A Retro Icebox Pie Gets a Vibrant Makeover

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.

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.

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 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.”

Recipe: Strawberry Icebox Pie

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