Summertime. Summer vacation. Long days on the water, or on the front porch, reading piles of library books. Waiting for the Good Humor man. Walking to the corner store for an Italian ice. Slicing into bone-chilling watermelon. Turning the hand crank to churn the ice cream. We have lots of childhood summertime memories.
Mr. Sanders remembers icebox cakes fondly. His mother would assemble Famous Chocolate Wafer icebox cakes in the summer, using the recipe printed on the side of the yellow, cellophane-wrapped box. She’d layer the brittle chocolate cookie wafers carefully, nestling them in a pan swathed in clouds of cool, whipped cream. After a few agonizingly long hours she would serve slices of cake – sweet, cool chocolate-y zebra patterns of black and white. A young boy’s dream dessert.
Snap awake in the present day: in the twenty-first century Nabisco has stopped making Famous Chocolate Wafers. Boom. That’s it. It’s over. Discontinued. There wasn’t even an announcement so we could stockpile them for our Doomsday prep. Unaware, I had been looking for them periodically as I walked by the wire shelf near the ice cream in our grocery store where I remembered seeing the packages, and there just never seemed to be any Famous Chocolate Wafers. There were plenty of bottles of Smucker’s Magic Shell Chocolate Fudge. And Hersey’s Syrup. And lots of ice cream cones. Plenty of sprinkles and dragées. But never any Famous Chocolate Wafers.
Last week NPR released the sad, sad news. NPR Famous Wafers Are No More There went a cool, sweet summer memory of childhood that could be recreated by a well-meaning grownup, now in our dotage, in the hottest summer we’ve ever known. In the grand scheme of things, with all of the problems of our post-COVID existence, this just seemed unfair. It was the very last straw. There wasn’t even an appeal process.
I set out to make that childhood taste treat. If NPR could publish a recipe for ersatz Famous Chocolate Wafers, then I could certainly follow it, and bring back a halcyon moment. I am nothing if not dogged.
I followed the directions in the article for “Chocolate Wafer Cookies and Ice Box Cake” from Zoë Bakes on Magnolia Network as reported by NPR, measuring carefully. I sifted together the cake flour, unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder, baking soda and kosher salt. I hauled out the enormously heavy KitchenAid stand mixer and religiously tipped in the room temp butter, the fog of confectioners’ sugar and the two teaspoons of pure vanilla extract. To which I added the sifted flour mixture. And then I looked sadly at the dry, crumbly mixture that resulted. It was evenly mixed, but it was never going to be dough. It looked like gritty cocoa. So I did a little backtracking, and found that even though NPR must have spell-checked the recipe, no one thought to compare the list of ingredients with the recipe writer’s actual recipe. There was no liquid listed to wet the ingredients, and hold them all together.
So DO NOT FOLLOW THE RECIPE in the NPR story. Here is the fancy pants version of it, with all of the ingredients listed: Fancy Pants Chocolate Wafers
In the end, I still could not make that modified recipe work. I could not slice the well-refrigerated dough into 1/8” circular slices. They wobbled. They oozed. They were not circles, but instead they were wily amoebas. Short of stomping my feet and huffing out of the kitchen, I improvised. I didn’t want to waste all that expensive Dutch processed cocoa, plus I had invested several hours on this sentimental journey, and we still needed a dessert. So I rolled the dough into little balls, rolled the balls in granulated sugar, and flattened the balls with a jelly jar dipped in sugar on parchment paper-lined cookie sheets to get a nice crisp sugary surface. Once the cookies had baked, and cooled, I slathered them with some softened mint chocolate chip ice cream. Yumsters.
And thus we began our new summer tradition, Faux Famous Wafer Ice Cream Sandwiches, with fat, homemade chocolate cookies. We now have a little stash of ice cream sandwiches in the freezer. They are perfect for today, when it is 91°F before noon. Thanks a lot, Nabisco. Thanks for the memories.
“Ah, summer, what power you have to make us suffer and like it.”
– Russell Baker