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Carlota de Limón is a Mexican icebox cake made from layers of cool and creamy lime filling and softened Maria cookies. It’s an easy no-bake dessert filled with sweet-tart flavor!
Have you ever had a Mexican icebox cake? If not, you are in for a treat because today we are making carlota de limón. During the summer months, this no-bake icebox cake was one of my Mexican grandmother’s favorite things to make. With layers of biscuits nestled between creamy lime filling, this simple yet mouthwatering dessert has incredible texture and flavor.
Why You’ll Love This Carlota de Limón Recipe
- Easy ingredients. You need only a handful of inexpensive ingredients to make this popular Mexican dessert. It’s one of those throw-it-all-together recipes that always satisfies.
- No bake. Once your cake is assembled, simply pop it into the fridge to chill overnight. No ovens, no fussing. This carlota is the perfect summer dessert, and it’s an easy treat to make ahead.
- Fresh flavors. Cool and refreshing, this carlota de limón is bursting with zesty fresh citrus and light, creamy flavors. Use fresh limes for the absolute best flavor! A slice of carlota is the ultimate light finish to a hearty meal.
- Crowd-friendly. This classic icebox cake is ideal for sharing. I love making this dessert ahead for parties and family gatherings. Even the kids approve.
What is Carlota de Limón?
Carlota de limón, also known as postre de limón, is a classic Mexican no-bake icebox cake. It’s traditionally made from layers of Maria cookies soaked in a creamy, sweet-tart mixture of sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and lime juice. After assembly, the dessert is chilled in the fridge overnight and then decorated with whipped cream and lime zest before slicing.
This easy dessert is a bit like the Mexican answer to a French Charlotte russe, a type of molded icebox cake made from biscuits and custard. There are many variations of Mexican carlota de limón, but I love the simplicity of my family’s original recipe.
In English, you would call this dessert a “lime icebox cake.” Fun fact: in Mexico the word “limón” is used interchangeably for lemons and limes!
What Does It Taste Like?
I’ve always found the flavor of a carlota de limón to be a lot like a key lime pie. It’s a refreshing dessert that’s tangy and lightly sweet, with a creamy texture filled with fresh bursts of lime and cake-like vanilla cookies. Every bite is a perfect balance of sweet-tart flavors. So satisfying!
Ingredients You’ll Need
Below, I’ve included some notes on the ingredients you’ll need to make this classic Mexican dessert. Be sure to scroll down to the recipe card for the specific amounts and recipe instructions.
- Sweetened condensed milk – Canned sweetened condensed milk is shelf-stable, sweetened milk that’s thick and smooth, with most of its water removed. You’ll find it in the baking aisle.
- Evaporated milk – Another variation of condensed milk, only unsweetened. Evaporated milk also comes in cans.
- Kosher salt
- Limes – You’ll need lime juice for the cake and fresh lime slices and zest for garnish. I love making this recipe with Key limes when they’re in season. I highly recommend freshly-squeezed lime juice (remember to pass the juice through a strainer before you use it). In a pinch, bottled lime juice will work but the flavor won’t be as vibrant.
- Maria cookies – Maria cookies are vanilla-flavored biscuits and they’re the traditional cookie used in carlota de limón recipes. The cookies soften to a cake-like texture after a night in the fridge. See below for more details.
- Whipped cream – I make a simple whipped cream topping from scratch using heavy whipping cream and powdered sugar. Alternatively, use store-bought whipped cream if you prefer.
What Are Maria Cookies?
Maria cookies, or galletas Maria, are a digestive biscuit popular in Latin America, and you can find them in many grocery stores all over the world. They’re vanilla-flavored and lightly sweetened. You’ll often find Maria cookies in the international food aisle, or you can order them online. If you need to substitute Maria cookies, however, you can use full-sheet graham crackers or vanilla wafers instead.
How to Make a Carlota de Limón
The recipe itself is very easy, and the cake requires only a short bit of prep before it’s ready for the fridge. Here’s how to make it:
- Blend the ingredients. First, add sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk to a blender along with vanilla and a pinch of salt. Pour in freshly squeezed and strained lime juice, and blend everything until combined.
- Add 1/4 cup to a loaf pan. Spread approximately ¼ cup of the blended mixture into the bottom of a loaf pan lined with parchment paper.
