#27: An Award-Winning Holiday Tradition

#27: An Award-Winning Holiday Tradition

I’m always impressed with people who have baking traditions at the holidays. People who craft once-a-year layer cakes with complicated frosting, cheerfully decorate sugar cookies, and let’s not forget the homemade fudge. My grandmother was the baker in our family, but I’m afraid I’m missing her baking gene. Maybe it’s just lack of practice. Making brownies out of a box and slicing pre-made dough onto a cookie sheet is hardly the way to develop latent kitchen skills.

But regardless of my skills (or lack thereof), when my office instituted a yearly Dessert Blowout at the holidays, I wanted to be supportive and contribute something. There was a competition with prizes, but my aspirations weren’t that high. I knew whatever I could make wouldn’t beat the handmade pastry and multilevel trifles that others planned to bring. I was fine with that.

There was this really simple dessert I had made before that people seemed to like. And it was in a 9 x 13 dish, so Chocolate Éclair Pie seemed the perfect choice for a crowd. I made it the night before the Blowout and it came together pretty easily. The icing didn’t quite look like it had in the past, but surely it would firm up in the fridge overnight, right?

It didn’t. It really, really, really didn’t. Instead of this nice, smooth layer of frosting, the chocolate had melted into the graham crackers underneath, and it looked lumpy and bumpy and just UGH. But I discovered this at 7:15 AM, too late to do anything about it. There wasn’t even time to stop on my way to work for some canned frosting with which to “spackle.” I gave serious thought to scooping the whole thing out into the trash, but figured given the ingredients, it was sure to taste fine, no matter how it looked.

I dropped the pie off in the work kitchen and was handed a number. I wish I had the words to describe how scrumptious everything at that table looked, including several items that appeared to have been styled for a Martha Stewart Living photo shoot. I told the co-worker organizing the event that I’d rather not take part in the competition, but she assured me the process was completely anonymous. Unless I said something, no one would ever connect me with the monstrosity masquerading as “pie.”

A few hours later, I queued up to sample some goodies and vote on my favorites. I ended up near the front of the line, exchanging a running commentary with the person ahead of me about the items that looked the most appetizing. So it was an interesting moment when she turned to me with a confused look on her face, and whispered, “What do you suppose that is?”

I’ll give you one guess what she was pointing at.

And no one had taken so much as one bite of it.

I was mortified. But, I quickly realized, I was anonymously mortified. So I whispered back, “I think I know who brought that one, and have it on good authority that it didn’t turn out as expected.”

We made our way back to our respective tables with laden plates, plastic forks, and ballots with which to vote for our favorites. I set my embarrassment aside and enjoyed a delectable peanut butter chocolate something-or-other as the votes were cast and tallied.

Okay, okay. Maybe two delectable peanut butter chocolate something-or-others. Ish.

One of our VPs acted as event host and announced the winners with great fanfare. The first two were called to the stage accompanied by loud applause and cheers, then each was handed an envelope. It’s been several years now, so I’ve forgotten the names of the winners or what they fixed. I do remember one of the entries was not so much baked as constructed. It was a feat of engineering comprised of multiple trays, hundreds of toothpicks, and icing used as glue. It was impressive, and said to have taken the builder/baker about five straight hours to put together.

So you can imagine my surprise when the VP announced, “And third place goes to

Renee, for her Chocolate Éclair Pie!

I…. what?

Wait a minute. WHAT?

It took a few seconds for the reality to penetrate the bewildered deer-in-headlights haze I was in. But I eventually made it up to the stage to accept my envelope and take a bow. And when I went to collect my dish, it had been scraped clean with the serving spoon. There wasn’t a single bite left!

So many people requested the winning recipes that they ended up publishing them in the employee newsletter. I gained a reputation (one that persists, many years later) as someone who knows how to cook. I mean, seriously, ME! A COOK! Despite the fine layer of dust on my appliances! The mind, it boggles.

So here, my friends, is my AWARD-WINNING RECIPE. One that will still be tasty even when you miss-measure the milk for the icing (pro-tip: don’t miss-measure the milk for the icing). This dessert might even make you famous! Or, at the very least, infamous.

Wishing you and yours many sweet moments this Christmas season. Enjoy!




Chocolate Éclair Pie

2 small (3.4 oz) packages French Vanilla instant pudding mix

1 (8 oz) container frozen whipped topping, thawed (“light” version works fine)

1 (16 oz) package graham crackers (I prefer plain, but honey or chocolate would work)

3 cups milk


1/4 cup milk                                                       1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 cup white sugar                                               2 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


In a large bowl, combine pudding mix and milk; stir well.

Fold in whipped topping and beat with a mixer for two minutes.

(a whisk or spoon works in a pinch).

In a buttered 9 x 13 dish, lay out a single layer of graham crackers.

Spread ½ the pudding mixture over the crackers.

Top with another layer of graham crackers.

Spread the remaining pudding mixture on top of the crackers.

Add a final layer of crackers.

To make the icing:

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine ¼ cup milk, cocoa, and sugar.

Boil for 1 minute.

Remove from heat and add butter and vanilla.

Mix well and cool.

Pour icing over the top layer of graham crackers and refrigerate until set.

Makes 12 servings.

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