A few people have asked whether I plan to follow my winter dessert cookbook with a summer dessert cookbook. The answer: Probably not. I think I've already proven that I can't be trusted in any scenario where I have 24-hour access to dessert. The other reason is, come summertime, the last thing I want to do is turn on the oven. I'll do it once in a while when we get a stretch of dry air and mild temperatures like we've had this past week, but not during the sweltering, blast-furnace heat of the previous weeks. No, thank you. I'll have a whole eternity in hell as Lucifer's personal pie baker for that.
But I still have a sweet tooth that just won't quit. In other words, I'm still making dessert occasionally, just mostly no-bake ones. And by no-bake, I mean: no oven, no stove, no heat at all besides that which emanates from the horrible blazing sun you're presumably hiding from.
That's why I hereby declare this summer to be "The Summer of Icebox Cakes."
Icebox cake is a cool, creamy, layered affair that only improves with time sitting in the refrigerator (or icebox, as Nonni always called it). Graham crackers usually define the layers of whipped cream, mousse, or custard, but you can use other types of cookies, too. Think of icebox cake as a white-trash napoleon. A dumbed-down tiramisu. Don't let my disparaging language fool you, though. Simple, unpretentious icebox cakes can be perfectly delicious. My childhood version (made by Nonni on hot summer days) featured chocolate and vanilla pudding and sliced bananas between the graham cracker layers. We loved it.
My grown-up version alternates slices of fresh peaches with creamy whipped mascarpone and vanilla wafers. It's ridiculously fresh-tasting. And stupefyingly easy. Because there's so little to the recipe, it's especially important to use really good ingredients: super-ripe peaches, fresh organic cream, real mascarpone, and good-quality vanilla wafers. Not Nabisco Nilla Wafers. If you use those, you will ruin this recipe. You need something good. I recommend Mi-Del Vanilla Snaps from the "natural" aisle of the supermarket. Feel free to sneak a few raspberries in there, too, to get a peach melba thing going on. It's also fantastic with nectarines.
Once assembled, let the cake sit in the fridge for several hours before serving to give the peaches and cream a chance to soften the crispy cookies into spongy cake-like layers.
4 to 5 ripe peaches, peeled, pitted, thinly sliced
3 cups heavy cream
8 ounces mascarpone cheese
3/4 cup confectioner's sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
12 ounces best-quality vanilla wafers
In a large bowl, whip the cream with the mascarpone, confectioner's sugar, and vanilla starting on low and gradually increasing the speed to medium for 4 to 5 minutes until the cream thickens and holds soft peaks when the beaters are lifted. The cream mixture should mound easily and hold its shape when you spread it.
Add a very thin layer of mascarpone cream to the bottom of an 8 x 8-inch pan. Line the pan with a layer of vanilla wafers. On top of that, add a layer of overlapping peach slices. Add a thick layer of mascarpone cream on top. Repeat the order for 1 or 2 more layers as desired, ending with cream on top. (If you run out of cookies, don't worry, just spread them out the best you can.)