When I was younger I generally wanted nothing to do with the kitchen. My mom cooked a lot. We went out to eat occasionally, but mostly my mom cooked us dinners, trying to find things that satisfied everyone and occasionally trying to convince me to get in there and learn some stuff. And generally it didn’t go very well. There was the spilling hot fudge down my pants-leg episode. There the Never-Fail Chocolate Icing incident, that it turns out was an Always-Fail recipe. There were burnt cookies and toast and general disorder that would leave me feeling upset and less-than, and as the perfectionist that I am I think I hated coming into contact with something that I just couldn’t do well.
Ten years ago, or honestly even two years ago, I’m not sure I would have predicted I would spend the majority of a Saturday afternoon making an ambitious cake, one with temperamental crepes and filling that has to be made in two parts. I would have lost patience at some point, and to be honest I almost did on about my fifth ruined crepe. I had to turn the stove off and take a step back and come back to it after a little crepe research (cook the crepes just a bit more than you think they might need, wait until they can about shake loose from the pan on their own).
But this cake was all kinds of worth it. The first time I saw a cake resembling this one was when someone (Alton Brown I think?) was talking about it on and episode of Best Thing I Ever Ate. It was when we were still living in Houston and I think it was a weekend evening and Gerrit and I were sitting on the apartment floor playing some card game or something, and I just froze and watched that whole segment with my mouth gaping.
And honestly it was just as good as it looked. Layers of light fluffy crepes and rich vanilla pastry cream that has been folded with whipped cream. Which, by the way, pastry cream? As I was making it I just felt like, uhm, this it just vanilla pudding. But no, when it’s all done it’s a richer vanilla pudding. Vanilla pudding times ten. Our cake might not have gotten as much filling in the center as it should have because my fingers kept finding their way into that bowl.
On the other hand this cake was also just as much work as it looked like, if not more. It is not for the faint of heart. Although the most time consuming part was cooked the crepes. It probably took me about and hour or so to frustratingly perfect my technique, so if you have crepes down pat you have no reason to be intimidated.
Actually, either way don’t be intimidated because this one of those cases where the time you put into the kitchen shows in your results. Or actually disappears in them, because with all of our Easter guests this cake was gone in one afternoon and I was left to scrape the last little bits of pastry cream off my cake plate.
Prep Time: 1 hour, 25 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Wait Time: 8 hours (for batter and cream), 4 hours, 30 minutes (when making cake)
Serves about 15
For the crepes:
6 tablespoons butter
3 cups milk
6 large eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
7 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
For the pastry cream:
2 cups milk
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch, sifted
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into pieces
To finish the crepes:
Corn or vegetable oil
To finish the filling:
2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1. Make the crepe batter and the pastry cream the day before. Start with the crepe batter. In a small pan, cook the butter over medium heat until slightly browned, like hazelnuts. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
2. Then, in another small pan, heat the milk over medium heat until it is steaming. Remove from heat and allow to cool for about 10 minutes.
3. In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, flour, sugar, and salt on medium-low speed. While beating, slowly add the warm milk and the butter. Cover batter and refrigerate overnight.
4. The pastry cream should also be made the day ahead. In a small pan (the same one you used for the milk earlier) heat the milk over medium-heat, bringing it to a boil. Meanwhile, in another, slightly larger pan, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, and cornstarch.
5. When the milk is warm, slowly drizzle about 1/4 cup of the milk to the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly until fully incorporated. Then continue to slowly pour in the milk, whisking constantly. Put the pan over medium heat and, whisking constantly, bring the mixture to a boil. It will begin to thicken. Once it is boiling (this will just be very slight thick bubbles if you listen closely) continue to cook, whisking, for 1-2 more minutes. Then remove pan from the heat.
6. Whisk in the vanilla extract and allow it to sit for about 5 minutes, coming back to stir it occasionally. Then whisk in the butter, stirring until it is melted and the cream is silky smooth. If you would like, you can press the pastry cream through a sieve to make sure it is completely smooth.
7. Scrape the cream into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, placing the plastic directly on top of the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate overnight.
8. To put the cake together the next day, begin by making the crepes. Remove the batter from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature (about 1-2 hours).* When the batter is ready, place a 9 or 10 inch non-stick skillet over medium heat. Swab the surface with oil by putting some oil on a paper towel and wiping the pan gently. Add about 3 tablespoons of batter (a little less than 1/4 cup) in the center of the pan and gently swirl the pan in a circular motion until the pan is evenly coated with batter. Cook for 1-2, or in some cases even 3, minutes, until the edges are beginning to turn brown and the top is no longer shiny. Gently lift up a corner of the crepe with a small spatula and slide a large spatula underneath the crepe and flip it to the other side (it will probably take a few ruined crepes to find your perfect technique). On the other side cook the crepe for about 20-30 seconds and then remove the crepe from the pan. Lay the crepe on parchment paper. Repeat with the remaining batter until you have about 20 crepes.
9. When the crepes are done, set them aside and finish the filling. Pour 2 cups of cream in medium-sized bowl. Add the powdered sugar and beat until the cream holds very soft peaks. Then fold the whipped cream into the pastry cream.
10. Finally, put the cake together. Lay one crepe on a cake plate and top it with about 1/4 cup of the cream mixture, spreading it out evenly with a spatula. Lay another crepe on top of it, then more cream, and repeat until the cake is stacked, putting a final crepe on top. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours (or longer: overnight is fine).
11. Set out the cake for 30 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with a dusting of powdered sugar and then cut into slices.**
*Somehow in the fridge the top of my batter had hardened. If this happens, don’t worry. Most of it should go away when the batter if room temperature. But if it doesn’t completely it is also perfectly fine.
**Alternately, you can add sugar to the top and then use a torch to brulee it. Also, we served this cake with strawberries and everyone thought it was perfect.