I first had eclair cake at my friend Tom’s house. It was his mother’s recipe, and I loved it. My version of cream puff eclair cake is all from scratch: homemade choux pastry, pastry cream (vanilla pudding), and whipped cream. Use ganache to decorate it for any holiday, or just drizzle it on. I’ve included a video for making pate a choux as well. Whether you use it to make an eclair cake or classic eclairs, the procedure is exactly the same.
What Are Chocolate Eclairs?
An eclair is a classic French pastry that traditionally has 3 components:
- pate a choux (or choux paste) that is baked up into crispy, hollow tubes
- rich vanilla pastry cream as the filling
- chocolate glaze on top
You would think that a “chocolate eclair” has chocolate filling, but nope. Folks call them chocolate eclairs because of the chocolate glaze on top.
What is an Eclair Cake?
In the United States, there seem to be two main types of eclair cakes or eclair desserts. The first, which is the most like a traditional eclair, is made with:
- Pate a choux (cream puff dough or choux paste)
- boxed vanilla pudding mixed with cream cheese
- Cool Whip
- store-bought or homemade chocolate sauce or ganache
The other type, which bears less resemblance to an eclair but is still tasty and good for a crowd has these components:
- Graham crackers layered with
- boxed vanilla pudding and topped with
- chocolate frosting, glaze or ganache
Homemade Eclair Cake: All From Scratch
For my money, I want the first version, made with the choux pastry, but if I’m going to make the choux from scratch, I may as well go all in and make all the components.
What Makes This Eclair Cake Different from Others?
Everything in this eclair dessert is made from scratch, so you’re getting eclair cake with homemade pudding and real whipped cream. Yup, eclair cake without Cool Whip. It can be done! Plus homemade ganache. Huzzah!
You can pick and choose here, of course. If you don’t have a ton of time, go ahead and use boxed pudding and cream cheese. It will still be really delicious. Here’s the approximate amount of time it will take you to make everything so you can decide what you can make from scratch and what you want to use a shortcut for.
- Making pate a choux (on the stove and in the mixer): about 20 minutes.
- Baking the pate a choux: about 30 minutes at 400F. It needs to cool down completely, so allow at least 1-1 1/2 hours for cooling
- Making pastry cream: about 20 minutes. This needs to chill completely, so allow at least 3 hours in the fridge
- Making Whipped Cream: 2 minutes. Certainly no more than 5 minutes. Seriously.
- Making Ganache: about 1-2 minutes if you use the microwave. If not, maybe 3-5 minutes to bring your cream to a boil on the stove
Before we get to the recipe, we’re going in-depth on how to make choux pastry and how to make pastry cream so your eclair cake–that maybe you’re making completely from scratch for the first time ever–will come out perfectly!
How to Make Pate a Choux
The dough for eclair cake is exactly the same dough you’d make to make cream puffs, profiteroles, and/or eclairs. The only difference is that, rather than piping it in small mounds (profiteroles), larger mounds (cream puffs), or logs (eclairs), you just spread all the dough in a pan and bake in a hot oven.
Here’s how to make it. (You can also watch the video at the top of the post.)
First you make a cooked dough:
- Place milk, butter, sugar, and salt in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. (You can also make cream puff dough with water. I use water if I’m going to make a savory filling. For sweet fillings, I use milk.)
- Heat over medium heat until the butter is mostly melted.
- Increase heat to high and bring to a boil, swirling the pan and/or stirring to make sure the butter is completely melted.
- Dump in the flour all at one time.
- Stir over medium heat until the flour absorbs all the liquid.
- Cook, stirring constantly, for 1-2 minutes to dry the dough out just a bit. It will pretty much look like mashed potatoes when you’re done.
In part 2 of pate a choux making, you beat eggs in, one at a time. You can use a wooden spoon to vigorously stir in each egg, but I like to use my stand mixer. I can let the dough beat and cool down for a minute or two before adding my eggs, one at a time. Plus my arm doesn’t get tired. The dough will work either way, so don’t shy away if you don’t have a stand mixer. Just know your arm will get a workout!
- You’ll need four eggs for this recipe.
- Crack one at a time into a cup and add them to your mixer. Beat thoroughly between each addition, making sure to scrape the bowl well. The first two eggs are harder to beat in than the third and fourth.
- After adding 3 eggs, you can see that the dough is still a bit dry. See how it’s all jagged looking where some dropped off the beater?
- After adding the 4th egg, the dough flows slowly like lava and sheets off the beater into a nice, shiny point.
The last step in making choux pastry for your lovely eclair cake is baking it.
- Scrape the batter out into a pan sprayed 9×13″ pan. You may also use a jelly roll pan if you’d like thinner choux and a thinner filling. Your call.
- Spread the dough out evenly, pushing it up around the edges of the pan a little bit.
- Bake at 400F for about 30-35 minutes until deeply golden brown and very puffy. The finished crust will be very uneven, but that’s not a problem.
- Poke small holes in the crust with a tip of a knife to allow steam to escape. Cool completely before filling with pastry cream.
Allow your crust to cool to room temperature, about 1-1 1/2 hours. Then you can make your pastry cream.
Making pastry cream is exactly like making vanilla pudding. It’s just a bit thicker and richer. I kept the cream cheese from the original recipe. Since cream cheese is nice and solid at room temperature, it gives the pastry cream some body so it stands up to slicing.
How to Make the Pastry Cream with Cream Cheese
To make the pastry cream:
- Mix milk, sugar, eggs, cornstarch, and salt in a medium sauce pan.
- Put the room temperature cream cheese and vanilla into a large bowl with a strainer over the top.
- Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly with a long-handled spoon or whisk. Allow to boil, stirring and stirring, for 2 minutes. Otherwise the cornstarch will thin out and you’ll end up with soup. Not so good for slicing.
- Press the hot pastry cream through the strainer to catch any bits of egg that might have formed.
- Let sit for 2-3 minutes so the hot cream can help to melt the cream cheese.
- Whisk until completely smooth.
Once you have the pastry cream made, all you need to do is pour it onto your crust, spread it out to the edges making sure there are no gaps between the sides of the pan and the pastry cream, and then press plastic wrap on the surface to chill in the fridge.
How Long Can I Refrigerate This Guy?
You’ll need to chill the pastry cream layer for a good 3 hours or so. Once you’ve added the whipped cream and ganache, the cake should be good to go in an additional 2 hours. You can refrigerate leftovers for up to 3 days, but it probably won’t last that long!
Okay, let’s make this cake, shall we?
If you think this all-homemade version of eclair cake sounds good, please consider rating and/or commenting. And if you make it, and I really hope you do, please let me know either in the comments, on Instagram tagging @onlinepastrychef and using hashtag #pcorecipe, and/or in the Pastry Chef Online Facebook Group. I can’t wait to see your version!
For the Pate a Choux
- 8 oz (1 cup) whole milk
- 4 oz (1 stick) unsalted butter cut into small pieces
- 1 Tablespoon sugar
- heavy pinch of kosher salt
- 4.25 oz (1 cup) all purpose flour
- 4 large eggs
For the Pastry Cream
- 8 oz (1 block) cream cheese at room temperature
- 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
- 32 oz (1 quart or 4 cups) whole milk
- 8 oz (1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons) sugar
- 1.6 oz (6 Tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons) cornstarch
- 4 large eggs
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
For the Whipped Cream
- 12 oz (1 1/2 cups) heavy whipping cream
- 4 1/2 teaspoons sugar (or to taste)
- tiny pinch of kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the Ganache
- 6 oz (1 cup) semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
- 3 oz (1/3 cup plus 1 Tablespoon) half and half or heavy cream
For the Pate a Choux
- Spray a 9x13" glass baking dish with pan spray. Set aside.
- Set a rack in the center of your oven and preheat to 400F.
- Put the milk, butter, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan.
- Heat over medium heat until the butter is mostly melted. Increase heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil.
- Dump the flour in all at one time. Stir vigorously with a heatproof spatula or a wooden spoon until the flour has absorbed all the liquid. Continue to cook for another minute or two, beating it constantly, to dry out the dough just a bit. It will look like mashed potatoes when you're done.
- Put the cooked dough in a large bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
- Stir with a spoon or beat on medium low for a minute or two to help the dough cool down a bit.
- Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping the bowl well before adding the next. Once all the eggs are in, the dough will flow slowly like lava and will come to a shiny point when it flows off the beater.
- Scrape the dough into the prepared pan, smoothing it out to the edges with an offset spatula. Build up the edges so they are a bit thicker.
- Bake for 30-35 minutes until deeply golden brown and very, very puffy and firm to the touch. It will look uneven. That's okay.
- Poke small holes in the baked crust with the point of a knife to let steam escape. Allow to cool completely, about 1-1 1/2 hours.
For the Pastry Cream
- Put the cream cheese and vanilla in a large bowl. Fit a strainer over the top, and set aside convenient to the stove.
- In a heavy bottomed saucepan, whisk together the milk, sugar, cornstarch, eggs, and salt.
- Heat the milk mixture over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens and comes to a boil. Turn the heat down to medium and continue to cook and whisk constantly for 2 minutes to fully activate the cornstarch.
- Pour the custard through the strainer into the cream cheese and vanilla. Let sit for 2-3 minutes to help melt the cream cheese.
- Whisk until completely smooth.
For the Whipped Cream
- Once your pastry cream has chilled, put the whipped cream ingredients in a medium bowl (if using a hand mixer) or in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment.
- Whip until the cream reaches medium-firm peaks.
For the Ganache
- Put the cream and chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl or glass measure.
- Heat at full power for 1 minute.
- Stir well. If the ganache isn't completely smooth, heat at full power for 10 seconds at a time, stirring in between. Your ganache should be shiny and smooth in no more than 1 1/2 minutes, and most likely less.
To Assemble and Decorate
- Once the pate a choux has cooled completely, pour the hot pastry cream into the crust and spread out to the edges of the pan.
- Press plastic wrap on the surface of the pastry cream and refrigerate until cold, at least 3 hours.
- Spread the whipped cream in an even layer on top of the chilled pastry cream.
- Either drizzle on the ganache in a random design or put into a ziptop bag and snip off one small corner. Pipe whatever decorations you'd like.
- Chill the eclair cake another 2 hours before slicing and serving.
Nutritional information is based on 12 servings.
You can also bake this eclair dessert in a half-sheet pan or jelly roll pan. The crust, pastry cream, and whipped cream will not be as thick, and the pate a choux will probably bake in about 20-25 minutes. It's a nice option if you want to serve a lot of people.
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Nutrition InformationYield 12
Amount Per Serving Calories 559Total Fat 36.2gSaturated Fat 21.8gCholesterol 219mgSodium 317mgCarbohydrates 48.3gFiber 0.8gSugar 35.2gProtein 11.7g
Remember you can take a shortcut for any of the components, but if you have the time, you will really appreciate the truly homemade flavors in this eclair dessert.
Thanks so much for spending some time with me today. Enjoy your eclair cake (and try not to save it all for yourself), and have a lovely day.