Food for Soul

A Retro Icebox Pie Gets a Vibrant Makeover

A GOOD APPETITE

Add some refrigerator alchemy to vanilla wafers, fresh strawberries and mounds of whipped cream for a dreamy, creamy late-summer dessert.

A layer of strawberry slices tops a creamy strawberry mousse in this pie, which is then covered by gelatin for a triple whammy of summer flavor.
A layer of strawberry slices tops a creamy strawberry mousse in this pie, which is then covered by gelatin for a triple whammy of summer flavor.Credit…David Malosh for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Simon Andrews.
Melissa Clark

By Melissa ClarkAug. 27, 2021Cooking  Feast on recipes, food writing and culinary inspiration from Sam Sifton and NYT Cooking. Get it sent to your inbox.

There are few two-ingredient desserts as transcendent as an icebox cake.

When the unassuming combination of whipped cream and crisp wafer cookies are layered together and chilled overnight, they’re both reborn. The brittle, dry cookies absorb the moisture of the cream, softening into cake, while the whipped cream stiffens up into a plush snowdrift of frosting that’s just barely firm enough to slice. It’s an everyday miracle that’s always a thrill.

A pink strawberry mousse is at the center of this retro pie.
A pink strawberry mousse is at the center of this retro pie.Credit…David Malosh for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Simon Andrews.

Classic recipes call for whipped cream studded with chocolate wafers. But variations abound. Some add fruit and other flavorings to the cream; others switch up the cookies. Then there are those that play with the form, plopping the whole thing into a crunchy cookie crust and calling it icebox pie.

This deluxe strawberry iteration, from Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream in Manhattan, does all of this and more.

The creamy strawberry filling is then studded with halves of vanilla wafers.
The creamy strawberry filling is then studded with halves of vanilla wafers.Credit…David Malosh for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Simon Andrews.

It starts with a crisp vanilla wafer pie shell that’s brimming with pink strawberry mousse and more wafers under a mosaic of fresh berries. Then, the top is gilded with a shimmering homemade strawberry gelatin that’s wobbly and springy next to the billowing fluff beneath. It has an interplay of textures like something you’d get at a fancy restaurant, but still retains the retro appeal of a slice of diner pie.

Given the recipe’s inspiration, this makes perfect sense. It came from something Nicholas Morgenstern’s grandmother used to make with whipped topping and a box of red gelatin. Then he and Priyaporn Pichitpongchai, Morgenstern’s pastry chef, gave it a makeover.

“Jell-O and Cool Whip were the pillars of Grandma Morgenstern’s desserts,” Mr. Morgenstern said. “I still love them.”

This updated version, however, has a fresher, more vibrant flavor that’s worth the extra work it takes to make.

The strawberry gelatin is best poured over the pie while it still sits in the refrigerator.
The strawberry gelatin is best poured over the pie while it still sits in the refrigerator.Credit…David Malosh for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Simon Andrews.

The only fussy part is the homemade strawberry gelatin, which requires macerating sliced berries in sugar overnight, then gently heating them to bring out their juices. But this elixir is the soul of the pie, giving it an intense taste and ruby color.

You’ll need to start this at least one day before you want to serve it, but it keeps well for up to three days. The wafer cookies get softer and more cakelike as they sit.

Which is exactly what happened with Grandma Morgenstern’s original recipe, too.

“She was no pastry chef,” Mr. Morgenstern said. “But she always served dessert.

https://www.nytimes.com/

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