If you stop to think about it, rainbows are pretty damn amazing. A majestic spectrum of color emerges from a just-right mix of rain and sunlight to brighten the sky– and probably your day. And yet, this splendid arc cannot be captured, tamed, or touched– its ephemeral nature makes it all the more magical. The rainbow has come to symbolize many a happy thing, most notably Gay Pride. I have always been a staunch supporter of equal rights for the LGBT community– it is an issue that I am very passionate about. However, even growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, I have never actually been to the SF Gay Pride Parade, but I inadvertently stumbled into New York City’s parade a few summers ago, and it was quite an awesome affair. (I love that my homeland was reppin’ pride!)
It is very fitting that BAKED would offer up a most colorful and fabulous dessert in Baked Occasions to celebrate Gay Pride, this Rainbow Icebox Cake with Homemade Chocolate Cookies. Baked Sunday Mornings is taking on this whipped cream-layered beast for this week’s recipe, and let me tell you, it was quite an adventure! This cake affectionately came to be known as “Gay Cake” amongst our recipe testing group. It was the most challenging recipe in the book to test and reproduce to perfection. The book presents a pristine rainbow stack of cookies and perfect whipped cream clouds; in reality, it was a mess of runny colors and slumpy, over-whipped cream that took many iterations to even approximate that gorgeous photo. Unfortunately I wasn’t one of the people able to test the cake because I was on crutches at the time and could only take on simpler projects, so I was anticipating any number of massive failures on this first attempt. In fact, this may be the very first icebox cake of any kind that I’ve made.
Frankly… this cake was a bloody mess. Not over-whipping the cream is crucial to the success of the cake. To start, we are instructed to partially whip heavy cream, crème fraîche, sugar, and vanilla paste, then drain the mixture for at least 3 hours, which should help stabilize the cream and reduce the color bleeding. The mixture is supposed to be whipped just shy of soft peaks and sit in a cheesecloth-lined colander. I wasn’t quite sure what “one” layer of cheesecloth meant, since it seems to come folded in three; I felt that a single wide-woven layer wouldn’t hold the cream, so I doubled it. At first I thought I under whipped the heavy cream, and I was certain that it would pour right through the colander. I tested a small amount, and decided that it needed a bit more whipping, but after just a few more seconds of beating, I was afraid I had over-whipped it. I was still concerned that it would pour through the cheesecloth, but it actually worked out fine, only dripping a bit of clear liquid from the cream and crème fraîche during the 3-hour nap in the fridge.
Luckily, the chocolate cookie dough was a breeze to make. These are meant to be like Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers, which can be difficult to track down, and they are, in fact, very close– not quite as crisp, but super dark and chocolaty. The dough is made by creaming butter and sugar, adding an egg yolk and vanilla, then a mixture of cocoa powder, salt, and baking powder, and finally flour. The dough is fairly dry and very crumbly; bring it together with your hands to form 4 disks, which need to chill and firm up in the fridge for at least an hour. (I actually made the dough a week or so in advance and froze it, then defrosted in the fridge.)
Roll out each of the dough disks to ⅛” thick and cut out 2″ circles, which you’ll bake for 8-10 minutes, until they are dry and set. Mine came out in precisely 8 minutes, and they will not spread or rise much at all, being that they’re wafers and all. The recipe says you should have about 60-75 cookies, allowing for a few extras, but I had at least 40 left over!
So back to that whipped cream… The biggest challenge for the testers was coloring the whipped cream without over-whipping and without each layer bleeding into the other colors. I danced a ritual voodoo dance and even bought new gel paste colors, just in case, since mine were quite a few years old. I was surprised that my cream was perfectly fine coming out of the fridge (i.e. the texture didn’t get weird), so I was hopeful at this point. After reserving ¼ cup in the fridge for the top layer, I weighed out the colors into 6 mixing bowls so that my layers would be even and went to town on the coloring. You’ll fold a few drops of color with a spatula into each bowl, such that you end up with a bright spectrum of colors. Your cream should be whipped to soft peaks so you can achieve a “fluffy cloud” effect when assembling the cake– it is not easy to whip every single one to exactly the same stiffness!
You’ll create your “cake” layers by placing 7 cookies in a flower pattern on a platter (6 in a ring with 1 in the middle), then dolloping and spreading the red cream, and continuing to alternate cookie and cream layers until you’ve built up 6 layers, plus a top layer of cookies. Spread the reserved ¼ cup white cream in a thin layer on the very top to soften the top cookies.
It turns out that in my vigilance, I under-whipped the first two colors, and then slightly over-whipped the last color; if I had whipped all of them exactly like I had with the green layer, this cake would have been perfect. Unfortunately, the bottom layers started to spread and lose their shape pretty quickly– there was some serious slip n’ slide action going on! The upper layers were more stable, but the cake quickly became lopsided.
The cake is supposed to be refrigerated overnight to let the cookies set and soften, but I didn’t think the cake would make it almost 24 hours, until I got home from work the following day. It was already starting to spread and the colors began to bleed a bit, so I had approximately zero percent faith that this cake would not melt into oblivion….
I kept checking it and made an executive decision around midnight to move forward; at this point, it had been in the fridge for about 4 hours, and I went ahead to whip the remaining cream for the topping and scattered rainbow sprinkles over the top. I had seriously thought that my day spent making this cake was all in vain, and it would be a total loss. I was thrilled that I could at least photograph it before its imminent collapse, despite the terrible nighttime photography light.
It spent the rest of the night in the fridge, and surprisingly, it actually didn’t collapse. However, it looked like a clown had cried all over it because the sprinkles’ color ran all over the place and the whipped cream colors continued to bleed. (This is why the recipe says to add the sprinkles right before serving.)
Would I make this cake again? Nope. Nada. Hellz noooo. This cake is wholly impractical – it takes a full day to make, it cannot be transported far, and it only keeps for 1 day. However, it is a positively lovely and whimsical way to celebrate Gay Pride, and I’m glad to have taken on the challenge that haunted our recipe testing, though my cake has a lot of room for improvement! In fact, you could make it for all kinds of holidays if you change up the colors. But still… no.
I cut into the cake 24 hours later, and it was positively DELICIOUS. Much ado about cookies and cream? Perhaps. But every bite was sweet, soft, and fluffy. The cookies softened to a cakey texture, and the rainbow layers inside were mesmerizing. It’s worth mentioning that if you adore cookies-and-cream as a flavor like I do, you will love this with all your heart and soul.
You know, it would be interesting to make this in a cake ring lined with acetate. It wouldn’t have the free-form look, but it would be a much more uniform size and shape. If I were to attempt this again in a fit of insanity, I would try it that way.
If you want to give this rainbow delight a whirl out of curiosity, masochism, or sheer obsession with anything cookies-and-cream (which is 100% legitimate, by the way), you can find the recipe for Rainbow Icebox Cake with Homemade Chocolate Cookies at Baked Sunday Mornings, and see how my fellow intrepid cake makers fared with this one! 🙂
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2015.