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An icebox cake casts its spell on strawberries


A slice of strawberry gingersnap icebox cake, in New York, May 19, 2018. Icebox cakes are like magic: Crisp cocoa wafers layered with vanilla whipped cream emerge from a night in the fridge as a tender cake, surrounded by a pillow of vanilla frosting. (Andrew Scrivani/The New York Times)

Coal-black cocoa wafers, dry and crumbly on their own, are layered with vanilla whipped cream and put in the fridge overnight. By morning, the crisp cookies become a tender cake, surrounded by a pillow of vanilla frosting. It’s as perfect a summer dessert as you can make without turning on the oven — a rich, creamy triumph.

This version appeals to fruit lovers, those of us who routinely choose berries, peaches and lemon over dark chocolate. It has the same easy charm and cloudlike lusciousness as the cocoa-wafer original, but this one is shot through with strawberries and ginger rather

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Coal-black cocoa wafers, dry and crumbly on their own, are layered with vanilla whipped cream and put in the fridge overnight. By morning, the crisp cookies become a tender cake, surrounded by a pillow of vanilla frosting. It’s as perfect a summer dessert as you can make without turning on the oven — a rich, creamy triumph.

This version appeals to fruit lovers, those of us who routinely choose berries, peaches and lemon over dark chocolate. It has the same easy charm and cloudlike lusciousness as the cocoa-wafer original, but this one is shot through with strawberries and ginger rather than fudge.

Like the recipe on the side of the wafer box, this one starts with store-bought cookies. I used Nabisco gingersnaps, but any brand should work, as could vanilla wafers. If you’re up for a bigger project, you can make your own cookies, though that is at odds with the dessert’s no-bake appeal.

Die-hard chocolate lovers can substitute cocoa wafers. You’ll end up with something that tastes like chocolate-covered strawberries, but a whole lot fluffier. Just don’t use any cookies (either chocolate or ginger) with a so-called cream in the center. That stiff white disk will never dissolve, leaving hard, sugary pockets where mousselike suppleness should reign.

Other than swapping the cookies and adding a little fruit, the biggest change I made to the classic recipe was in the cream itself. Instead of whipped heavy cream, I went for mascarpone. Its thicker texture is better able to absorb the strawberry puree without becoming too thin to hold the cookies in place. When I initially tried using regular whipped cream, the cake slid into a heap during its overnight rest. Sturdy mascarpone keeps everything in its proper place.

As a final garnish and to get even more fruit on the plate, I add a vivid topping of strawberries that have been macerated in sugar, lime and grated ginger until they turn syrupy and aromatic. Spooned over the cake just before serving, they’re spicy and bright against the mild airiness of the cream, a contrast in both texture and flavor.

Although this revamped icebox cake is certainly elegant enough for your next dinner party, it will also be right at home at any potluck, barbecue or picnic. It’s an untraditional dessert perfect for all of summer’s most traditional meals — a nice trick to have up your sleeve.

Strawberry Gingersnap Icebox Cake

Servings: 8

Preparation time: 1 hour, plus chilling

1 pound strawberries

12 ounces mascarpone

1/4 cup powdered sugar, more as needed

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/4 teaspoons finely grated lime zest, more to taste

1/2 teaspoon fresh lime juice, more to taste

32 gingersnaps (about 8 ounces)

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

3/4 teaspoon grated fresh ginger, more to taste

1. Set aside half the strawberries, choosing the smallest, prettiest ones. They’ll be used for serving. Hull the remaining berries.

2. Using a blender or food processor, puree the hulled strawberries, then strain through a fine mesh strainer. You should have about 2/3 cup of puree.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer set on low speed, whisk together strawberry puree, mascarpone, powdered sugar, vanilla, 3/4 teaspoon lime zest and the lime juice. Once the cream mixture is combined, but not fully whipped, taste and add more sugar if necessary (this will depend on how sweet your strawberries are). Whip to medium-stiff peaks.

4. On a serving platter, lay 2 rows of 4 cookies (for a total of 8) in a rectangle. Spread 1/2 cup cream mixture over the cookies, spreading it to the edges. Top with another 8 cookies, and spread with another 1/2 cup cream. Repeat 2 more times, so you have 4 layers of cookies. Top with remaining cream, spreading it along the sides like frosting. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill for at least 8 hours, and preferably overnight.

5. Half an hour before serving, hull and quarter remaining strawberries (cut them in eighths, if they’re large). Toss berries in a medium bowl with granulated sugar, remaining 1/2 teaspoon lime zest and the ginger. Let sit for at least 30 minutes, and up to 1 hour; they should release their juices, which will turn syrupy from the sugar. Taste and add more lime zest, ginger and a squeeze of lime juice, if you like.

6. Just before serving, arrange strawberries on top of the cake and drizzle with accumulated syrupy juices. Serve at once, cutting cake into slices.