whole cake and serving tray with the remaining powdered sugar to resemble snow. Flip the mushrooms right side up and dust with the remaining cocoa powder. Then carefully arrange on and around the log. Display your log in all its glory.