Work with food and wine and coffee long enough; read the food magazines; pour over cookbooks; chat with bartenders; befriend baristas; delve deep into the F&B world, and eventually things will progress ever higher brow. The nose will tilt toward the heavens; the pinky finger will extend askew. Chain restaurants will be derided while fast food assumed a level of hell.
Concurrently, things will grow in complexity and refinement. The Italian roast turns into single origin which morphs into small batch, single estate grown. The $7 grocery store wine turns into $17 Spanish wine from Catalunya which (d)evolves into an internal dialog of “No! I will not succumb to the Priorate. It’s $55! … But the clerk called it the best wine of the year. Buy it! … No!”
It’s a rough line of work. Egos can flair. But then there are the times you’re humbled.
We recently hosted a backyard barbecue. The type where you invite your closest friends, asking them to bring something to contribute to the requisite grilled meat-in-tube-form, beer and cocktails. Salads arrive on queue. Someone delights with homemade spring rolls. Chips and dips appear, all the usual trappings.
At some point well into the evening, the grill had been turned off, the cooler’s ice had mostly melted, folks were imbibing a “final” round of Manhattans, and then a single dessert appeared from seemingly nowhere.
“It’s a no-bake chocolate eclair cake,” explained our new friend from the Midwest. “It’s really just a fancy name for a ‘chocolate delight dessert,’ one of our Midwestern specialties,” she beamed.
I couldn’t stop eating it.
So humble are its origins. So pedestrian are its components. Whipped topping? What is that? Boxed, instant pudding? There is a reason I haven’t had that since grade school. How can this be good?
But I would be dishonest if I didn’t humbly admit that I was infatuated with this Midwestern layering of otherwise mundane ingredients, to the extent that I happily put the leftovers in the fridge and ate them with a spoon over the next days.
The perplexing mélange that was this layered, no-bake cake — one most at home in places like Tulsa, Okla., or Toledo, Ohio — haunted me for the next week. A true example of the product being far greater than the sum of its parts.
So, here it is for you, dear reader. Perhaps you are a Midwesterner yourself and have a nostalgic soft spot for simple and sweet desserts such as this yet wonder at my captivation. Or perhaps you are as I and assume a recipe such as this beneath you. Either way, humor me. Make this and tell me if you don’t love it.
NO-BAKE CHOCOLATE ÉCLAIR CAKE
For the layers:
• 3 boxes of 3 1/2 ounces instant vanilla pudding
• 3 cups milk
• 1 container of 8 ounces whipped topping (e.g., Cool Whip)
• Graham crackers
For the topping:
• ¼ cup milk
• 1/3 cup cocoa
• 1 cup sugar
• 1 stick butter
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
Whisk together pudding mix with the milk and incorporate the whipped topping. (Remind yourself this is not a culinary crime; you can do this.)
In a 9-inch-by-13-inch pan, layer whole graham crackers, then half the whipped mixture, then more crackers, then the last half of the mixture, then top with more crackers.
Create the chocolate topping by simmering together the milk/cocoa/sugar while stirring. Kill heat. Stir in the butter and vanilla. Drape layered “cake” with the chocolate mixture. Chill in fridge (approximately 6 hours) prior to serving your unsuspecting guests/hosts. Humble “cake” can taste good.
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