Pastry chef Paola Velez prepares this stunning dessert in the debut episode of Pastries with Paola.

By Bridget Hallinan
June 02, 2021
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Pastries with Paola is a new series from Food & Wine featuring Paola Velez, a James Beard Award-nominated pastry chef who is currently the executive pastry chef of Maydan and Compass Rose in Washington, D.C., as well as the founder of La Bodega Bakery and co-founder of Bakers Against Racism. In each episode, Paola will make all kinds of classic desserts with twists that celebrate her Dominican heritage, including a Maria Cookie Icebox Cake, Cherry Empanadillas, Guava and Cheese Budin de Pan, and more. She's also joined by her adorable sidekick Misu the bodega cat, who makes appearances throughout the series. Watch all 13 episodes of season one this summer so you can recreate these recipes in your own home.

Episode one of Pastries with Paola kicks off with a Maria Cookie Icebox Cake, featuring Maria cookies (usually found under the name galletas maría), which Paola grew up eating as an after-school snack in the Bronx. "What you think of graham crackers in the U.S., Maria cookies are to Latin America," she says. The round, thin cookies are layered together with a spiced whipped cream to form a delicious chilled cake, with added texture from layers of Maria cookie crumble, too. And after the cake has chilled? Dulce de leche and fresh strawberries are the crowning glory.

"I'm layering this with Latinx flavors like dulce de leche, nutmeg, clove, and cinnamon,"she says. "And of course, my all-time favorite, Maria cookies."

Read on for Paola's step-by-step method, and follow along with the video above.

Make the Whipped Cream

Whipped cream is often made with a hand mixer or stand mixer (or a whisk, if you've got a strong arm). However, as Paola demonstrates, you can also get the same results with an immersion blender. Simply add the heavy cream, vanilla extract or paste, powdered sugar, salt, and spices (don't forget these!) to a large bowl and get the blender going, making sure to keep it in motion and under the surface of the cream. In the end, you'll get perfect medium-soft peaks.

"You're never gonna make whipped cream another way, because this is just *chef's kiss,*" she says.

Build the Cake

After blitzing up some of the Maria cookies into a crumble using a food processor, it's time to layer the icebox cake. Get your springform pan ready with some cooking spray and line the bottom and sides with plastic wrap, ensuring all sides of the pan are covered. Then, layer the bottom with whole Maria cookies so that it's covered—Paola prefers to lay the textured side of the cookie down, so that when you invert the cake, the design is visible. 

Next, sprinkle some of the Maria cookie crumble on top, ensuring the gaps are filled. This is where the whipped cream comes in—using a piping bag with a large tip, pipe a layer of the whipped cream on top of the cookie-crumble mixture and use an offset spatula to smooth it out into an even layer. Repeat the process five more times, making a cookie and cookie-crumble layer the final one.

Let It Chill

Once the cake is assembled, you'll want to get it in the fridge so the cookies will soften and the cake will set. This is the "icebox" part of the icebox cake. Make sure you refrigerate it at least six hours, or overnight.

Maria Cookies Icebox Cake
Credit: Photo by Jennifer Causey / Food Styling by Emily Nabors Hall / Prop Styling by Lydia Purcell

Unmold and Garnish

After the cake has had enough time to chill, take it out of the fridge and grab a serving plate. Place the plate on top of the springform pan and then (carefully!) invert the cake onto the plate, removing the springform pan and peeling away the plastic wrap. Then, get ready to decorate. You'll want to first spread on the layer of dulce de leche, leaving the outer edge of the cake exposed so some of the cookies are visible. The sliced strawberries go on next, followed by edible flowers (if you have them) to fill in any gaps. All that's left to do is cut a generous slice and enjoy.

Get the Recipe: Maria Cookie Icebox Cake

Stay tuned for our next installment of Pastries with Paola, featuring strawberry ekmek kataifi.

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