A retro icebox pie gets a vibrant makeover The Denver Post

By Melissa Clark, The New York Times

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 just barely firm enough to slice. It’s an everyday miracle that’s always a thrill.

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.

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,” 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 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,” Morgenstern said. “But she always served dessert.”

Strawberry Icebox Pie

Recipe from Nicholas Morgenstern and Priyaporn Pichitpongchai

Adapted by Melissa Clark

Yield: 8 servings

Total time: 1 hour, plus at least 18 hours’ macerating and 5 hours’ chilling


For the Strawberry Gelatin:

  • 1 pound thinly sliced strawberries (about 3 cups)
  • 3 tablespoons (38 grams) sugar
  • 2 teaspoons (6 grams) powdered gelatin
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

For the Pie Crust:

  • 3 tablespoons (42 grams) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing
  • 3 1/2 cups (200 grams) vanilla wafers (such as Nilla wafers) or about 1 3/4 cups crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons (25 grams) sugar

For the Filling:

  • 10 ounces strawberries (about 2 cups)
  • 1 cup (240 milliliters) cold heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons (15 grams) powdered sugar
  • 13 vanilla wafers (45 grams), cut into halves

For the Topping:

  • Whipped cream, sweetened or unsweetened


1. For the strawberry gelatin: combine sliced strawberries and sugar in a medium heat proof (preferably metal) bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate 18 to 24 hours.

2. To make the crust: Heat oven to 325 degrees and lightly grease a 9- or 10-inch pie dish (don’t use anything smaller). In a food processor, combine wafers, sugar and melted butter. Process until mixture is well blended. Transfer to prepared pie dish and, using the bottom of a flat-bottomed measuring cup, press crumb mixture into an even layer on the bottom and up the sides, pressing up about 1/4-inch past the rim of the pie pan. Bake until the crust darkens slightly at the edges, 8 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

3. To make the filling: Puree 3 ounces strawberries in a food processor, blender or immersion blender until smooth. You should have about 1/4 to 1/3 cup strawberry purée. Set aside. Quarter another 2 ounces of strawberries to yield about 1/3 cup, and set aside.

4. With a whisk or an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat heavy cream and sugar until soft peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes. Whisk in strawberry puree until just combined, making sure not to over beat. Using a rubber spatula, fold in quartered strawberries. Scrape strawberry cream into the cooled pie crust and smooth the top. Press the halved vanilla wafers vertically into the filling so that it is studded throughout with wafers. Cover pie with plastic wrap or parchment paper, place on rimmed sheet pan and chill in refrigerator for at least 3 hours (and up to 3 days). The longer the pie sits, the more cakelike the cookies get.

5. Once the pie has chilled, thinly slice the remaining 5 ounces of strawberries. Remove pie from refrigerator and place sliced strawberries over the filling to cover it, overlapping slightly if necessary. Place back into the refrigerator, covered, as you make the strawberry gelatin.

6. Put 1 inch or 2 inches of water in a medium saucepan and bring water to a simmer. Place the still-covered bowl of strawberries on top of the saucepan. Be sure the water is not touching the bottom of the bowl; if so, pour some water out. Heat strawberries to release more juice, swirling the bowl occasionally (use oven mitts), for 15 minutes; they should look very juicy. Using a fine sieve, strain strawberries until there is about 2/3 cup juice. You can press gently on the berries to release more juice, but don’t press too hard or the gelatin will get cloudy. Save the strawberry solids for something else, like smoothies.

7. Transfer about 2 tablespoons of the hot strawberry juice into a bowl and sprinkle gelatin over the top; let it sit for a few minutes to soften. Add remaining strawberry juice to gelatin mixture and whisk until completely dissolved. Whisk in lemon juice.

8. With the pie still in the refrigerator on a sheet pan, pour the gelatin over the sliced strawberries (pouring the gelatin over the back over a spoon suspended over the pie can be helpful to get an even layer of gelatin over the top and doing this work while the pie is in the fridge ensures the glossiest topping and keeps everything from spilling). Let pie chill in the refrigerator, uncovered, until the gelatin sets, at least 2 hours or overnight. Serve with whipped cream dolloped on top.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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