Chocolate and graham wafer icebox cake with raspberry and rose -

Chocolate Raspberry Rose Icebox Cake

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Chocolate Raspberry Rose
Icebox Cake

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I’m not really sure where the time went, but Diversivore just turned 6 months old! It’s been a crazy, intense, exciting (and exasperating) 6 months, and I’ve learned a lot along the way. So, a lot like having a baby, only without sleep deprivation. Fortunately I have my two kids to keep me on my toes in the ruined-sleep department.

So how does one celebrate a half-birthday? With an non-baked cake of course! Because, you know, it’s special enough for cake, but not special enough for me to actually turn my oven on. In any case, July is not exactly the month where my thoughts turn to baking, so in keeping with my cold-house-cooking theme this month, I decided to adapt a family-favourite icebox cake, and to throw a little Diversivore party.  And a Diversivore party doesn’t mean balloons and streamers so much as it means good food and culinary analysis.  It’s my party and I’ll introspectively analyze if I want to.

If you’re unfamiliar with icebox cakes, they are in essence a quick-fix no-bake take on the classic European layered desserts (trifles, charlottes, etc.). The concept is simple enough – alternate layers of biscuits with something sweet and creamy, then put the whole thing in the fridge and let it sit of a while. The moisture in the cream (or pudding, etc.) softens the biscuits and leaves you with a lovely, soft dessert with a cake-like consistency. In principal, it’s a great way to make a really wonderful dessert without a lot of preparation time (or heat). In practice… well, let’s just say that things vary pretty wildly.

Ice box cakes are one of the simple, hassle-free desserts that evolved during the early 20th century as America (and eventually much of the world) became obsessed with pre-made and processed food. Because they were popularized by the companies that made biscuits and cookies, they tend to push lots of other processed products (after all, these companies have pretty diversified portfolios these days, and they want you using their products every step along the way. In addition to the cookies/biscuits, many recipes will call for instant pudding, whipped topping, and branded chocolate (or ‘chocolaty’) products, all in the name of convenience. In fact, the original berry-free version of this cake, which has been around in my family for over 50 years, probably came off of the back of a box.

Now all that talk of industrial food processing might not seem like a particularly glowing endorsement (and it’s not intended to be), but it’s worth remembering that the processed food revolution was viewed as a godsend by many, since it allowed people to feed their families without spending all day in the kitchen. As more and more women joined the workforce, these foods became even more popular, especially since these women were largely expected to continue to maintain the home and feed the family. The whole thing is a fascinating sociological phenomenon, though it has left us in a rather unfortunate position today. Pre-packaged, heavily processed foods have become an overwhelmingly common feature in our lives, and we’re suffering health and environmental consequences as a result. But there’s no need to be wildly dogmatic about things. I love scratch cooking, but a good idea is a good idea, and icebox cakes can be absolutely wonderful. The trick is thinking about what you’re actually trying to achieve, and where you’re better of working from scratch. I use store-bought graham crackers here because, frankly, making my own graham crackers is not very high on my to-do list right now. But then I hit the brakes… sort of. The rest of this cake is, in my opinion, entirely scratch-made, but it can be tough to draw lines. Are rosewater and cocoa powder scratch ingredients? They’ve been manufactured and processed somewhere, but they’ve achieved ‘scratch’ status as pantry items. And what about the cream? I’ve recently become obsessed with a local organic whipping cream (every time you say “local organic” another Instagram food account magically appears on the internet) that contains nothing but cream, but most conventional heavy/whipping creams contain several stabilizers and thickeners. They’re still a far cry from the whipped-oil-products passed off as imitation whipped cream, but are they a processed food?

