I don't know why this recipe is called "Eclair" because it really doesn't taste like a real French eclair. Eclairs are made with an eggy, buttery, unsweetened pastry while this recipe uses sweet graham wafers with overtones of whole grain and possibly a hint of honey. I guess the creamy pudding filling and the chocolate frosting is reminiscent of the real eclair but it is a stretch to a connoisseur of the French pastry. That being said, this Chocolate Eclair Cake is a delicious crowd-pleasing dessert. And it's certainly less complicated and quicker to make than the French eclair. (Though I do love a good Chocolate Eclair or Cream Puff.)
I came across this recipe some years ago when I was at Mom's apartment and my niece, Katherine, had a little cookbook (Sabbath Menu Cookbook by Jacquelyn Faucher Beck) which I was browsing through to see if I could find something that struck my fancy. When I saw the Chocolate Eclair Cake recipe I knew immediately it would be good and easy to put together. I made the dessert for the family and I was right. It was good and it was easy. We lapped it up in record time and the next weekend I made another and took it to a church potluck where it was again lapped up by anyone who was fast enough to get a serving.
I was contentedly making this dessert for the next couple of years until, one fateful Sabbath, at a potluck, I came across another Chocolate Eclair dessert made by a friend of mine. Everyone was happily lapping up her dessert which I was not adverse to, as a good dessert is a good dessert and I'd rather have a piece of good dessert than someone's offering of a store-bought cookie. I had a piece and sure enough it was definitely "lappable" but it tasted a little different than mine. As I joined in the conversation on the merits of the aforementioned dessert I was surprised there was no cream cheese in the list of ingredients. That was the reason it tasted different than mine. The cream cheese, of course, gives it a little tang that the pudding alone cannot impart.
I eventually did an internet search of Chocolate Eclair Cake to find out why my friend left out the cream cheese. (Was it a diet dessert she had brought or just a mistaken omission?) It was then my ignorance of this dessert was unveiled--no one makes this with cream cheese. The whole world makes it with just pudding and my recipe was the unconventional one. In all the years since, I have only found one reference in a comment on another blog which mentioned making this with cream cheese. (I suppose, now that I've made that statement, I'll find dozens recipes with cream cheese.) I guess I'll always make this with the cream cheese as the pudding is richer and it lends another layer of flavour to savour. And what's wrong with being different!
The original recipe calls for French vanilla instant pudding (possibly another reason for the "eclair" connection), but I've never been able to buy it in any of the stores around here nor have I seen it anywhere else in the province. Plain old vanilla instant pudding will have to suffice for me but if you are handy to a supply of the French vanilla pudding give that a try.
Chocolate Eclair Cake
|This is 1 whole graham wafer.|
1 8-oz package cream cheese, room temperature
2 packages vanilla instant pudding (each package makes four ½-cup servings)
3 ¼ cups milk
3 cups whipped topping (Cool Whip, Nutri-Whip, prepared Dream Whip, etc.) or whipped cream
21-23 whole graham wafers
Chocolate Icing, recipe below
Beat cream cheese with a little milk. Gradually add all milk and the dry pudding mixes. Beat 2 minutes at medium speed. Fold in whipped topping. If you are using a frozen whipped topping, let it thaw before using.
Layer whole graham wafers and pudding in a 9"x13" dish. You should have 3 layers of wafers and 2 layers of pudding mix, starting and ending with wafers. Frost with chocolate icing. Set overnight in refrigerator.
While in the refrigerator overnight, the crackers will absorb moisture from the pudding and turn soft and cake-like. Any leftovers must be refrigerated or can also be successfully frozen.
4 tablespoon butter, room temperature
4 tablespoons cocoa
1 ¾ cups icing sugar (powdered sugar)
4 tablespoons milk
Mix together until creamy and smooth. Only use as much milk as you need.
Mix the room temperature cream cheese with a little of the milk to make sure it mixes up nice and smooth. Add remaining milk and dry pudding mix. Beat on medium speed for at least 2 minutes. Fold in the whipped topping or cream until well blended.
To assemble the dessert, place a layer of graham wafers on the bottom of your dish. I am making half a recipe because two people should not be left alone with a full 9x13-inch dish of this stuff. I have placed 4½ full wafers on the bottom layer. I had to trim the last 3 halves to fit. If using a 9x13-inch dish you will use approximately 7½ full wafers on each layer. Divide the pudding mixture equally and spread half on the bottom layer of wafers. Place another layer of wafers on top of the pudding and spread on the remaining pudding mixture. Top with the last layer of wafers. You may wish to insert a few pieces of scrap wafer in any wide open areas. You should now have 3 layers of wafers and 2 layers of pudding, starting and ending with the wafers. Mix up the Chocolate Icing and spread on the top layer of wafers. Make a beautiful design on top so your family will be impressed. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator over night.