Chocolate Eclair Cake (From Scratch)
This Chocolate Eclair Cake features layers of graham crackers with homemade vanilla pudding lightened with homemade stabilized whipped cream, and topped with chocolate icing. A wonderful summer dessert!
Growing up with Sunday dinners at my grandma’s house, there were two desserts that stayed on constant rotation throughout the summer: store-bought angel food cake with strawberries and Cool Whip, and my grandma’s icebox cake. (There was also usually ambrosia in the fridge, because of course there was.)
My grandma’s icebox cake was a simple layering of graham crackers with instant vanilla pudding, and (sometimes) a layer of Cool Whip on top. Totally unassuming but the best kind of comfort food, just like my grandma. It wasn’t until a few years ago when I started to see what looked like familiar icebox cake turn up on Pinterest, but it had CHOCOLATE FROSTING on top. I couldn’t imagine my childhood favorite being made any better, but if there was one way to do it, it would most certainly be to add chocolate!
It wasn’t until I saw this chocolate eclair cake recipe show up in a recent Cook’s Country magazine that I decided to try it. I loved that the pudding filling was made from scratch and lightened up a bit with whipped cream. I was taking icebox cake up a notch!
How Do You Make Chocolate Eclair Cake?
Chocolate eclair cake is a very basic icebox cake made with layers of graham crackers and vanilla pudding, and topped with a chocolate icing.
Most of the old-school chocolate eclair cakes call for the pudding layers to be made with instant pudding that’s mixed with a little Cool Whip to lighten the texture, and then topped with a chocolate ganache (or, if you’re pressed for time, canned chocolate frosting).
However, THIS is a chocolate eclair cake made from scratch! What does that mean?
- We’re still using graham crackers, because they’re a must!
- Homemade vanilla pudding instead of instant
- Stabilized homemade whipped cream instead of Cool Whip
- Simple chocolate ganache
Do I Have to Use Gelatin in the Whipped Cream?
Yes, for the whipped cream to be stabilized, the gelatin must be included. Otherwise, you’ll be left with a runny (and potentially watery) pudding filling. If you are vegan and/or do not want to use gelatin, I’ve read that agar agar can be used as a substitute. I have not personally tried this, so I can’t vouch for it in this recipe, but I would start there.
Do I Have to Use Corn Syrup in the Chocolate Ganache?
The corn syrup helps to keep the ganache flexible when it sets, which means it will be firm but is soft when cut through with a spoon or fork. This makes it easier to eat; otherwise, you’ll have a rock-hard ganache on top that will crack and break when you try to slice it or eat it. You can omit the corn syrup if you prefer, just be aware of the potential difficulty when slicing and eating.
Does Chocolate Eclair Cake Need to be Refrigerated (and Can it Be Frozen)?
Yes and yes!
It’s imperative that the dessert is refrigerated before serving and that any leftovers remain refrigerated until eating. However, if you want an ice cream-like dessert or just want to keep it in the freezer for a date in the future, refrigerate it as directed to allow it to set first, then cover with plastic wrap, then tightly with foil and freeze for up to 1 month.
So, there you have it – chocolate eclair cake made from scratch (minus the graham crackers)!
I loved how much this reminded me of my grandma’s icebox cake, but I just adored making it totally homemade and I am all about that chocolate ganache topping. I don’t think I’ll make another icebox cake without it again!