I’m pointing out these odd little features and inconsistencies in our approach to cooking because they get us thinking a little bit more about what we eat and why. On one level, this is a simple, easy, delightful dessert that dances nimbly between convenient food and scratch cooking. But on a deeper level its a treatise on what you can do with food if you want to. You could swing hard in the processed direction and use imitation cream, chocolate pudding powder, and store-bought raspberry jam. You could go in the other direction and make your own graham crackers and rosewater from the roses in your garden. But then, perhaps you’d need to milk your own cow and mill your own graham flour to achieve true hardcore food DIY status. No matter where on the spectrum you end up, I hope you’ll pause from time to time to really consider two fascinating and meaningful questions: what is my food? And how did it come to be?

Now let’s go eat some cake.

Recipe Notes

As I’ve suggested above, this is easy-peasy. The trick to a great cake here is great ingredients. Beyond that, there are a few construction tips below that will help you put the cake together well.

Raspberries (Etc.)

Chocolate and raspberry are a superb combination, but if you can’t get good raspberries or they’re not in season (seriously, don’t bother with the ridiculously over-priced half-pints in the dead of winter), you could easily substitute another fruit of your liking. Strawberries or blackberries would work nicely. Marmalade or orange curd would also be interesting. In fact, I might just have to try this with orange curd now that I think about it….

Rose Water

Rose water is exactly what it sounds like – water that’s been scented/flavoured with rose extracts. It’s commonly found in Middle Eastern grocery stores, and can sometimes be found in Indian ones as well.

Rose water has a powerful rose scent, and should be used lightly. Too much of it and your dessert will smell like your grandmother’s soap drawer. While it does pair wonderfully with raspberry, you can omit the rose water if you like.

Graham Crackers

You need to use the long, rectangular graham cracker ‘sheets,’ composed of 4 smaller crackers separated by perforations. If you only have square (‘half-sheet’) graham crackers, you’ll need 44 instead of 22.

Graham crackers are a funny thing. They were invented in 1829 by Presbyterian minister Sylvester Graham who, along with John Harvey Kellogg (of Corn Flakes fame), promoted a diet composed of whole-grain, ultra-bland foods. This was supposed to help fend off sexual urges, among other things. The modern graham cracker has been heavily sweetened and flavoured (I’m sure the late Minister Graham would be appalled), and it’s one of those odd junk-food items that still manages to fly under our radar a little. They’re basically cookies. The most common brands are pretty processed, and they generally feature artificial flavouring, so if that’s something you try to avoid, take note. There are some very tasty organic ones on the market now, so you can shop around a bit if you like, though the overall nutritional profile is pretty similar to the conventional varieties. Do not use a flavoured graham cracker (they come in cinnamon, vanilla, etc.).


The cake is pretty easy to put together, but there are a couple of trick that make it easier. In the name of full disclosure, I assembled the cake you see here with raspberry layers back-to-back. It occurred to me later that they’d be nice in between chocolate layers, so that’s what the instructions reflect. Rest assured that if you mess up the order, you’ll end up with an awesome cake regardless.

The crackers like to move around a little bit while you work, so a spoonful of chocolate cream on the bottom of your working surface is a nice way to give them something to hold on to. From there, the process is pretty easy, but there are a few little tips that make assembly go much smoother:

  1. Do not press down hard while adding crackers or filling, as the cream will come flying out of the sides.
  2. If you have cracked/separated graham crackers, use them in the middle layers, as they’ll be held in place better.
  3. The raspberry layer is quite a bit runnier in general, so if you have trouble getting it to stay in place, you can use a flat tool to make a little chocolate cream lip around the edge of your crackers. If you’ve managed to work quickly, the graham cracker pieces that go around the sides can go on last. If you’re lagging a bit, or if things are getting drippy, put them on before after you’ve done the first two layers, then fill in the rest with the cracker bulwark in place. According to Google, that’s the first time the phrase “cracker bulwark” has ever been used on a non-spam, non-gibberish website.
  4. Keep things cold. Work fast, and use chilled cream. If it warms up to much, everything starts to melt and fall apart.
  5. If you want to do the fork marks on the top, do them before the cake has set, not after. They’ll look smoother and groovier (figuratively and literally). Decorate with raspberries just before serving so that they don’t bleed juice all over the cake.

