In today’s post: Cream Puff Cake is a delicious “fancy” dessert that’s actually super easy to make! The simple crust tastes just like the outside of a cream puff (or eclair), then it’s filled with a delicious vanilla pudding layer and topped with whipped cream and rich chocolate sauce.
Cream Puff Eclair Cake
Ooh this “cake” is good! When my friend Eric first made it for our family we were all going back for seconds and thirds. It has the flavors and textures of an amazing cream puff or eclair, but since it’s made in a cake shape there’s no fiddling around with trying to fill individual pastries. It looks fancy and tastes absolutely delicious – and you can make it in under an hour!
Making Choux Pastry
You may have seen eclair cake recipes online that call for layering pudding with graham crackers. I’m sure they taste great, but graham crackers in an eclair? Nope. For a cream puff or eclair, you need choux pastry (aka pâte à choux, pronounced shoe). The french spelling plus a couple episodes of The Great British Bakeoff had me thinking choux pastry was really tricky to make, but it’s not at all! This crust is seriously simple to put together, but tastes so fancy I was ridiculously proud of myself for making it. All you have to do is:
- Melt butter and water together and bring to a boil.
- Stir in flour until it forms a ball.
- Beat it for a minute with a hand mixer to cool it off, then beat in four eggs one at a time until smooth and glossy.
That’s it! Super simple – and it just gets easier from here on. Once your choux dough is done, spread it across the bottom and up the sides of a an ungreased glass 9×13 pan or dish:
Bake it for 25-30 minutes until it’s super puffed and golden brown, and then pat yourself on the back for making a fancy french choux pastry crust. The crust will flatten out a bit as it cools, but it will still have big bumps and ridges, which is why lots of people call this “moon cake”!
The Filling Layers
Here’s what goes in the crust once it’s cooled:
- Vanilla pudding + cream cheese + extra vanilla: Traditionally eclairs and cream puffs are filled with crème pâtissière, which is kind of tricky to make. So instead, this cake uses vanilla pudding which gets amped up with cream cheese. You can’t taste the cream cheese at all, it just gives the pudding a really nice richness that mimics the flavor of a traditional crème pâtissière without all the work. You can make your favorite homemade vanilla pudding and stir cream cheese in at the end, OR you can go the easy route like I did and use instant vanilla pudding. Blending the mixture up in a blender and adding some extra vanilla extract gives it great flavor and a wonderful light texture – and only takes three minutes.
- Whipped cream: I topped my eclair cake with Extra Creamy Cool Whip – I know some people hate Cool Whip but I grew up eating it so I like it, plus it’s insanely convenient. But if you prefer real whipped cream, go ahead and use that!
- Chocolate sauce: You can use whatever chocolate topping or chocolate ganache you like best for this cake, just remember it can’t be hot (like warmed hot fudge) or it will melt the whipped cream on top of the cake. I use Ghirardelli brand chocolate sauce, which is sold near the ice cream toppings like Hershey’s syrup. The Ghirardelli sauce is richer than normal chocolate syrup so it adds a ton of flavor.
Getting a Clean Slice
When you pull the first few slices of this cake out of the pan, the whipped cream layer on top may pull down the sides a bit, meaning you can’t see the distinct layers (of course it doesn’t change the amazing flavor). If you care about having pretty slices, you can freeze the cake for about an hour before serving to make sure it is extra cold, which will give you cleaner slices.
I love everything about this cream puff cake as is, but you can easily make a few changes to suit your own tastes. Try these variations:
- Use a different flavor pudding: We have also made this using chocolate pudding and while it’s a little less traditional, it is easily my family’s favorite (I’m the only vanilla hold out). My friend who gave me the recipe told me they also love it with butterscotch or pistachio pudding. I think white chocolate pudding would be amazing as well!
- Add fruit toppings: I added some sliced strawberries and they were delicious, but I think sliced bananas would taste even better! You could even slice bananas over the crust before adding the pudding mixture. Just remember that desserts with sliced bananas in them don’t stay good in the fridge for more than about a day.
- Make it bigger: You can slice this cake into 12 or 15 pieces, but I can assure you that people will want bigger rather than smaller pieces. It’s so light and delicious people will probably want seconds. To make the cake serve more people, you can make the crust as written but bake it in a jelly roll pan (half sheet pan) for 20-22 minutes. Instead of using two small (3.4 oz) boxes of instant pudding and three cups of milk, use two large (5.1 oz) boxes of instant pudding and four and a half cups of milk.
For the Crust
- 1/2 cup Butter salted
- 1 cup Water
- 1 cup Flour all purpose
- 4 large Eggs
- 2 3.4 oz packages Instant Vanilla Pudding
- 3 cups Milk 2% or whole
- 8 oz Cream Cheese
- 1/2 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
- 8 oz Extra Creamy Cool Whip, thawed 3 cups sweetened whipped cream (from 1.5 cups heavy cream) can also be used
- Chocolate Sauce or Syrup Ghirardelli brand is best
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- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit.
- In a medium saucepan, heat the butter and water together until butter is completely melted and mixture boils. Add all of the flour and mix with a wooden spoon for 30-60 seconds until mixture forms a ball. Remove from heat.
- Transfer dough into a mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer on low for about a minute until it's not too hot to touch anymore. Then beat in the eggs, adding one egg at a time and beating on low until it's fully incorporated.
- Spread dough onto the bottom and up the sides of an ungreased 9×13 glass pan. It doesn't need to be smooth. Bake for 25-30 minutes until crust is nicely golden brown.
- Allow the crust to cool for 15-20 minutes.
- Place the cream cheese, milk, and vanilla in a blender and process until smooth. Add the instant vanilla pudding mix and pulse four or five times until incorporated. The mixture will begin to set up quickly.
- Pour the pudding mixture into the crust and smooth the top. Spoon Cool Whip or whipped cream over the pudding and smooth it out. Drizzle chocolate sauce over the top if desired OR drizzle sauce on individual pieces as you serve.
- Cover cake with plastic wrap and chill until ready to serve. If you'd like to serve right away, put it in the freezer for about 15 minutes to help everything set up.