Baked Sunday Mornings: Rainbow Icebox Cake with Homemade Chocolate Cookies

I was so not looking forward to making this week's Baked Sunday Mornings recipe, "Rainbow Icebox Cake with Homemade Chocolate Cookies." The photo in the cookbook (you can see it here) is captivating. But behind that gorgeous exterior is a bit of a baking nightmare. I tested this recipe before the cookbook was published, and it already had a solid reputation as a problem child. Our wonderful testing organizer Sheri sent out a call for additional testers specifically because early bakers encountered difficulties with the recipe. My test cake was awful -- I ended up with rainbow colors of whipped cream mixed into a messy technicolor blur around some chocolate cookies. I would have been quite happy to never make the cake again.

But I've never missed a Baked Sunday Mornings recipe and I'm not going to start now. So I decided that I would make this cake for our annual "Muscaday" event, where we host a bunch of wine geeks for massive quantities of seafood and Muscadet wine. I could hedge my bets because I was planning to make three other desserts for Muscaday -- so if this cake ended up tanking, I could just toss it.

The chocolate cookie portion of the recipe is pretty straightforward. You beat softened butter and sugar; beat in an egg yolk and vanilla; and add the dry ingredients (cocoa powder, salt, baking powder, and flour). You chill the dough, roll it out, cut it into cookies, and bake. The recipe yields far more cookies than are necessary to make the cake, so I sped things up by not re-rolling the scraps.

The whipped cream component of this cake is surprisingly tricky, because it's easy to overwhip. You whisk heavy cream, crème fraîche, sugar, and vanilla until the whisk leaves faint streaks -- you stop before soft peaks form. Then you pour the cream into a colander lined with cheesecloth and put it in the refrigerator for at least three hours; my cream drained off only a small amount of liquid, maybe a tablespoon.

When you're ready to assemble the cake, you're supposed to divide the drained cream into six different bowls and use gel dye to make six rainbow colors. I was in a rush because it was already well past midnight by the time I got to this step and I needed to finish the cake before going to bed so that it could chill overnight. As a result, I decided to go with a single color. I had a massive amount of cream and so I scooped a third of it out of the colander and into a bowl and dyed it pink. That third of the cream was enough for me to fill the cake. But the cream became stiffer as I kept dipping into the bowl to get more cream to fill the layers, and by the time I got to the top two layers, the cream was way too stiff. You can see this in the photo below -- the overwhipped cream towards the top of the cake isn't smooth like the bottom layers.
I put the cake in the fridge overnight so that the whipped cream would have time to soften the cookies. Shortly before serving, I used some of the leftover whipped cream-crème fraîche mixture to top the cake. You're supposed to make additional sweetened whipped cream for this step, but I had so much cream left over from the day before that it seemed like a shame to waste it and I had kept it in the fridge overnight. The cream had some body, but I wasn't able to whip in any more volume -- which is why the white cream on top of the cake looks more like a droopy puddle instead of a fluffy cloud.
The cookies did soften up in the fridge (without becoming mushy) and the cake was easy to cut. I thought it was very tasty. The cookies had an intense toasted chocolate flavor and the cake tasted exactly like cookies and whipped cream. I have to admit that I was happy with the way it turned out. If I ever make this again, I would use a little more whipped cream between the layers of cookies and make some fresh whipped cream to top the cake.

Even though our guests finished up every last bite of the cake (and the yield is pretty small -- the cake is only about six inches across), it was the least popular of the four desserts I served at Muscaday. I think that's because even though it tasted great, this cake is, after all, just layers of cookies and cream. Except for the visual impact of the assembled cake, this dessert is fairly mundane. For all of its good looks, I'm not sure if it's worth the trouble.

Recipe: "Rainbow Icebox Cake with Homemade Chocolate Cookies" from Baked Occasions by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, recipe available here at Baked Sunday Mornings.


Robyn said…
I totally agree with your comments, a lot of trouble for just cookies and cream. I totally chickened out and made little cupcakes, as you saw. They tasted good, but you know, just a glorified Oreo.

Curious to know what other desserts you made for Muscaday!
Chelly said…
It does seem like a bunch of trouble for cookies and cream...but it looks delicious!
Anonymous said…
At least this is the last time you have to make this cake. Your actually looks good sliced, mine was a more of a scoop and serve affair.
Like Robyn, I would like to know what else you made.
Louise said…
I don't think this is what Nabisco intended back in the 1960's when housewives made this dessert with Nabisco chocolate wafers and whipped cream. I've read all of the Baked Sunday Morning write-ups and there is definitely a low Goodness-to-Work (↓GTW) ratio.
My test cake was also a scoop and serve affair!
The other Muscaday desserts were this tangerine semifreddo with almond brittle, Ann Cashion's revelatory caramel cake, and a lemon icebox pie from David Guas. I highly recommend all of them -- posts on all of these recipes forthcoming!
Indeed -- you know I am not a fan of using store-bought shortcuts, but it would just be soooo much easier to use Nabisco wafers!
Posts on all of the other Muscaday desserts are forthcoming! :)
Anonymous said…
This was definitely a labor of love for all of us! I was not one of the testers, so I was really nervous, but I quite liked it in the end, though I wouldn't make it again-- at least not with six different colors! It even looks great with one color. :)