If you like this Chocolate Eclair Cake, Try These:
- Pineapple Icebox Cake
- Samoa Icebox Cake
- Oreo Cheesecake Icebox Cake
- Peanut Butter Cup Icebox Cake
- Ice Cream Sandwich Sundae Icebox Cake
- Peanut Butter Lover’s Icebox Cake
- S’mores Icebox Cake
One year ago: Pretzel Strawberry Ice Cream Pie
Two years ago: Baking Basics: My Must-Have Ingredients
Six years ago: German Chocolate Cake
Chocolate Eclair Cake
For the Pudding
- 1¼ cups (250 g) granulated sugar
- 6 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 5 cups (1220 ml) whole milk
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
- 5 teaspoons vanilla extract
For the Stabilized Whipped Cream
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1¼ teaspoons (1.25 teaspoons) unflavored gelatin
- 2 cups (476 ml) heavy cream
- 14 ounces (396.89 g) graham crackers
For the Chocolate Glaze
- 1 cup (180 g) semisweet chocolate chips
- ¾ cup (178.5 ml) heavy cream
- 5 tablespoons light corn syrup
- Make the Pudding: Combine the sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a large saucepan. Whisk the milk into the sugar mixture until smooth and bring to a boil, scraping the bottom with a rubber spatula, over medium-high heat. Once the mixture reaches a boil, immediately reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, continuing to scrape the bottom, until thickened and large bubbles appear on the surface, 4 to 6 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the butter and vanilla extract. Transfer the pudding to a large bowl and place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pudding. Refrigerate until cool, about 2 hours.
- Make the Stabilized Whipped Cream: Stir the water and gelatin together in a bowl and let it sit until the gelatin softens, about 5 minutes. Microwave the mixture until it's bubbling around the edges and the gelatin dissolves, about 15 to 30 seconds. Using an electric mixer, whip the heavy cream on medium-low speed until foamy (about 1 minute). Then increase the speed to high and whip until soft peaks form, about 2 minutes. Add the gelatin mixture and whip until stiff peaks form, about 1 minute.
- Assemble the Cake: Whisk one-third of the whipped cream into the chilled pudding, then gently fold in the remaining whipped cream, about a ¼ cup at a time, until combined.
- Cover the bottom of a 9x13-inch baking with with a layer of graham crackers, breaking the crackers as necessary to line the bottom of the pan. Top with half of the pudding-whipped cream mixture (about 5½ cups), then another layer of graham crackers. Repeat with the remaining pudding mixture and another layer of graham crackers.
- Make the Chocolate Glaze: Microwave the chocolate chips, heavy cream, and corn syrup in a medium bowl, stirring every 30 seconds, until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes total. Cool the glaze to room temperature, about 10 minutes. Cover the top layer of graham crackers with the glaze and refrigerate the cake for at least 6 hours before serving. Leftovers can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator, for up to 2 days.
- If you do not want to use gelatin in the stabilized whipped cream, I've read that agar agar can be used as a substitute. I have not personally tried this, so I can't vouch for it in this recipe, but I would start there.
- To freeze the chocolate eclair cake, refrigerate until the topping is set, then cover tightly with plastic wrap and again with foil, then freeze for up to 1 month.
Did you make this recipe?
Leave a review below, then snap a picture and tag @thebrowneyedbaker on Instagram so I can see it!
“This is a keeper!” Those were my kid’s words after the first bite. And it really is! We actually dug in after roughly 4 hours of letting it set in the fridge, it worked. The glaze was better today after sitting all night, but it was a small price to pay for immediate satisfaction.
Can I use the cool whip you get from the store? If I can, how many ounces should I use?
Hi Lilly, Yes, you can use an 8-ounce carton.
I’m in the middle of this recipe but had to dump the pudding. It was funny and had an odd taste. Remade it with my own recipe more like pastry cream plenty of egg yolks and more cornstarch looks better. Will see how the rest turns out
Would fruit pectin work for the gelatin? I happen to have pectin but not gelatin.
Hi Sarah, Unfortunately that substitution will not work for this.
Could you please include a stovetop adaption? No microwave here. Thank you so much 💕
Do you know anything I can use for the stabilizing agent besides gelatin it’s very hard to find gelatin not made with pork product and I cannot have that I only eat clean or Kosher. Would agar agar work? Thank you
Hi Pam, I have not experimented with any gelatin substitutes, so I could not give you a definitive answer. I would defer to Google on this one!