Note: Nutritional Information is given for a single serving (1/16th portion of the total cake).

Nutrition Facts
Chocolate Raspberry Rose Cake
Amount Per Serving
Calories 261 Calories from Fat 126
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 14g 22%
Saturated Fat 8g 40%
Polyunsaturated Fat 2g
Monounsaturated Fat 4g
Cholesterol 43mg 14%
Sodium 122mg 5%
Potassium 130mg 4%
Total Carbohydrates 34g 11%
Dietary Fiber 3g 12%
Sugars 18g
Protein 3g 6%
Vitamin A 9%
Vitamin C 9%
Calcium 3%
Iron 5%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

Nutritional Summary

Hey, it’s dessert right? This is a nice dense cake, and it’s filling in a way that makes you SOMEWHAT less likely to want to have a second (or third) slice.

Hey, it’s dessert, right? Lots of cream here, so it’s fairly high in fat. I wouldn’t recommend using a lower fat option though, as it’s the primary vehicle for flavour. Instead, try (reallllly try) to have one slice and lots of extra raspberries.

Ingredient Pages

No ingredient pages have been written yet for any of the ingredients in this recipe.  Like to see one?  Let me know in the comments below or by email.

Pantry Pages

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  • Vegetarian
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5 from 2 votes
Chocolate and graham wafer icebox cake with raspberry and rose -
Chocolate Raspberry Rose Cake
Prep Time
30 mins
Cook Time
4 mins
Refrigerating Time
12 hrs
Total Time
12 hrs 34 mins

Let them eat cake... without the toasty oven. With fresh cream, raspberries, rosewater, and plenty of decadent cocoa powder, this cake is definitely a keeper.

Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American, British, Canadian, European, North American
Keyword: chocolate, freezer cake, icebox cake, no-bake, no-bake cake, raspberry
Servings: 16 slices
Calories: 261 kcal
  • 22 graham crackers (see note)
  • 300 g raspberries plus more to garnish
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1.5 tsp rose water (optional, but you'll have to rename the cake...)
  • 500 ml whipping cream
  • 1/4 tsp cream of tartar (optional)
  • 1.25 cups powdered sugar sifted
  • 7 tbsp cocoa powder sifted
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  1. Combine the raspberries and granulated sugar in small pot over low heat. Crush the berries with a potato masher or large spoon. Stir the mixture and continue to break down the fruit while bringing the mixture to a gentle simmer; about 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat and refrigerate until well-cooled.
  2. (OPTIONAL - feel free to omit this step if you like a lot of raspberry seeds).Pass the raspberry puree through a food mills or coarse strainer to remove some or all of the seeds. Try to reserve as much juice and pulp as possible, then set aside.
  3. Beat the whipping cream and cream of tartar in a large, non-reactive (and preferably chilled) bowl until set, but before it starts to form stiff peaks. Separate out 1/2 cup of the whipped cream and set it aside to mix with the raspberries. Add the vanilla, cocoa powder, and powdered sugar to the remaining cream and continue to mix/whip until stiff peaks form.
  4. Combine the reserved 1/2 cup of whipped cream with the raspberry puree and set aside in the fridge. This raspberry cream mixture should be thinner and runnier than the chocolate cream.
  5. Put a dollop of chocolate cream down on a medium size baking tray or cutting board (something you can fit in your fridge). Lay 4 whole (or 8 half) graham crackers edge-to-edge out on the cream, using it like mortar to keep them in place. You can lay the crackers down in any shape you like, but I like to work with a loaf-shaped rectangle. Spread about 1/3 of the chocolate cream evenly over the crackers. Add another layer of crackers, then a little under half of the raspberry cream. Repeat the process (crackers, chocolate, crackers, raspberry), then top off with the final layer of crackers. Break the two remaining graham wafers into quarters and place them along the outside edges of the cake to help hold in the filling, then use the remaining chocolate cream to cover the top of the cake and to thinly cover the sides (if your raspberry cream is particularly runny, you might want to add the side pieces after the first two layers in order to help keep the filling from spilling out on you). Drizzle the last little bits of raspberry cream over the top for a pop of colour.
  6. If you like, you can use a fork or decorating tool to draw designs in the chocolate cream. Carefully cover the cake with plastic wrap (use a few toothpicks to hold it up off of the surface) and refrigerate for 12 hours or more. Serve cold and garnished with fresh raspberries.
Recipe Notes

