Saturday, March 16, 2013

Crepe Cake

There is a bakery in New York City called Lady M and they make the most delectable crepe cakes.  I was in heaven the first time I tried it.  After seeing that they charge $75 for one whole cake, I figured I would give it a try myself.  I did a little research online and was beyond excited when I found that the New York Times had published the recipe for this masterpiece in an article a few years back!  

This dessert is special.  The first time I made this cake was a few years ago for my husband's birthday and it was a hit.  Most of the ingredients are inexpensive staples you can find in your pantry or fridge. It is a two day process, as the crepe batter and pastry cream should be made the night before.  

Don't be scared to try it... there are a lot of steps but none that are unmanageable.  

When making the batter, you need to heat the milk and brown the butter.  This is what you want your butter to look like. 

While the butter and milk are cooling, measure the flour out and put in a standing mixer with the sugar and salt.  

Pour the eggs into the flour mixture and whisk to combine. 

It should look like this.  

Add the warm milk very slowly because you don't want to scramble the eggs.  Then add the butter and mix until combined.  Cover with plastic wrap and let it do its magic in the fridge overnight.  

Now it's time to make the vanilla filling.  The original recipe calls for fresh vanilla beans but personally, I think this stuff is way better.  You can get it at Williams-Sonoma and it lasts forever.  It is a gooey paste that has actual vanilla bean seeds in it.   

First you need to heat the milk and vanilla paste and let cool.  While it is cooling, mix the egg yolks, corn starch and sugar.  

Slowly pour the warm milk into the egg mixture and vigorously whisk.  Throw this puppy over high heat and whisk away!  Don't walk away from this.... there will be a point when it turns from liquid to a thick paste.  Keep whisking to prevent lumps from forming.  

Put the pan in an ice bath and keep whisking... add butter... keep whisking.  Once everything is combined, cover with plastic wrap (press wrap directly over the cream so a skin doesn't form), place in the fridge and let chill overnight.  

The batter will be thin but don't worry!  It makes perfect, paper thin, delicate crepes.  If you have never made crepes before, you may want to double the batter recipe because you are going to need 20-25 good crepes.  For me, the first crepe is always awful.  It take me 3-4 tries to get rolling.  

Heat a 9 inch nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Brush with a little butter, pour batter in, swirl around and let set.   Flip after about a minute.  I find it easier to flip with a rubber spatula.  It is also easier to pour the batter into something that has a handle and a spout, like a Pyrex measuring glass.  

After you have made the perfect crepes, it is time to finish the filling.  Mix whipping cream, sugar and vanilla in a mixer until peaks form.  

Add the pastry cream to the whipped cream and mix on high until both creams are completely combined.  This will be smooth and creamy...

And should look like this.  This stuff is amazing.  I had to fight Matt off with a wooden spoon to keep him from eating it all.. and he typically only likes chocolate!  

Now it is time to assemble...  (Check out the gorgeous hand painted cake dish my Mom bought for me a few years back. Thanks Mom!)

First layer... Nineteen more to go!  I actually lost count but am pretty sure I did around 20-25 layers.  

Halfway there.

Finally done and time for some fun!  I will use any excuse to get my kitchen torch out.  Sprinkle some sugar on this baby and brûlée the sh*# out of that top layer.  

 Oh my...  Doesn't that just make you want to dig in?  

You know when you work so hard on something and the end result is disappointing?  Well this is the complete opposite.  It is better than you imagined.   Now go and try it for yourself!  

Crepe batter 
6 tablespoons butter
3 cups milk
6 eggs
1 1/2 cups flour
7 tablespoons sugar
Pinch salt

Vanilla pastry cream 
2 cups milk
1 vanilla bean, halved and scraped
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch, sifted
3 1/2 tablespoons butter

2 cups heavy cream
1/8 c. sugar
1 t. vanilla

The day before, make the crepe batter and the pastry cream. 

Batter: In a small pan, cook the butter until brown like hazelnuts. Set aside. In another small pan, heat the milk until steaming; allow to cool for 10 minutes. In a mixer on medium-low speed, beat together the eggs, flour, sugar and salt. Slowly add the hot milk and browned butter. Pour into a container with a spout, cover and refrigerate overnight.

Pastry cream: Bring the milk with the vanilla bean paste to a boil, then set aside for 10 minutes to cool.  Fill a large bowl with ice and set aside a small bowl that can hold the finished pastry cream and be placed in this ice bath.

In a medium heavy-bottomed pan, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch. Gradually whisk in the hot milk, then place pan over high heat and bring to a boil, whisking vigorously for 1 to 2 minutes. Set the pan in the ice bath and whisk in the butter. When completely cool, cover and refrigerate.

Assemble the cake the next day: Bring the batter to room temperature and whisk to break up any hardened butter. Place a nonstick or seasoned 9-inch crepe pan over medium heat. Brush the surface with a little butter, then add about 3 tablespoons batter and swirl to cover the surface. Cook until the bottom just begins to brown, about 1 minute, then carefully lift an edge and flip the crepe with your fingers. Cook on the other side for no longer than 30 seconds. Flip the crepe onto a baking sheet lined with parchment or wax paper. Repeat until you have 20-25 perfect crepes.

Whip the heavy cream with the sugar and the vanilla until it forms soft peaks.  Add pastry cream directly to mixer and whisk in on high until combined.  

Lay 1 crepe on a cake plate. Using an icing spatula, completely cover with a thin layer of pastry cream (about 1/4 cup). Cover with a crepe and repeat to make a stack of 20, with the best-looking crepe on top. Chill for at least 2 hours. Set out for 30 minutes before serving. If you have a blowtorch for creme brulee, sprinkle the top crepe with 2 tablespoons sugar and caramelize with the torch; otherwise, dust with confectioners' sugar. Slice like a cake. 

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