How to Make Lemon Icebox Cake

This bright and summery lemon icebox cake will quickly become a family favorite. It's just as sweet as it is easy to make.

An icebox cake is a classic confection that comes together with just a few simple ingredients and sets in the refrigerator. Since icebox cakes don’t involve baking, they’re the perfect sweet summer treat. And there’s nothing more summery than a no-bake lemon icebox cake.

This light, creamy, lemony layered dessert uses fresh lemon juice, whipped topping and crunchy graham crackers. When chilled in the fridge overnight, it results in a refreshingly cool treat with a bright and tangy lemon flavor. It’s definitely one of our favorite no-bake lemon desserts.

Key Ingredients in Lemon Icebox Cake

  • Whipped topping: A frozen whipped topping like Cool Whip is a key part of many icebox desserts. Make sure it’s softened before folding it into this recipe. Don’t substitute homemade whipped cream for the Cool Whip, either!
  • Instant pudding mix: This mix is the secret ingredient for providing both flavor and the right consistency for an icebox cake recipe. You’ll only need the powdered mix; no need to pick up the extra ingredients called for on the side of the box.
  • Lemon: Fresh lemon is what’s really going to give this dessert (and all our favorite lemon desserts) its tangy flavor. Learn how to zest a lemon before you get started (even if you don’t have a zester).
  • Graham crackers: Graham crackers are the perfect base for icebox cake. They’ll soften up a bit as the filling sets to give this dessert a cake-like texture. If you don’t have any graham crackers on hand, you can also use shortbread cookies or Nilla wafers.

Lemon Icebox Cake Recipe

This recipe from our Test Kitchen serves 16 people—that is, if no one goes back for seconds.

Ingredients

  • 1 package graham crackers
  • 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
  • 2 packages (3-1/3 ounces each) instant lemon pudding mix
  • 2-1/2 cups 2% milk
  • 1 carton (16 ounces) frozen whipped topping, thawed
  • 2 tablespoons grated lemon zest

Directions

Step 1: Make the lemon filling

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In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese, pudding mix and 1 tablespoon of lemon zest until blended. Gradually beat in the milk until smooth. A good hand mixer will make this job easy.

Test Kitchen Tip: To make this filling super smooth and decadent (and easier to mix), the cream cheese should be softened.

Step 2: Fold in the whipped topping

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Fold the thawed whipped topping into the lemon mixture. This gentle mixing method will ensure that the filling is light and airy.

Editor’s Tip: Always work slowly and carefully when folding. Here’s more on how to fold ingredients.

Step 3: Layer the graham crackers and cream

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Arrange the crackers in an ungreased 13-by-9-inch dish. Make sure your pan is at least 2 inches deep, to accommodate the filling.

Spread a third of the lemon mixture over the crackers. Repeat two more times.

Step 4: Chill the lemon icebox cake

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Sprinkle the remaining tablespoon of lemon zest over the cake. Refrigerate, covered, for 8 hours or overnight. When you’re ready to serve, just slice and wait for the compliments!

Editor’s Tip: To get the prettiest zest, choose a lemon that’s bright yellow, with as few blemishes as possible.

If you have any fresh lemons left over, here’s how to store lemons to make them last as long as possible, and other lemon recipes to use them in.

Tips for Making Lemon Icebox Cake

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Can you use other kinds of pudding to make lemon icebox cake?

The instant pudding mix is a key ingredient in this icebox cake. However, feel free to swap in other instant pudding flavors like vanilla, white chocolate or coconut cream. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s the instant pudding mix.

How can you make this lemon icebox cake your own?

Once you’ve got the icebox cake basics, there’s no limit on ways to customize this confection.

Increase the lemon flavor by adding a layer of homemade lemon curd, or mix some lemon juice in with the whipped cream. Bring more fruit into your cake with a layer of fresh raspberries or blueberries.

Instead of fresh lemon zest for the garnish, try a lemon zest substitute such as orange or lime. Swap out the lemon for lime if you want a Key lime pie-inspired dessert.

Get creative with the cookies and replace the graham crackers with lemon Oreos, vanilla wafers, shortbread, ladyfingers or even ginger snaps. (Extra Oreos can be used in our favorite Oreo dessert recipes.)

Take inspiration from other icebox cake recipes as you think about how to customize yours!

How can you decorate a lemon icebox cake?

To give your icebox cake a flavorful final touch, try topping it with slices of citrus like lemons, blood oranges or limes. For a pop of color, garnish it with an array of fresh berries, or add a drizzle of honey and a sprinkle of chopped nuts for a bit of sweetness and crunch.

How do you store lemon icebox cake?

Store lemon icebox cake in the refrigerator for up to four days.

You can also freeze lemon icebox cake for up to one month. When you’re ready to eat it, thaw the cake in the fridge.

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Lauren Paige Richeson
Lauren Paige Richeson is an author and artist specializing in written, visual, and edible content. She's an Editor at Allrecipes and her debut cookbook Avocado Obsession was published in 2020. As a food writer, she has contributed to Cherry Bombe Magazine, Eaten Magazine, Life & Thyme Magazine. She's covered health & wellness for Well + Good, mindbodygreen, Eat This Not That, Clean Plates, and developed recipes for Simply Recipes, LIVEKINDLY, Wide Open Eats, Whole30, and more. Lauren Paige is a Scorpio with a passion for the sea, scary stories, folklore, 19th-century art & fruits de mer.