My Eclair Cake is a great, easy, no-bake dessert recipe that’s made with real pastry cream (no box pudding mixes used here!). It’s perfect for summer (or anytime!) and great for making in advance. Be sure to check out the how-to video in the recipe!
This is the perfect make ahead dessert recipe and it can be made without turning on your oven! Unlike many other versions of eclair cake, mine is made with real pastry cream (no box pudding mixes) and real homemade whipped cream and is smothered with silky chocolate ganache for the absolute best and most authentic eclair taste!
I’ll admit, my recipe does take a bit more planning than others out there, but it’s absolutely worth it. Prep your pastry cream a day or two in advance and assemble the cake the night before serving. With just a bit more effort, you have the perfect make ahead dessert.
I can’t wait for you to try this one, so let’s get started!
What You Need
- Milk & heavy cream. This combination of whole milk and cream provides the perfect amount of fat for a rich, silky, and perfectly thickened pastry cream. You can alternatively substitute half & half for both the cream and milk.
- Egg yolks. You will need 5 egg yolks to make the pastry cream. They’ll be cooked on the stovetop and help thicken the cream (and they’ll be heated on the stovetop enough to be safe to eat!). Save the egg whites and make yourself pavlova, meringue, or angel food cake!
- Sugar. Granulated sugar will be cooked into the pastry cream to sweeten it, but in addition to sweetening the pastry cream the sugar must also melt completely in order for it to properly thicken once its cooled. Because of this, It’s important that you not turn your stovetop heat above medium while cooking. You’ll also need powdered sugar, this will be beaten separately with heavy cream to make a homemade whipped cream that helps stabilize the pastry cream and makes up the eclair cake filling.
- Cornstarch. This is important to properly thicken the pastry cream. While flour is sometimes used instead, I prefer the consistency and results when cornstarch is used.
- Butter adds richness and a silky smooth mouthfeel to the pastry cream. We use unsalted butter and add salt elsewhere in the recipe to best control the flavor (see my post on salted vs unsalted butter for more information on this!).
- Graham crackers. These will form the layers of your eclair cake. After resting in the pastry cream for several hours, they soften to a cake-like consistency. For now, I use store-bought graham crackers, but don’t think a recipe for homemade isn’t on my radar for the future!
- Chocolate. No eclair is complete without a silky smooth chocolate ganache topping, and this one is no exception. Melt chocolate and cream together and stir until smooth before spreading over the cake.
Remember, this is just an overview of the ingredients I used and why. For the full recipe please scroll down to the bottom of the post!
How to Make The Pastry Cream
Many eclair cake recipes start by using vanilla pudding… but from a box. While that would certainly save time, it’s simply not nearly as good! Today we’re making a real pastry cream, the same stuff you would fill an authentic eclair with! You’ll need a little patience as the pastry cream has to cool, but really this recipe is straightforward and simple:
- Whisk together sugar and cornstarch and salt (this eliminates any lumps) then separately whisk together cream, milk, and egg yolks. While whisking, drizzle the cream mixture into the sugar.
- Cook over medium heat (whatever you do, don’t be tempted to crank the heat to speed up the process, it won’t work!!) until the mixture has thickened to a pudding-like consistency that coats the back of a spoon.
- Immediately remove from heat, pour through a fine mesh strainer (this catches any lumps or bits of cooked egg) and then whisk in butter and vanilla extract.
- Press a piece of plastic wrap (or parchment or wax paper) directly against the surface of the pastry cream. This is important, it helps keep a skin from forming!
The pastry cream must be completely chilled before you can use it to make your eclair cake. This typically takes a minimum of 90 minutes, but you can make the pastry cream up to 2 days in advance of assembling!
Assembling Eclair Cake
Once your pastry cream has fully chilled, you can assemble your eclair cake:
- First, make your homemade whipped cream, which will add some stability and fluffiness/volume to the cake layers. Use an electric mixer to beat heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla extract until you have stiff peaks (it will resemble Cool Whip, but will taste SO much better!).
- Gently fold together whipped cream and cold pastry cream until the two are completely combined. Use a spatula and not an electric mixer for this step or you could end up deflating your whipped cream!
- Assembly time! Place an even layer of graham crackers on the bottom of a 9×13″ baking pan. Top with half of your pastry cream mixture. Top this with another layer of graham crackers, then the remaining half of pastry cream!