You need to use the long, rectangular graham cracker 'sheets,' composed of 4 smaller crackers separated by perforations. If you only have square ('half-sheet') graham crackers, you'll need 44 instead of 22.

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  1. I used to read about icebox cakes in old-timey books, but had no idea what or how they were made! The act of the freezer melting the biscuits into a cake-like texture is fascinating. And you know me…I can never say no to chocolate and raspberries! (Or cake!)

    A big happy half-blog birthday, Sean! What a milestone. And look how far you’ve come…very impressive. 🙂

    1. Author

      The version we made when I was a kid (sans raspberries and rose) was always just called “chocolate graham wafer cake” in my house. I had no idea what an icebox cake was. Then I read about them one day and put 2-and-2 together. There is something kind of magical about the way the biscuits just form a moist, perfect ‘cake’ with no real effort. Gotta love it.

      Thanks for the very kind words, and for all your support.

  2. This is my kind of cake…looks and sounds delicious. It is awesome when something so simple to make tastes so good. Perfect for these hot summer days we have been having, but really I would eat this all year long!!

    1. Author

      Thank you Gloria! I know just what you mean – it’s great when something comes together without leaving you utterly exhausted. I love a good cake, but I can’t fathom turning on the oven in the middle of July. But I have a feeling you’re right – this would feel very much at home regardless of the season!

  3. Okay don’t judge (because I didn’t judge you never having tuna casserole) I have never had a icebox cake before. So here is what I’m thinking, clearly we need to get together and cook family classics for each other! Sound good?? 😉 Congrats on your anniversary, I can not believe you have only been blogging for 6 months. For shame I dare not look at the posts and photos from when I was 6 months in… yikes! You can great member of the community and your genuine support and engagement with others is truly inspirational. All the best for the rest of the year. Can not wait to see what it will hold!

    1. Author

      Don’t worry Meaghan, no judgement here! Hahaha. Much like casseroles, I think they’ve got a sort of mid-20th-century homemaker image that’s not exactly trendy right now, so they’re not on everyone’s radar. That being said, I think they can be pretty stellar. I’m definitely on board with a casserole-and-icebox-cake dinner party! 😀

      Thank you so much for the compliments. It’s been a crazy 6 months, but I’ve loved it, and I’ve loved meeting so many other people in the food world, yourself included. Cheers.

  4. I’ve made my own graham crackers from scratch before but never milked a cow! But I also love the occasional ice box cake that makes life and dessert a little bit easier. Happy anniversary! – ceecee

    1. Author

      I should clarify, I’ve got a lot of respect for those who make scratch staples (including graham crackers), I just can’t imagine having time at this point in life. And when I was a little kid, I stuck out my hand and had milk squirted onto it from a cow’s udder. I think I cried and ran away. Does that count as milking? 😛 In any case, I’m always happy to champion working from scratch – but sometimes easy and quality do get to go together. Thanks for commenting!

  5. I have never had an ice box cake before and I must say that for an easy peasy cake, it sure does look elegant and so delicious! For a 6 month-young blog you sure did a fantastic job. Congrats to you on many more great years ahead?

    1. Author

      Thanks Marisa! And thanks for the kind words – I work my butt off on Diversivore, but I do it because I love it. I’m glad that people like you are appreciating my efforts 🙂

  6. Great work Sean ! A big congrats on your blog’s half birthday ! I actually didn’t click “jump to recipe” and read through the entire post ! I think it’s important to think about what we are eating and where does our food come from. It’s a concept that we should teach our kids. I am always in the same position, trying to use as little processed products as possible, but find it challenging. (I did made graham crackers in a pastry class before !) Your cake looks amazing and you can’t go wrong with chocolate! ?