- Finish assembling, then chill. Top this with a single layer of cookies, followed by another layer of the sweetened condensed milk mixture. Repeat, pressing the cookies down as you go. Finally, finish with a layer of the sweetened condensed milk mixture, then wrap the whole pan in saran wrap. Place your dessert into the fridge to chill overnight.
- Prepare the whipped cream topping. The following day, make a quick batch of whipped topping by whipping heavy cream with powdered sugar and vanilla until stiff peaks form.
- Garnish and serve. Take your carlota out of the fridge and use the parchment paper lining to carefully lift it out of the pan. Spread whipped cream over the chilled dessert, followed by a sprinkle of lime zest and a layer of thinly sliced limes for garnish. Slice, and serve!
Tips for Success
Keep these final tips in mind when preparing a classic carlota from scratch:
- Line the pan with parchment paper. Leave about 1-2 inches of parchment paper overhanging on all sides of the loaf pan. This way you’ll be able to easily lift the cake out after it’s chilled.
- Don’t overblend. Blend the sweetened condensed milk mixture until the ingredients are smooth and just combined. Overblending can result in excessive air bubbles.
- Break up the cookies as needed, to fill any gaps when layering them between the sweetened condensed milk mixture.
- Chill the cake overnight. You’ll want to chill this carlota for a minimum of 5-6 hours, but ideally overnight. This gives the dessert time to set up and the cookies enough time to soften.
How to Serve Carlota de Limón
Carlota de limón is one of my favorite desserts to slice into at summer get-togethers and dinner parties. It’s also the perfect Mexican dessert to have at Cinco de Mayo. It is important to refrigerate the cake until you’re ready to serve. Otherwise, the carlota will soften the longer it sits at room temperature.
Make Ahead and Storage
- Make ahead. Carlota de limón is a great make-ahead dessert, especially in the summer months. Prepare the cake as directed the day before, and leave it in the fridge until you’re ready to serve it. Add the whipped topping and lime slices just before serving.
- Refrigerate. Leftover icebox cake should be covered airtight and stored in the fridge. It will stay fresh for up to 2-3 days.
- Freeze. You can keep this cake in the freezer for longer-term storage. You’ll want to take it out about 10 minutes ahead of serving to let it soften.
More Mexican Desserts to Try
- Maple Mazapan (Mexican Peanut Candy)
- Strawberry Blueberry Mostachon
- Pan de Muerto
Carlota de Limón
For the cake
- 14 oz sweetened condensed milk
- 12 oz evaporated milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¾ cup lime juice, bottled or freshly squeezed. If you squeeze your own, strain the juice before using it.
- 72 Maria cookies, about 2 ½ sleeves OR 27 full-sheet graham crackers
For the whipped cream topping
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 3 tablespoons powdered sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 ½ tablespoons fresh lime zest
- 4 small limes, sliced thinly
- Prep your pan. Line a loaf pan with parchment paper. Leave an overhang so that you can use the paper to lift the carlota out of the pan later.
- Blend. Add the sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, vanilla extract, salt, and lime juice to a blender. Blend on medium speed just until just incorporated.
- Prep. Line a 9X5-inch loaf pan with parchment paper. The parchment paper should reach out of the pan about 1-2 inches on all sides. This will help you remove the dessert from the pan when the time comes.
- Assemble. Pour about ¼ cup of the sweetened condensed milk mixture into the bottom of the pan. Use a rubber spatula to spread it evenly over the bottom of the pan. Arrange a single layer of cookies over the mixture. Spread 1/3 cup of the sweetened condensed mixture evenly over the cookies. Arrange another layer of cookies over the sweetened condensed milk mixture. Press the cookies down. Repeat until you run out of the sweetened condensed milk mixture. Be sure to end with a layer of sweetened condensed milk.
- Chill. Wrap the loaf pan in saran wrap and chill the dessert in the refrigerator overnight.
- Make the whipped cream. Whip the heavy whipping cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract at medium-high speed until stiff peaks form.
- Decorate. Use the excess parchment paper on the edges of the loaf pan to lift the dessert out of the pan. Top the chilled cake with the whipped cream, sprinkle it with lime zest, and cover with some slices as you see fit.
- Serve. Slice and serve cold.