A little effort turns this cake into a showstopper

Daniel J. van Ackere/America's Test Kitchen via APA creamy filling of vanilla pudding and whipped topping is sandwiched between layers of graham crackers and topped with chocolate glaze in this cake inspired by éclairs.

Chocolate éclair cake is an instant dessert classic.

This no-bake cake features layers of vanilla pudding and whipped cream sandwiched between graham crackers and topped off with chocolate frosting. As the graham crackers soften, the whole thing melds into a creamy, sliceable cake.

While traditional versions are made from store-bought instant pudding and Cool Whip, we used a couple of easy techniques to produce a from-scratch cake that easily trumped its inspiration.

Since the cake layers required no more work than lining a pan with graham crackers, we made the effort to prepare a quick stovetop vanilla pudding, folding in homemade whipped cream to lighten it.

For the éclair topping, we created a simple microwave-and-stir glaze. Six ounces of finely chopped semisweet chocolate can be used in place of the chips.

CHOCOLATE ÉCLAIR CAKE

Start to finish: 31/2 hours plus cooling time

Servings: 15

11/4 cups (83/4 ounces) sugar

6 tablespoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon salt

5 cups whole milk

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces

5 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 tablespoons water

11/4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin

23/4 cups heavy cream, chilled

14 ounces graham crackers

1 cup (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips

5 tablespoons light corn syrup

Combine the sugar, cornstarch and salt in a large saucepan. Whisk the milk into the sugar mixture until smooth, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, scraping the bottom of the pan with a heatproof rubber spatula.

Immediately reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, continuing to scrape bottom, until thickened and large bubbles appear on surface, 4-6 minutes. Off heat, whisk in the butter and vanilla.

Transfer pudding to a large bowl, and place plastic wrap directly on surface of pudding. Refrigerate until cool, about 2 hours.

Sprinkle the gelatin over the water in a bowl, and let sit until gelatin softens, about 5 minutes. Microwave until mixture is bubbling around edges and gelatin dissolves, 15-30 seconds.

Using a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whip 2 cups cream on medium-low speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Increase speed to high, and whip until soft peaks form, 1-3 minutes. Add the gelatin mixture, and whip until stiff peaks form, about 1 minute.

Whisk 1/3 of the whipped cream into the chilled pudding, then gently fold in remaining whipped cream, 1 scoop at a time, until combined.

Cover the bottom of a 13-inch-by-9-inch baking dish with a layer of graham crackers, breaking crackers as necessary to line bottom of pan. Top with half of the pudding-whipped cream mixture (about 51/2 cups) and another layer of graham crackers. Repeat with remaining pudding-whipped cream mixture and remaining graham crackers.

Combine the chocolate chips, corn syrup and remaining 3/4 cup cream in a bowl, and microwave on 50 percent power, stirring occasionally, until smooth, 1-2 minutes. Let glaze cool completely, about 10 minutes.

Spread glaze evenly over graham crackers, and refrigerate cake for at least 6 hours or up to 2 days before serving.

Nutrition information per serving: 469 calories; 227 calories from fat; 25 g fat (14 g saturated, 1 g trans fats); 68 mg cholesterol; 334 mg sodium; 58 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 40 g sugar; 6 g protein.