Cakes Recipes Vanilla

No-Bake Tres Leches Icebox Cake

For the next few months – let’s just call the refrigerator the new oven, and the grill the new stovetop.  Really, unless you’re asking me to fry baby pies – I really want nothing to do with the ovenstove until maybe Thanksgiving.  

Listen… it’s going to be ok.  We’ll have pudding, and popsicles (oh my gosh I made pickle juice popsicles YOU GUYS!), and we’ll have the dessert freezer section at Trader Joe’s, and have banana bonbons, and you’re damn right we’ll have cake – ICEBOX CAKE.

The good news here is that cookies, especially graham crackers, can act very much like cake when plied with enough whipped cream and cream cheese.  They only ask for enough time in the refrigerator to soften to cake and once there – graham crackers will soldier on for days as cake in the refrigerator.  

Here’s to heatless cake in the summer.  We livin the sweet life – we really are! 

Here’s what you’ll need to for this very under the radar, supremely delicious cake: 

•  Graham crackers when layered with creams become soft and subtle and surprisingly cake-like.  I’m learning trying to preach this from the mountain tops! 

•  Sweetened condensed milk, heavy cream, and cream cheese – the tell-tale signs of a tres leches cake, with a twist.  We’re using cream cheese as a dairy, as a leche in this recipe.  I sincerely appreciate you cutting me some slack here.  The cake really is worth it. 

•  Ground cinnamon and almond extract  to round out the flavor of the sweetened creams, as one does.

• Maraschino cherries and maybe a few sprinkles because we’re nothing if not festive, ok? 

This recipe starts with very softened cream cheese – the kind that comes in a brick from the grocery store. And when we say softened cream cheese we mean very softened cream cheese.  Any sort of chill on the cream cheese means lumps in our cake filling and we’re not here for that.  Nope. 

My secret?  I keep the cream cheese in its foil package and place it in a cold oven to come to room temperature and even just a bit warm.  That’s the ticket. Not a lump in sight. 

To the cream cheese add the sweetened condensed milk.  It’s like a sweet, syrupy cream and if you don’t know – it’s some of the best stuff ever. Once you know, it’s nothing but trouble from here on out. 

A dash of almond extract (I love the stuff) and a dash of ground cinnamon (I also love this stuff) will add depth beyond the sweetness.  

The whipped cream cheese and sweetened condensed milk are smooth and the consistency of pudding.  We’ll lighten the mixture with soft unsweetened whipped cream.  Totally spoonable.  The whipped cream is folded by the scant cupful to the more dense cream cheese mixture.  

A careful stir will increase the volume of the cream cheese mixture. Fluffy is what we’re going for. 

We’ll reserve about 1 1/2 cups of the plain unsweetened whipped cream to pipe across the top of the cake , whipping in just a bit of powdered sugar.

I used an 8-inch square in pan for this cake.  9-inch square would also be just fine.  

Do your best to piece together whole graham crackers and quarter size graham pieces.  We just wanter to cover the bottom of the pan as fully as possible.  

Spread a layer of the the creamy cream cheese mixture to the first layer of graham crackers (I used a scant 1 cup) and if you have an offset spatula (and even if you don’t) spread the cream as evenly as possible across the top layer. 

And you guessed it – another layer of graham crackers followed by another layer of the lightened cream cheese mixture.  

We’ll repeat this process with five layers of graham cracker cookies if your pan will allow it. 

Finish with a layer of the cream cheese mixture and place in the refrigerator for some time – 4 hours is great and overnight is just fine too! 

The unsweetened whipped cream we set aside for piping is sweetened lightly with powdered sugar and spooned into a piping bag fitting with whatever small star tip you fancy. 

And piped into stars around the border and in thirds across the top of the cake, creating nine squares.  

Nine squares that we’ll commemorate with maraschino cherries because it feels right.  

Keep the cake refrigerated until it’s time to serve.  Slice confidently into nine square and marvel at the tenderness of the graham crackers and the sweetness of the cream filling.  It’s a simple delight and taste just like a lightly spiced tres leches cake – no oven, very little fuss.  

I can’t even tell you how many times my computer has tried to autocorrect leches to leeches.  Not the same thing AT ALL! I said what I said computer! 

Happy Summer sweet friends!  Here’s to you! 

Tres Leches Icebox Cake

Ingredients

  • 1 (14 ounce) box graham crackers
  • 1 (8 ounce) brick of cream cheese, very well softened
  • 1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • maraschino cherries and sprinkles

Instructions

  1. Start by breaking 4 or 5 graham crackers into quarters. Keep the remainder in whole, long cookie pieces.
  2. We'll use a 8-inch square pan for this recipe. A 9-inch pan is also fine - you'll just use more cookies.
  3. On either size square pan you'll notice that the sides arch out a bit as the pan get taller, making more real estate space for more cookies and filling. As you place cookies, just see what fits. It's a puzzle!
  4. Place the cream cheese in a medium sized bowl. Make sure the cream cheese has rested at room temperature for a few hours, ensuring that it has no chill and is very soft. Beat with electric hand beaters until lightly fluffed and smooth.
  5. Add the sweetened condensed milk, cinnamon, almond extract, and salt. Beat until very well incorporated and smooth. You don't want to see any bits of cream cheese, so beat on high until they're thoroughly combined.
  6. In a separate large bowl, use the electric hand beaters to blend the heavy cream to soft peaks. You want the cream to hold some shape and feel aerated but still be very smooth and spreadable.
  7. Start to incorporate the unsweetened cream into the cream cheese mixture by spooning just under a cup of whipped cream into the cream cheese bowl. Fold with a spatula to combine. No need to super stir this together. We're trying to lighten the cream cheese mixture and keep the whipped cream fluffy.
  8. Continue to add the whipped cream to the cream cheese mixture in batches, being sure to reserve about 1 1/2 cups of whipped cream in the bowl - we'll use this for the piping.
  9. Layer graham crackers across the bottom of the pan to cover the bottom.
  10. Spoon in a scant cup of the whipped cream + cream cheese mixture and spread to smooth.
  11. Layer more graham crackers across the cream layer and again smooth more whipped cream + cream cheese mixture. Repeat this process, with five layers of graham crackers and ending with the a final layer of whipped cream + cream cheese.
  12. Allow to rest in the fridge for at least 4 hours, or overnight to soften.
  13. Add the powdered sugar to the remaining 1 1/2 cup of whipped cream and beat lightly to firm up.
  14. Before serving, spoon the sweetened cream into a piping bag and make a border around the edges and across the center to create nine squares. Place a cherry in each square, a few sprinkles across the top of the cake, and keep chilled until ready to serve.
  15. Cake will last in the fridge for up to four days. Enjoy chilled!
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