I made this dessert for Easter and it was a huge hit. It was easy to make and tastes just like an eclair. I love that it was from scratch as I refuse to use cool whip and boxed pudding for anything. I don’t love the corn syrup, but used it anyway this time around. Next time I will do the alternative. Instead of cutting it, we scooped it with a large metal serving spoon, it held well and still looked good.
What if you don’t get heavy cream. Can I substitute it for whipping cream
I love the changes you have made to this recipe. However, my problem with this dessert is that no matter how I or anyone else tries to cut it it’s a mess. The graham crackers crumble and/or split and it looks terrible.
Try using a serrated knife and use a sawing motion when you slice. Good luck!
I made this!!! It is outstanding. All summer I had a craving for Boston Cream Pie and/or chocolate eclairs. I’ve made both. Fast forward to I have 14 days off after a tough work schedule and I thought : eclairs. Was looking up recipe to gather ingredients and happened to see this…thought, well that looks good. Then, I remembered seeing a recipe for graham crackers. I make homemade crackers often.
Fast forward again … made this recipe but with homemade graham crackers. Yum, Yum, Yum – it all of the éclair/Boston Cream Pie taste buttons and so easy and I’m freezing a lot cut into small éclair portions.
Thank you so much for the recipe and inspiration. Except for the homemade graham crackers, I made this exactly as written.
I made this cake for a dessert contest it won. 2nd place out of 20 entrees!! Beat out by a home made carrot cake! But still in the running none the lesss!
It came out delicious and I have given the recipe out over and again! Adding it to my Thanksgiving line up!
Ahhhh that’s so awesome! Congratulations! :)
Lovely and delicious! I made a veganized version of this for my daughter-in-law. For the pudding I replaced the whole milk with half full fat coconut milk and half unsweetened almond milk (this combination approximates the fat content of whole milk) and increased the cornstarch by 2 tablespoons, and non dairy “butter.”
Instead of heavy cream, I whipped up three chilled cans of coconut cream (more reliable than coconut milk for whipping). This doesn’t need stabilizing, but if you wanted you could replace the gelatin with agar agar. Finally, the glaze used non dairy chocolate chips and full fat coconut milk. My daughter-in-law and the non vegan guests loved it.
Happy July 4!
I’d love to make this dessert for a family lake gathering for the 4th of July but since we’ll be traveling and staying in a condo, I know I won’t have the where-with-all to make it all from scratch. Could you give me an idea of how I can use some shortcuts such as boxed pudding and Cool Whip to make this? I would much prefer it homemade but realize that have to make adaptions. Would one box of pudding & one container of Cool Whip be enough? Someone mentioned canned chocolate frosting? Looks delicious!
Hi Maureen, I would use two (3.4-ounce) boxes of instant vanilla pudding, whisked together with 3.5 cups of milk, then fold in an 8-ounce tub of Cool Whip. For the top, yes, you can use a can of your favorite chocolate frosting. Enjoy! :)
I really enjoy this recipe. It’s easy to make, makes a bunch for a crowd, and most of all tastes wonderful!
Thank you as always! I give it 5 stars for sure.
You’re welcome Penny! I appreciate you stopping back to leave a review! xo
i am literally crying out of happiness right now because my mother in law just made a dbl batch of this dessert, and ive spent years trying to figure out what this desert was! when i was little my auntie used to make this for me every christmas and easter, it was always my favorite but i never at that age could understand what all was in it. she always called it 4 layer delight (this was in the 90’s) and as i sit down to write this, a few moments ago i just had my first piece again…thank you, i will make this for my little girl now…shes the same age i was, shes only 5. This is now and always has been my favorite desert over everything else, even tiramisu.
haha meant to post this to the oreo dream cake i am so sorry.
What if you don’t have a microwave? Well it make a big difference if I make the gelatin and chocolate on the stove?
Hi Jenna, You can use the stovetop for sure.
Are there really NO eggs in the pudding?
Correct, NO eggs in the pudding!