- Place a final single layer of graham crackers over the pastry cream. Melt together chocolate and cream to make a ganache then smooth this evenly over the top graham cracker layer.
For best results, you’ll want to chill this cake in the refrigerator again for several hours. This will give the graham crackers some time to soften to a cake-like consistency and will allow the filling to firm up as it sits.
Frequently Asked Questions
Once assembled, the refrigerated eclair cake should be enjoyed within 3-4 days. However, you can make the pastry cream up to 2 days before assembling the cake to save time!
Yes! This cake is great when frozen (and it even makes slicing and serving less messy!). I still recommend letting the cake chill in the refrigerator for several hours/overnight before freezing so that the graham crackers can soften to the proper consistency, though. Once frozen you can keep the cake (tightly covered) in the freezer for up to a month. Serve frozen/do not thaw before serving.
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Let’s bake together! I’ll be walking you through all the steps in my written recipe and video below! If you try this recipe, be sure to tag me on Instagram, and you can also find me on YouTube and Facebook
- ¾ cup granulated sugar (150g)
- ¼ cup cornstarch (32g)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 ½ cups whole milk (355ml)
- 1 ½ cup heavy cream (355ml)
- 5 large egg yolks
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter cut into 4 pieces
- 1 ½ cups heavy whipping cream very cold (355ml)
- ½ cup powdered sugar (60g)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For Assembly and Ganache
- 30 graham crackers
- 6 oz chopped semisweet or 60% dark chocolate bar or couverture chocolate
- ¾ cup heavy whipping cream (175ml)
Pastry Cream (note, pastry cream will take at least 90 minutes to cool before it can be used. This cream can be prepared up to 2 days in advance of using and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to use).
- In a medium-sized saucepan, whisk together sugar, cornstarch, and salt.
- In a separate bowl or large measuring cup, whisk together milk, cream, and egg yolks until completely combined.
- Return to the cornstarch mixture, and, while whisking it, slowly drizzle in the milk/cream/egg yolk mixture until combined. Turn stovetop heat to medium and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture begins to thicken to a pudding-like consistency (this may take some time depending on your particular stove, but don't turn up the heat or you could cook the pastry cream too fast or even prevent it from thickening properly).
- As soon as pudding has thickened and the whisk leaves trails through the surface (another good way to check if it is finished is to dip a spoon in the mixture and see if the back of the spoon is entirely coated), remove from heat and pour through a fine mesh strainer into a large heatproof bowl.
- Add butter, one tablespoon at a time, whisking after each addition until melted. Stir in vanilla extract. Mixture should be smooth.
- Allow pastry cream to cool for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, then press a piece of wax paper or plastic wrap directly against the surface of the pastry cream (to prevent a skin from forming) and transfer to the refrigerator to cool until completely chilled (about 90 minutes). One pastry cream is chilled, you can make your whipped cream and assemble your eclair cake!
- Prepare whipped cream by combining cold heavy cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract in a large bowl and using an electric mixer to beat on high-speed until you have achieved stiff peaks (a thick fluffy mixture similar in consistency to Cool Whip).
- Fold prepared whipped cream into completely cooled pastry cream until completely combined.
- Place a single layer of graham crackers into the bottom of a 13×9” (23x33cm) baking dish. Layer with half of your pastry cream/whipped cream mixture, and use a spatula to smooth so you have a flat, even layer.
- Gently nestle a second layer of graham crackers onto the surface of the pastry cream.
- Top with remaining pastry cream and smooth again so you have an even surface
- Top the pastry cream with a final layer of graham crackers. Place the tray in the refrigerator while you prepare your ganache topping.
- Combine finely chopped chocolate and heavy cream in a medium-sized, heat-proof bowl. Place in the microwave and heat in 30-second increments, stirring in between, until mixture is smooth and glossy.
- Allow ganache to cool for several minutes then remove eclair cake from refrigerator and spread ganache evenly over the graham cracker surface.
- Cover and return to refrigerator for several hours (preferably overnight) before cutting and serving.
Storing:Leave eclair cake in the pan that you made it in and store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 4-5 days. This cake may also be frozen (keep tightly covered) for up to a month.
Nutritional information is based on third-party calculations and should be considered an estimate only. Actual nutritional content will vary based upon brands used, measuring methods, cooking method, portion sizes, and more.