I assume you are asking yourself—how is an Éclair Cake southern?
The cake itself is not southern, but its source is. For many of us southerners, especially older generations, beloved recipes were sourced from community cookbooks. A community cookbook is just that, a collection of local recipes submitted by locals and compiled by a local a organization (the Junior League is a popular source) or a church. Each recipe contains the name of the submitter and a blurb about the recipe. Readers will usually multiple variations for one type of recipe. You may find three different recipes for pimento cheese. And almost always the finished book is spiral bound.
In my childhood home there was one community cookbook that my mom sourced everything from: Dogwood Delights. You will notice that this book was put together by Atlanta’s Telephone Pioneers of America. My mom worked in Atlanta for BellSouth when I was a child. I remember going to the big city of Atlanta and eating at the Varsity on special days I was allowed to go to work with her.
Every time we made red velvet cake for Christmas, the book came out of the cupboard. Luckily, my grandmother was kind enough to give me her copy as a source of inspiration. So when I make red velvet cake there is only one place to go.
Often times when I am looking for a source of inspiration in a bake or covered dish I want to bring to my next family gathering I pull out my old, dusty copy.
For me, and for so many, community cookbooks are a conservation of history. A memento of time, experience, and culture of a community. Generations of experience are contained in-between two covers which makes for a great resource to young and old cooks alike.
Although community cookbooks provided a wealth of information to homemakers and small town cooks (because they were popular long before the internet), so many of the submissions lack direction. If you are experienced baker or cook like me, it is no problem to fill in the gaps but not every person in the kitchen has that experience. For those who do not know to cream together your butter and eggs when making the batter for a cake, the gaps can be tricky.
My intention is to not only preserve the recipes so many southerners rely on, but to update them into a modern form. By update I do not mean changing the dish into something totally different, I mean raising it into its adult self.
Let this first recipe be the example. I found this recipe by thumbing through and liked it. As I mentioned before, there were about 10 different versions of the cake listed.
As you can see, this recipe calls for a bunch of premade items. Instant pudding, frozen whipped cream, etc. An update is simple, make everything you can from scratch…within reason. I will not be making homemade graham crackers.
I made a homemade bourbon butterscotch pudding out of homemade caramel, a homemade ganache for the top, and a homemade whipped cream. The southern in me felt the need to splash in bourbon instead of rum for the butterscotch.
Ta-dah! This community cookbook submission is brought into the 21st century.
Go out and find your own community cookbook. A good place to start is an old bookstore or my favorite—a yard sale.