This old fashioned Chocolate Eclair Cake is the perfect no-bake dessert! With layers of graham crackers, creamy vanilla pudding, and canned frosting, it’s a make-ahead cake that everyone will love.
Vintage cookbooks have an array of no-bake cakes, such as Banana Split Cake and Strawberry Icebox Cake.
This old fashioned Chocolate Eclair Cake, which was popular in the 1980s, is another one of those great no-bake cakes from generations past.
With layers of vanilla custard, soft graham crackers, and chocolate frosting, it’s a decadent cake that requires zero time in the oven. And it has only 5 ingredients!
It’s also a great make-ahead cake. In fact, it NEEDS to be made at least 24 hours in advance. As it sits in the refrigerator, the vanilla custard softens the graham crackers, turning it into a cool and creamy treat.
I love this one for the summer (no oven needed!). It’s also great for holidays like Christmas and Easter, when oven space is at a premium and a make-ahead dessert is really appealing.
So really, any time of year is a great time for Chocolate Eclair Cake!
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- Be sure to use instant pudding (not cook & serve) for this recipe.
- Thaw the whipped topping the refrigerator for 24 hours before starting the recipe. If I know I’m making this recipe later in the week, I’ll put my whipped topping directly into the refrigerator after grocery shopping so I don’t forget!
- Give the cake a full 24 hours in the refrigerator before serving so it sets up. You’ll get the nicest looking slices this way, too.
- Don’t let the lid/plastic wrap touch the frosting as the cake is chilling in the refrigerator, so the top stays nice. I like using a classic Pyrex with a lid.
Origin of chocolate eclair cake
A chocolate eclair is a flaky French pastry, filled with pastry cream and topped with a shiny chocolate icing. According to this history of eclairs, they have been around since the 1860s!
A chocolate eclair cake, however, is a highly simplified version of the classic French pastry, made into a cake. Instead of the choux pastry, we’ll use graham crackers. The pastry cream is instead a semi-homemade custard, made with vanilla pudding mix and whipped topping. The chocolate icing stays the same, but we’ll take a shortcut by using canned chocolate frosting.
I’ve seen this cake recipe in cookbooks dating back to 1981, so it’s been around at least since then!
You just need 5 ingredients for this old fashioned cake!
- Graham crackers (use original or honey)—you’ll need a whole box
- French vanilla pudding—make sure it says “instant” and NOT cook & serve
- Whipped topping (thaw it first)
- Milk (1%, 2%, or whole is fine)
- Chocolate frosting from a can
How to make old fashioned Chocolate Eclair Cake
Start by whisking together the milk and the pudding mix. Whisk until smooth, then let it sit for 5 minutes to allow it to firm up a bit.
Then, fold in the thawed whipped topping.
Spray a 13×9 inch dish with cooking spray, then layer one layer of graham crackers into the dish.
Top with half the vanilla pudding mixture, then another layer of graham crackers, and the remaining vanilla pudding mixture.
Top the cake with a final layer of graham crackers. Then, remove the lid and foil from the chocolate frosting container, and microwave for 20–30 seconds. Stir until the frosting is pourable.
Pour the frosting over the cake.
Spread the frosting with an offset spatula to cover the graham crackers.
Place a lid on the cake (you can also use plastic wrap, but make sure it doesn’t touch the top of the cake!). Refrigerate for 24 hours before serving.
Can I make chocolate eclair cake ahead of time?
Chocolate Eclair Cake is designed to be made ahead. You can make this cake up to 2 days in advance of serving it.
It will keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Tips for slicing the cake
The cake should be sliced when very cold—straight from the refrigerator after chilling at least 24 hours. Use a sharp knife, and wipe the knife off with a paper towel in between cuts. This will give you those gorgeous slices that show all the layers!
Chocolate Eclair Cake is extremely versatile. Here are a few ideas for changing it up:
- Use a different variety of pudding mix, such as chocolate, pistachio, butterscotch, cheesecake, banana cream, or coconut cream.
- Substitute another variety of canned frosting, such as vanilla, strawberry, caramel, or coconut pecan.
- Substitute vanilla wafers for the graham crackers.
Here are a few pudding + frosting combination ideas!
- Chocolate pudding mix + strawberry frosting
- Pistachio pudding mix + vanilla frosting
- Banana cream pudding mix + caramel frosting
- Chocolate pudding mix + coconut pecan frosting
Can I freeze chocolate eclair cake?
Yes! You can freeze the cake either whole or in slices. It’ll keep the freezer for up to 3 months if contained in a tightly sealed dish.
Defrost the cake in the refrigerator for 24 hours before serving.
More old fashioned cakes
Here are a few of my favorite old fashioned cakes:
- Ding Dong Cake (tastes like a Hostess ding dong!))
- Chocolate Delight
- No-Bake Banana Split Cake
- Old Fashioned Date Cake
- Jell-O Poke Cake
- Cherry Dump Cake
Have you tried this recipe? Please leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ rating and/or comment below!
Old Fashioned Chocolate Eclair Cake
- 1 box (14.4 oz) graham crackers
- 3 cups milk
- 2 packages (3 oz each) french vanilla instant pudding mix
- 1 container (8 oz) whipped topping, defrosted
- 1 can (16 oz) chocolate fudge frosting
- Spray a 13×9 inch dish with cooking spray. Place a single layer of graham crackers in the bottom of the dish. You may need to break some graham crackers to fit them on the edges of the dish.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the milk and two package of instant pudding mix until smooth. Let sit for 5 minutes. Then, fold in the whipped topping.
- Spread half of the pudding mixture over the graham crackers. Top with another layer of graham crackers, then the remaining pudding mixture.
- Top with another layer of graham crackers.
- Remove the plastic lid from the can of frosting, then carefully remove the entire foil lid (make sure to get all of the foil lid off). Microwave the can of frosting for 20–30 seconds, or until the frosting is pourable.
- Pour the frosting over the top layer of graham crackers, and spread it with an offset spatula until the top is covered.
- Cover and refrigerate the eclair cake for at least 24 hours before serving.
- Slice into squares and serve cold.
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