Author: Gracious Cooking

Holiday Drink (Nonalcoholic)

Holiday Drink (Nonalcoholic)

Bring an easy, festive flair to your holiday table this year with this super easy, bubbly Nonalcoholic Holiday Drink!

Welcome to Gracious Cooking!

Cooking is a gracious act. To cook for someone, including yourself, inherently means to show love. Good meals fill our bellies, and tell the stories of our homes and families. Here you will find comforting recipes that I hope you will return to many times.

Chocolate Éclair Cake

Chocolate Éclair Cake

This post contains affiliate links. This means that I receive a small commission for items bought through some of the links in this post, at no cost to you. All opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting Gracious Cooking.

Chocolate éclair cake is the perfect dessert to have in your back pocket for holidays, birthdays, potlucks, and family dinners. A no-bake, make ahead cake consisting of layers of graham crackers and vanilla pudding whipped cream filling topped with chocolate ganache – what’s not to love? The graham crackers get lusciously soft overnight in the fridge, creating the illusion of cake layers, and the filling is not overly sweet. Chocolate éclair cake is destined to be a family favorite.

chocolate éclair cake

Chocolate Éclair Cake: An American Classic

Cooking in the United States is interesting in so many ways. One thing that really adds strength to American cuisine is the fact that the United States has been an estuary of cultures for hundreds of years, allowing foods to mingle in delicious ways. French cooking has a very strong foothold in the United States. Chocolate éclair cake takes inspiration from the beloved French pastry of the 19th century, and changes the format for the modern home cook.

According to quaintcooking.com, chocolate éclair cake in this form first appeared on the scene in newspapers in the 1980s. It probably had been around earlier, we just don’t have any great documentation. I first encountered this dessert at my in-laws’ dinner table, but I’ve modified a couple of ingredients. Let’s get to it!

chocolate eclair cake

Ingredients

  • Milk – I use 2% because that’s what I always have in my fridge. Any milk should work though.
  • A large box of vanilla instant pudding mix
  • Cream cheese- use a block, not the spreadable type. There is more liquid in spreadable cream cheese.
  • Heavy cream
  • Graham crackers- get two boxes just to be safe. When I made this in my glass 9×13 pan, I used 21 graham crackers. When I made chocolate éclair cake in my metal 9×13, I needed more to get good coverage on the layers. My metal pan has straight sides, while the glass one has curved sides. The straight sides lead to a larger volume.
  • 8 ounces of chocolate. I like to use a Ghirardelli 60% cacao baking chocolate bar, but any chocolate will work. Chocolate chips will work just fine.

Equipment

Techniques

Dessert doesn’t get any easier than chocolate éclair cake. All you have to do is mix the pudding with the milk, cream cheese, and heavy cream, make a ganache, and layer the graham crackers with the pudding filling. Then you let the finished dessert sit covered in the fridge overnight, and you have a delicious cake ready to go!

To make a ganache: either break or chop 8 oz of chocolate into small pieces. Tip the chocolate into a bowl. On the stove, heat 1 cup of heavy cream until you just start to see little bubbles around the edges of the pot. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate. Let the cream and chocolate sit for a few minutes, then whisk together until smooth. I do recommend heating the cream on the stove instead of the microwave. Whenever I do it in the microwave, my ganache turns out runnier. I’m not sure why that happens, but it’s consistent.

chocolate eclair cake

I can’t wait for you to make this easy chocolate éclair cake. I know you’re going to love it. You may also be interested in some other easy desserts: Five Ingredient Banana Bundt Cake, and Apple Cinnamon Bundt Cake. When you make any of my recipes, will you please tag me on instagram @gracious.cooking? More about the name change soon. 😉

Happy cooking!

Carli

chocolate éclair cake

Chocolate Éclair Icebox Cake

Carli Christiansen
This simple, no bake dessert with layers of graham crackers, creamy filling, and chocolate ganache is perfect for gatherings with family and friends.
Prep Time 20 mins
chilling time 12 hrs
Total Time 12 hrs 20 mins
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Servings 12 servings

Equipment

  • 1 9×13 baking pan
  • either a stand or hand mixer

Ingredients
  

  • 3 cups milk I would use either 2% or whole milk
  • 1 5.1 oz box vanilla instant pudding mix
  • 1 8 oz brick cream cheese at room temperature
  • 1 and 1/2 cups cold heavy cream see notes
  • 28 graham crackers see notes

For the ganache

  • 8 oz semi-sweet chocolate
  • 1 cup heavy cream if using whipping cream, reduce to 3/4 cup.

