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.
- For the pudding:
- 1 1/3 Cup of Dark Brown Sugar
- 1 Teaspoon of Salt
- 1/2 Cup of Water
- 3 Cups of Heavy Cream, divided
- 2 Cups of Milk
- 4 Tablespoons of Cornstarch
- 4 Large Egg Yolks
- 2 Large Eggs
- 6 Tablespoons of Unsalted Butter
- 4 Tablespoons of Bourbon
- For the rest of the cake:
- 1 Box of Graham Crackers
- 10 Ounces of Dark Chocolate
- 1 Cup of Heavy Cream
- First make the butterscotch pudding.
- In a small saucepan, combine the brown sugar, water, and salt. Heat over medium-high heat and cook the mixture, without stirring, until it is dark brown. This should take 8-10 minutes.
- Whisk in 2 cups of cream and the milk, stir until fully combined. Bring the mixture back up to a boil.
- While you bring the mixture back up to a boil, prepare your eggs.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, and cornstarch.
- Temper the eggs by adding on spoonful at a time of heated milk mixture into the egg mixture, bringing the eggs up to the temperature of the milk. Stirring as you add.
- Once eggs are tempered, pour the heated egg mixture into the medium saucepan.
- Reduce the heat to medium, and cook the custard, stirring constantly, until it is thick and coats the back of a spoon. This should only take a few minutes.
- Once thickened, whisk in the butter and then the rum.
- Set aside to let the pudding cool for at least one hour before using.
- Once the pudding is cool make the remaining cake.
- Heat one cup of heavy cream, over medium heat, in a small saucepan.
- Place the dark chocolate into a mixing bowl, then pour over the simmering cream.
- Let sit until the chocolate melts.
- While the chocolate melts, whisk 1 cup of heavy whipping cream into whipped cream. You want a firm whipped cream.
- Fold the whipped cream into the cooled pudding, a 1/3 at a time.
- By this time the chocolate should be melted, whisk together the cream and chocolate until a smooth and shiny ganache forms.
- Now you are ready to assemble the cake.
- Place an even layer of graham crackers into the bottom of a 9x9 cake pan, or similar dish of your choice.
- Next pour in 1/3 of the pudding mixture. Layer with more graham crackers, then the next 1/3 of pudding. Add another layer of graham crackers and then the final layer of pudding.
- Finish the cake with a top layer of graham crackers, then pour your genache over the top layer of graham crackers.
- Allow the cake to set in the fridge for several hours before serving.