    1. Author

      Thank you Vicky! I’m glad you read the whole thing – I was being a bit cheeky about the ‘jump to recipe’ thing, but one does wonder at times. I put the button in because I know sometimes you want to read, and sometimes you need the recipe. I’m glad my musings resonated with you, and I completely agree with you about teaching our kids and encouraging people to work from scratch. It’s a worthwhile endeavour in every sense.

  7. Hi Sean
    I love the simplicity of this cake and the fact that an oven may not have to be fired up in the heat of summer makes this so appealing. It looks so moist and decadent. I loved the info on preserved foods and graham crackers, this is so important to understand and realize that what you put in is what comes out.
    Happy 6 month anniversary Sean, have a great time celebrating.your accomplishments. We meaning Nicoletta and I really enjoy your recipes and writing of your blog!
    Keep it coming.
    Have a great Sunday

    1. Author

      Thank you Loreto! I love a fancy dessert, but I rarely have the time to execute one. Something simple can be so wonderful, especially when it’s still made with simple, flavourful ingredients. I’m happy you found the information valuable.

      As always, thanks for commenting, and thanks for reading.

  8. Love this! I’m all for scratch baking, and though I have never made an icebox cake, this is one time, where I definitely agree with using store-bought wafers (graham crackers or those Oreo chocolate wafer cookies, for example). I think it’s best to focus on making the cream/frostings/fillings from scratch. Wafers/biscuits from the store are fine and they have a nice dry texture (perfect for soaking moisture) that I find can be a little more difficult to achieve from scratch. As for the commercial frostings/custards: well, I’d definitely stick to homemade, like you pointed out.

    Congrats on passing the 6 month mark! You are putting so much time and effort into your blog, and also interacting with other bloggers. You are doing everything right! I wish you many, many happy years of blogging and lots of good things 🙂

    1. Author

      GREAT point about the moisture content of storebought graham wafers. And I’m so on board with you when it comes to storebought frosting/icing/whatever – I see little value in any of them.

      I’m really glad you’ve enjoyed my work and my involvement with the blogging community. There are so many people (like yourself!) doing wonderful work, it makes me feel really privileged to get to be a part of it. Cheers, and all the best.

  9. I so agree about the spectrum of processed to “from scratch” foods. I have pointed out that bread is a convenience food… and while I cook many (most?) things from scratch (by current definitions) I haven’t milked the cow or threshed the grain.

    And packaged foods were a miracle for women who’d spent hours cooking – especially as they returned to the labor force. And as fewer people hired servants. (We forget how common it was to have someone else to do the cooking.)

    Processing is not inherently bad – the issue is how things are processed – it usually means more fat, more sugar, more artificial ingredients, and less whole grain. And the problem is that we don’t notice it – not like this lovely cake with of course has fat and sugar, and is understood as a Treat. Instead it flies under radar, and we eat more of them than we realize, and fewer good foods.

    1. Author

      You’ve certainly hit the nail on the head Anne. I always start to worry when we end up creating these culinary ‘boogie-men.’ You start making out all processed food to be terrible and you really don’t leave yourself much room to actually have a conversation about what is and what isn’t healthy. Of course I don’t believe we should all be milking our own cows or threshing our own grain (but hey, if you do, all the power to you), but I always like drawing attention to the fact that this is a spectrum. A continuum of processing, if you will. Most of us land on it somewhere, and we can and should have a great deal to say about where exactly that spot is.

      You’re right – processed food was a pretty big deal for a lot of people, and it continues to allow many people to at least attempt to cook at home rather than eating out. But it’s so complicated, and so nuanced, and it absolutely does warrant more careful consideration and better education. I’m really glad that we’re talking about it here. Thank you so much for commenting.

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