Instructions
 

For the Filling

  • In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or in a large mixing bowl if using a hand mixer), combine 3 cups cold milk with the instant pudding mix. Mix on low or medium until very smooth. Place bowl in the fridge for 3-5 minutes for the pudding to set up a little bit.
  • Take the bowl out of the fridge, put back on to the stand mixer (obviously you won't have to do this for a hand mixer).
  • Add 8 oz room temperature cream cheese to the pudding, and mix on low or medium speed until mostly combined. The cream cheese will incorporate more when the cream is whipped.
  • To your pudding and cream cheese mixture, add 1 and 1/2 cups of heavy cream. Whip on medium to high speed for about 5 minutes, or until cream has thickened considerably, and you have a thick, smooth filling.

For the Ganache

  • Chop or break 8 oz of semi-sweet chocolate (I use Ghirardelli semi-sweet baking chocolate, but whatever you have will be fine) into small pieces and place in a small mixing bowl.
  • On the stove, heat 1 cup heavy cream until you see steam and just a few tiny bubbles, stirring occasionally. I do not recommend heating the cream in the microwave. The ganache always comes out thinner when I use the microwave.
  • Pour the heated cream over the chocolate, and let it stand for 5 minutes, or as long as it takes you to assemble the cake. Whisk until smooth.

Assembly

  • Place 1 layer of graham crackers on the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish. You will need to break a graham cracker and use the pieces to fill in a gap on one of the short ends of the dish.
  • Spread half of the filling on top of the first layer of graham crackers. I recommend spreading it with an offset spatula, but anything will work.
  • Add a second layer of graham crackers on top of the first layer of filling.
  • Spread the remainder of the filling on top of the second layer of graham crackers.
  • Add a third layer of graham crackers.
  • Pour the chocolate ganache over the top, and spread all over the top with an offset spatula.
  • Place the cake uncovered in the fridge until the chocolate cools completely, then cover with plastic wrap or tin foil and refrigerate 8-24 hours.
  • Serve and enjoy!

Notes

  1. Leftovers can be stored covered in the fridge for 3-4 days.
  2. You should be able to freeze the completely assembled cake (wrapped in 2 layers of plastic wrap and tin foil), and thaw it in the fridge before serving. I have not tested this, but it should work.
  3. Heavy cream is very thick. I like the Kroger brand best, personally. If you are using a thinner cream (whipping cream or heavy whipping cream), reduce the amount in the ganache to 3/4 cup. Do not change the amount for the filling.
  4. It is really important that the cream cheese be at room temperature. Otherwise the cream cheese will not incorporate very well into the filling.
  5. Not all 9×13 pans have the same volume. I need more graham crackers when I use my metal pan vs my glass one.
Keyword chocolate chip, Cream Cheese, Dessert, Graham Crackers, No Bake, Pudding, Quick & Easy, Whipped Cream
White Chicken Chili

White Chicken Chili

White Chicken Chili uses pantry ingredients, can be on your table in 30 minutes, and has a great vegetarian option.

Broccoli Cheddar Soup with Frozen Broccoli

Broccoli Cheddar Soup with Frozen Broccoli

Broccoli cheddar soup uses frozen broccoli as the perfect shortcut to a comforting, cozy weeknight dinner.

How to Make Taco Soup

How to Make Taco Soup

This post contains affiliate links. This means that I receive a small commission for items bought through some of the links in this post, at no cost to you. All opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting Gracious Cooking.

Welcome to Soup Month 2022! Every Friday in October will feature a new, luscious soup recipe. First up is Taco Soup! I was not introduced to taco soup until my 20s. While I was serving as a missionary in Austria, we had a conference with all of the Sister missionaries. At dinner time, out came a pot full of beans, ground beef, and vegetables in a tomato-y broth awash with spices. As we dug in, I felt the warm feeling of nostalgia wash over me, even though this was an unfamiliar dish. It’s funny how you can taste your home culture. A good, old-fashioned slice of Americana was most welcome after almost 18 months away.

taco soup

Origins of Taco Soup

Where did taco soup come from? It’s kind of a mystery! Taco soup doesn’t seem to have any origin stories that I can find. If you have heard one, please leave it in the comments. I love food origin myths. We only truly know where a limited number of dishes come from, the rest of the tales are handed down through tradition and we all swear we know the true version of the story. All I could find about taco soup is that originated in the Southwest United States sometime in the 1950’s.

What is Taco Soup?

