I must warn you now, I went down the rabbit hole with popular desserts of the 1980s. I was doing research for a history post and the same few recipes kept popping up over and over. Therefore I had to check them out. So, if you will indulge me for the next few posts, I will be going over a few of them. These will be much shorter than the normal history post as 1980s recipes just don’t have as much written about them as a mid-century recipe.
The first of these posts will be about chocolate eclair cake or as others call it just eclair cake. Now this one I have never tasted personally (well until testing out recipes for this post) though I have come across the recipe for it over the years. I am actually surprised that somehow it has never been brought to a single potluck I have attended.
What ingredients are in Eclair Cake?
Eclair Cake is a no-bake dessert that consists of whole graham crackers layered with a mixture of instant French vanilla pudding and whipped topping. It is then frosted with a layer of chocolate that can be either homemade or store-bought. The dessert is then placed in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours but preferably overnight.
Who and where was Eclair Cake created?
I honestly don’t know. No sources that I can find points to this being created by either Jell-O, Cool Whip, or a brand of graham crackers. It was probably some home cook’s take on the already popular icebox cakes. Most would be familiar with the icebox cake that is chocolate wafers layered with whipped cream which is then placed in the fridge.
The earliest that I can see a recipe for this Eclair cake recipe is in a 1979 newspaper. Now there are a couple of references to Eclair Cakes before this but I can not confirm that these are indeed the same as no ingredients are mentioned.
When was Eclair Cake popular?
The 1980s was definitely the most popular time for the Eclair Cake. Across 1980s newspaper articles, it is called a “dessert with a flair”, a “yummy treat” and “certain to be a keeper”. One 1983 article joked that it was all the rage to bring it to church potlucks in the early 1980s. Another mentions that it was a particularly popular food fad of Pittsburgh, PA in 1982.
It was definitely a recipe that spread through word of mouth. One woman said she got it from her sister-in-law while another said it came from her aunt and yet another just mentioned a relative. Not surprising that it spread around so quickly as the consensus seemed to be that the recipe is “very simple and very good” and that it is a “beauty to add to your collection”.
Why should I make Eclair Cake?
Eclair Cake is so easy and quick to make while also being quite cost-effective which is great if you are entertaining on a budget. While this recipe is super tasty as it already is, making one or all of the components from scratch would give it a bit of a glow-up.
How do you make Eclair Cake?
Chocolate Eclair Cake
An easy layered dessert from the 1980s!
- 2 (3.4 oz) packages of French vanilla or vanilla instant pudding
- 3 cups cold milk
- 1 (8 oz) tub of whipped topping
- 1 (14 oz) package of graham crackers
- 2 squares (or 1 oz) unsweetened baking chocolate
- 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons milk
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 1 1/2 cup confectioners sugar, sifted
- In a large mixing bowl, combine together the instant pudding mix and cold milk unitl it is thick (about 5 minutes). Then fold in the whipped topping.
- In a 9 x 13 pan, place a layer of graham crackers (keeping them whole as much as you can). Place half the pudding mixture on the the crackers making sure it is smooth and even. Place another layer of graham crackers and then the remaining pudding mixture. Place one last layer of graham crackers, Set aside.
- In a saucepan over medium/high heat, melt together the chocolate, corn syrup and butter. Add the milk, vanilla and confectioners sugar, mix until smooth. Let cool slightly.
- Pour the slightly cooled mixture over the top layer of graham cracker, smoothing it with a knife.
- Place the dessert in the fridge to set for a couple of hours but preferably overnight.
- 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping that has been whipped can be subsituted for the Cool Whip.
- A package of store bought frosting can be used instead of homemade.
“America’s Food Fads in Summer of ’82”. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. August 18, 1982.
Buckert, Emily. “Eclair Cake Yummy Treat”. The Victoria Advocate. Febuary 27, 1983
Burnett, Arlene. “Bring on the Naughty Desserts”. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. August 21, 2001.
“Chocolately Eclair Cake is Family Favorite”. The Lewiston Daily Sun. March 11, 1987.
“Dinner”. The Day. June 1, 1986.
Marter, Marilynn. “Eclair Ring: For a Dramatic Dessert”. Ocala Star-Banner. March 25, 1987.
Murphy, Joy. “Chocolate Eclair Cake is Simple and its Good”. Lakeland Ledger. September 17, 1987.
Nordstrom, Judy. “Rich Recipe Rates as a ‘Keeper'”. The Telegraph. April 24, 1985.
Powell, Mary Alice. “Cakes Worth the Wait”. Toldeo Blade. May 25, 1983.
Powell, Mary Alice. “Sweet Desserts”. Toledo Blade. October 17, 1979.
“Rice Salad is Tempting”. Herald-Journal. July 28, 1981.
6 thoughts on “The History of Chocolate Eclair Cake”
I don’t think I’ve ever had this, but it does look good.
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It is quite good!
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First of all, I am from Pittsburgh, PA and have been making this dessert for years. If you saw my recipe card, you would see how well used it is. It is a family favorite and my grandkids especially love it. I transitioned from making the icing to using chocolate icing from a can. I have Sunday dinner for 17 and this dessert is in the rotation and a crowd pleaser.
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Well used recipe cards are the best! I don’t doubt that your family, especially your grandkids, love this recipe. It is quite a good one. I definitely understand how it got popular. I will have to try the icing from the can next time I make it!