As I expect will happen often this summer, last weekend I found myself with a barbecue to attend and no ideas as to what dessert to bring. And as I often do, I turned to Smitten Kitchen for inspiration. This time it was an icebox cake– but not just any icebox cake, a cheesecake-inspired, graham-layered, strawberry-studded icebox cake.
I was tempted to take a shortcut and use storebought graham crackers rather than making my own round cracker layers, but in the end I went with the recipe as written, and was really glad I did. The dough rolled out incredibly easily, and baked up into the most deliciously crisp, flavorful cookie ever– I found myself nibbling away at the scraps all afternoon.
The filling was simple and tasty– the cream cheese and lemon zest worked together nicely to make a tangy, creamy counterpoint to the sweet graham layers, and when I dipped some extra strawberry pieces into it and added a cookie scrap to the mix, the combination was fantastic.
That being said, the finished cake was underwhelming. Even after only 3-4 hours of fridge time, the layers had softened too much from the moisture of the strawberries and the whole thing just felt soggy. The flavors melded too well, muddying the brightness of the lemon zest and eliminating the contrasts that had been so great originally.
Since the components were so amazing, I’m not willing to discount this recipe entirely– I think next time I’d assemble it on the spot rather than waiting for the layers to soften at all. Kind of like a napoleon, rather than an icebox cake.
Strawberry Graham Napoleon (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)
- 1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons (230 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea or table salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Pinch of ground cloves
- 1/3 cup (65 grams) granulated sugar
- 2/3 cup (125 grams) dark brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) honey
- 1/2 cup (115 grams) unsalted butter, cold is fine if using a food processor, softened otherwise
- 1 large egg
- 6 tablespoons (75 grams) granulated sugar
- Finely grated zest of half a lemon
- 8 ounces cream cheese, very soft
- 1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla
- 1/8 teaspoon fine salt
- 1 1/2 cups (355 ml) heavy or whipping cream
Make grahams in a food processor: Combine flour, salt, baking powder, spices and sugars in the work bowl of a food processor, running until mixed. Add butter and run machine until it is powdery. Add egg and honey and run machine until the dough begins to clump/ball together.
Divide dough into as many pieces as you want layers, and roll each piece very thinly between two sheets of parchment paper. The photos below are for round layers, but for napoleons I would divide the dough in half with each sheet of dough covering a whole baking sheet. Peel off the top layer of parchment and bake at 350 degrees F until the top is firm and the edges begin to brown– about 10-12 minutes.
As soon as the cookies are out of the oven, slice the hot cookie layers into desired shapes. Slide the cookie-laden parchment onto a cooling rack and cool completely.
Make filling: Place sugar in the bottom of a large bowl and rub lemon zest into sugar with your fingertips so that it releases the most flavor. Add cream cheese and beat until combined, light, and fluffy. Add vanilla and salt and beat again. Add heavy cream, just a spoonful at a time at first to avoid lumpiness, then add the rest gradually. Beat cream and cream cheese together until it holds soft peaks.
To assemble: Slice fresh strawberries thinly and layer with filling between cookies to make napoleon. Alternatively, you can use blueberries or blackberries. Serve within 1 hour of assembly.