retro chic

My story goes like this: long ago and not so far away, I fell in love with a Jewish girl. We moved in together, bought a house, adopted a neurotic beagle and eventually got married. Somewhere along the way, I stopped celebrating Christmas. For the most part, Christmas was a habit I was happy to kick. Growing up in a totally non-religious house, the holiday didn’t hold a lot of spiritual significance for me. Growing up in America, Christmas was usually fraught with anxiety and stress, most of it related to consumption, both by own and my efforts to enable the consumption of others.

In the years since giving up Christmas, I have found December a much more enjoyable month. Sure, I still love the smell of an evergreen tree or a holiday wreath, but my life is no longer filled, from Halloween until December 25th, with the compulsive need to buy. Anne and I spend most Christmases in the Jewish way — movies and Chinese food. This year, however, my sister decided to stay in town and wanted to spend the holiday, which she still celebrates, with us, and so I was called upon to make Christmas dinner.

Well, really, it was Christmas Eve dinner, because that was always the big meal in our house. For some reason, Christmas dinner, for me, is stuck in some sort of time-warp, and so I made us roast beef, twice-baked potatoes, asparagus and the most nostalgic dessert I could fathom, a refrigerator cake. Every Christmas, my great aunt would whip up a refrigerator cake, plant a plastic poinsettia bloom on top and call it a yule log. Through the genius of refrigeration, Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers and heavy cream become a moist chocolate cake frosted in whipped cream — a Christmas miracle!

Yule Log

Maybe I’m blinded by nostalgia, but I could eat the entire cake. The thin, crisp, chocolatey cookies contain coconut as the secret ingredient, and when they swell from the cream, I think the coconut is what gives the cake it’s richer flavor. The resulting cake is super-moist, and the contrast between the dark chocolate “cake” and the light as air whipped cream is dreamy. Honestly, my sister and I fought over the leftovers.

And you should know, the cake works equally well adorned with plastic dreidels. In fact, my friend Liz makes one of these babies (which her son affectionately calls a “zebra cake”) every year for her Hanukkah party.

Refrigerator Cake

1 package Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers
2 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla
chocolate curls or shavings (for garnish)

Whip cream at medium low speed until it begins to thicken. Add the sugar and vanilla and continue to whip until the cream holds medium-stiff peaks. Spread about ½ tablespoon of cream onto a cookie, top with another cookie and continue, creating a stack of cookies layered with cream. When my sister and I were little, we would have a competition to see how high our cookie-stacks could get.

Cookie Stack

When your stack of cookies begins to get unwieldy, set the cookie stack down, on end, on a serving platter. Repeat, forming two side-by-side rows of cookies stuck together with cream.

Cookies Down

Once you’ve used up all the cookies, use the remaining cream to frost the two rows. Completely encase the cookies in whipped cream.

Frosting Cookie Cake

Garnish with chocolate shavings. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight (my sister swears she’s had success refrigerating for a mere 3 hours, but I don’t believe her; I think she’s just trying to show off).

When you’re ready to serve, slice the cake on a 45º angle.

Cake Slice


3 responses to “retro chic

  1. Reading this blog entry made me so, so sad that I missed out on this meal and wonderful dessert. This cake looks amazing, and simple enough that I may even attempt it! Have you ever tried making it with different toppings, i.e. crushed oreos, chocolate chips?

  2. Cathleen, I’m sure you could top the cake with anything, but I’ve never tried any toppings other than chocolate curls and plastic holiday items. I’ve always been kind of curious to know whether this recipe would work with ‘Nilla Wafers or something, though. According to (who knew one could buy groceries on Amazon?), Nabisco originally sold these cookies as part of a trio that included lemon and ginger wafers — a ginger refrigerator cake? Yum!

  3. I think my favorite line of that entire post was “Completely encase the cookies in whipped cream.” It’s kind of a mantra for life.

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