I added 1 1/2 cup of peanut butter to the pudding mix after it had cooked, them did the plastic wrap on top before cooling. It was still nice and thick when I added the whip cream. I may add a few chopped Reece’s when serving. It tasted really good! So fingers crossed it will turn out. I have never made or had a cake like this before so I am excited to have a piece!
Oh my gosh that sounds AMAZING! Love your adaptation!
Hi, your recipes are exelent, and seem delicious.
I made this today for my daughter’s bday. AMAZING!!! So light and delicious. Used three tbsp of agar instead of the corn syrup and it worked great. Put it in freezer for an hour and it set very nicely. Everyone loved it (some had seconds). Thanks for the great recipe!
You’re welcome, Dana, I’m so thrilled to hear it was enjoyed! And happy birthday to your daughter! :)
I’m getting ready to make this cake, but I don’t see salt listed in the indredients for the pudding; howeve,r salt is in the instructions. Just wanted you to know so you could edit it if you like. I will Google a recipe for vanilla pudding, so I can continue on. Crossing my fingers that the family loves it!.
Hi Lavonne, My apologies! It is 1 teaspoon and I’ve edited the recipe :)
I don’t’ normally like eclairs, but I feel like I would LOVE this! Looks like the perfect summer dessert.
This sounds delightful!!! It will definitely find a place on our 4th of July table :) Gosh, it sounds like it would also be great with puff pastry in place of the graham crackers!
I make the eclair cake and use whipped cream without the gelatin and it sets up just fine. Granted I use instant vanilla pudding so maybe that makes a difference. I also use a cocoa, sugar, butter mix cooked on the stovetop for the topping. So delish! Will give this one a try sometime.
Thanks for the tip, Emily! And I love your frosting – sounds like the type used for Texas sheet cake, which I love!
Love the idea of making the pudding homemade — it just makes it so much richer. Plus, I’m a lifetime Cool Whip lover, but there’s something extra rich and delicious about homemade whipped cream. This looks amazing!
I love eclair cakes and this one looks absolutely perfect! An irresistible kind of cake :)
I think icebox cakes are my favorite summer dessert, right up there with strawberry pretzel salad. I even have a whole Pinterest board dedicated to them. But my favorite is a knock off I make from scratch, but tastes like Prantl’s Burnt Almond Torte. Huge hit every time I make it.
Ahhhh I bet that is SO GOOD! Prantl’s makes the best burnt almond torte!
I have been doing some research on the Burnt Almond Torte and HAVE TO MAKE IT. Would you want to share your recipe for it?
Michelle, I once made an eclair cake with homemade graham crackers, pate a choux filling, and ganache. It is a dessert friends still mention several years later. It was time consuming because I made all parts from scratch, but it was so worth it!
That sounds amazing, Maria!
This looks delicious! However, this is more what I think of when I imagine Chocolate Eclair cake, because it has a layer of choux/cream puff pastry on the bottom! Yum!
That looks totally delish as well!
What a great summer dessert! Considering that my 2 year old wall ovens “broke”, this is the perfect solution for Sunday Dinner dessert. No baking needed! We’re going to have a delayed Father’s Day celebration, and this will definitely be our dessert. Thanks, Michelle, for this recipe. I, too, love love love that it’s homemade. Can’t wait to try it.
My mother made this for us, and I still make it for myself, using chocolate pudding in place of the vanilla. I shortcut the process using boxed pudding mix and frosting in a can, but this is still my favorite guilty pleasure, and I eat way too much of it!
I can’t wait to try this! I’ve been thinking ice box cakes sound perfect for this summer (especially with typical Pittsburgh mugginess and a baby on the way) and an eclair version is the perfect one to start with :)
When I want to stabilize whipped cream, I melt a couple of large marshmallows in the microwave then quick toss them into the cream as it’s whipping. It will keep the cream stabilized for days. The cake looks so yummy, I must try it!!
I add some piping gel to my whipping cream to stabilize it also. I’m a cake decorator, so I always have it on hand, but I like the marshmallow idea too.
Love this tip, thank you!!