Taco soup is a tomato-based soup with ground beef and vegetables seasoned with aromatic Southwestern seasonings. What’s the difference between chili and taco soup, you ask? That depends on your definition of “chili.” For me, taco soup includes more vegetables than chili, such as carrots and corn. Chili also tends to be at least somewhat spicy, where my taco soup is mild and rich. You can certainly pump up the heat with some hot peppers sauteed with the onions if you wish.

At least half of the joy of this soup comes from the toppings. The soup is very good without them, but really shines when accessories such as sour cream, Fritos, cheese, and avocado slices are generously added. The toppings add texture, creaminess, and happiness. Especially don’t skip the Fritos.

Special Ingredients

This recipe uses mostly pantry ingredients. The only specialty ingredient may be smoked paprika, which you can find at most grocery stores.

Can I Use Pre-Made Taco Seasoning?

You could use a pre-made taco seasoning instead of the spice blend listed in the recipe in a pinch. I don’t recommend it, however, as that will totally change the flavor profile of this meal. The spices have been chosen on purpose and tested for balance of flavor.

taco soup

Special Techniques

This easy recipe comes together in about 30 minutes. The only special technique is blooming the spices. All that means is that you will add your spices to the meat and vegetable mixture right before you add the tomatoes. Stirring the spices through the beef and cooking oil will release oil soluble compounds in the spices, unleashing their full flavors. Only bloom the spices for about 10 to 20 seconds before you add the tomatoes though. You don’t want your spice mix to burn.

Equipment

Only very basic equipment is needed for this delicious soup. The only specialty piece of equipment is a 6 quart enameled Dutch oven. I love enameled cast iron for soup because of its great heat retention and easy to clean surface. You can, however, use any heavy-bottomed pot.

Storing Your Soup

Taco soup can be stored in the fridge for 3-4 days. I imagine it can also be frozen once cooked, but I have not tested this. It has never survived my ravenous family long enough to make it into the freezer.

I can’t wait for you to make this recipe! Please tag me on social media @at_home_test_cook and leave a comment telling me about your creation!

taco soup

Taco Soup

Gracious Cooking
This hearty taco soup is full of delicious beef and vegetables, and comes together in about 45 minutes.
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 35 mins
Total Time 45 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Servings 6

Equipment

  • 1 6 quart pot or larger preferably an enameled Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot.

Ingredients
  

Spice Mix

  • 1 TBSP chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder not garlic salt
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper

For the Soup

  • 3 whole carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/8 slices on the bias (diagonal). about 1 cup
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 bell pepper, diced Any color works. Use your favorite!
  • 1 lb ground beef I use 85% lean
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 15 oz can of black beans, drained
  • 1 cup frozen corn kernels
  • 2 cups beef stock Any stock, or even water, would work.

Garnishes

  • sour cream
  • Fritos
  • grated cheddar cheese
  • avocado slices optional

Instructions
 

  • Combine all of the ingredients for the spice mix in a small bowl. Stir together.
  • Preheat a fairly large heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat.
  • Add sliced carrots and sauté for about 5 minutes, or until they start to soften.
  • Add the diced onion and bell pepper, cook until the onion is translucent.
  • Add 1 pound ground beef, and cook until browned, breaking it into crumbles with a spoon or spatula.
  • Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  • Have your tomatoes at the ready, and add the spice mix. Stir until fragrant, about 20 seconds. This blooms the spices, resulting in deeper flavor.
  • Add the can of tomatoes and beef stock and stir.
  • Add the drained black beans and the corn kernels.
  • Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Serve with sour cream, Fritos, cheese, and any other garnishes.
Keyword Ground Beef, homemade, Quick & Easy, Soup, Tacos, vegetables
Apple Cinnamon Rolls

Apple Cinnamon Rolls

Apple cinnamon rolls are the luxurious treat that your next gathering needs. Your family and friends will think you’re a baking genius.

One Bowl Chocolate Chip Muffins

One Bowl Chocolate Chip Muffins

You are only one bowl and 30 minutes away from sweet, fluffy chocolate chip muffins. What are you waiting for?

Homemade Cheez-It Tostadas

Homemade Cheez-It Tostadas

I watch a lot of food-related YouTube. It’s such a great form of escapism. I love to see chefs and cooks on YouTube recreate commercial food, do food challenges, eat food in countries I’ll probably never visit, etc. A person can also learn an astonishing amount about cooking technique on the internet. One of my favorite YouTube chefs is Joshua Weissman. He has some great series on making things better than restaurants, faster than restaurants, the ultimate version of something…you get the picture.

Cheez-It tostada

Recently, Joshua Weissman released a video in which he makes homemade Cheez-Its and then re-creates Taco Bell’s Big Cheez-It Tostada. The link for that video can be found here. As you might imagine, Taco Bell’s Big Cheez-It Tostada is in fact a tostada with a big Cheez-It as its base. This menu item came out earlier this year to be tested at just one Taco Bell location in Irvine, California. Now, this is the sort of thing that I love about food media – it often inspires me to make things I would never think to make on my own. I had to see if homemade Cheez-Its were good and/or worth making, and if I was going to make Cheez-Its, I might as well go all the way and make the tostada.

Making Homemade Cheez-Its

I had never made any type of cracker before, so I knew this was going to be an adventure. Anyone who knows me well can tell you I love a good food project, and I do not mind “having” to purchase specialty ingredients or equipment. Twist my arm, I have to buy a weird spice. I’m all about it. I think being willing to source ingredients that are unusual to you, if you are currently able to, is a great way to open up your palette and keep the curiosity flowing. So, I ordered cheddar cheese powder from Amazon, got me some nutritional yeast, and was off to the races.

Homemade Cheez-Its

The Good

The good news is that Cheez-Its are not hard to make. You just mix up the dough, chill it, roll it, cut it, and bake it. The dough wasn’t particularly hard to work with, and the resulting crackers really did look and taste a lot like their commercial counterparts. The bright orange color is fun, and the taste is very cheesy. My 3 year-old was delighted, and kept stealing crackers off the counter. I don’t think I will make Cheez-Its regularly, but it was fun. If my kids wanted to do it again sometime, I’d definitely be willing. If you’d like to make Cheez-Its too, the recipe can be found here in Joshua Weissman’s video. It’s also on his website, but the directions are incomplete there. I would follow the video.

The Not-So-Good

The only thing I would change about Joshua Weissman’s recipe for Cheez-Its is I would halve the amount of nutritional yeast next time. I felt that 2 teaspoons of nutritional yeast lent a sour flavor to the crackers that I would tone down next time. I do think the nutritional yeast added to the punchiness of the Cheez-Its, but it was a little strong for me as written.

Also, I overcooked my first pan of crackers, but that can happen in any recipe due to oven variance. I just baked the next pan for 12 minutes instead of 15, and it was all good.

Homemade Cheez-Its
Giant Cheez-Its ready for tostada time

Giant Cheez-It Tostada Time

The Good

These giant Cheez-It tostadas were fun to assemble. I felt like some kind of culinary rogue stacking meat, cheese, lettuce, avocado and sour cream on top of a giant cheese cracker. Also, this was the first food photo shoot I’ve done since my third baby was born, so that felt really good.

Cheez-It tostada
t

The Not So Good

I used Joshua Weissman’s taco bell beef recipe for the tostadas, which I found to be way over-seasoned. The super strong beef mixture plus the very salty Cheez-It made the whole thing blow-your-head-off salty and over-seasoned.

Now, if I were to make these again, I would just season the beef either with pre-made taco seasoning or some salt, pepper, chili powder and cumin and I think the tostada would be much more successful. This really just comes down to personal preference. The flavor of Mr. Weissman’s taco bell beef recipe was good, just way too strong for my personal taste.

Cheez-It tostada

So, Should You Make Cheez-It Tostadas?

Sure thing! If this kind of food speaks to you, then you should absolutely go for it! Is this the kind of recipe you’re going to add to your weekly dinner rotation? No. However, it is really fun to make dishes like this every once in a while. I think it’s a good way to strengthen those cooking muscles, too.

I had a really good time making giant Cheez-It tostadas, even if in the end, the seasoning level was a little much. Making the Cheez-Its was especially fun, and I would do that again for sure. The internet is a magical place, full of wacky recipes and techniques for us to try.

Coming Up on The At-Home Test Cook

I have a lot of exciting content coming your way! For starters, guess what’s coming in October? SOUP MONTH! That’s right. Get ready for a whole month of cozy goodness. I love soup so much, and that’s just the start! In November we’ll be diving into side dishes for holiday dinners (or any time)! I’m so excited for the next few months. Thank you so much for coming on this adventure with me. I really love writing this blog, and I feel so humbled and touched when you make and enjoy my recipes. I love to see your creations, so please tag me in your photos on Instagram! @at_home_test_cook.

Sheet Pan Steamed Salmon

Sheet Pan Steamed Salmon

This simple, elegant salmon dinner comes together in 40 minutes!


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