Eating to Cook: Let Her Eat Cake

When my good friend, who is also a chef, wants a mille crêpe cake for her birthday then that’s what my good friend gets.

It all stemmed from a trip to New York where she’d eaten such a cake (mille means a thousand; essentially many, many layers of crêpes) at Lady M Confections.

“It was so beautiful with thin layers of crêpes stacked on top of each other, this high,” she told me, measuring 6 inches with her thumb and pointer finger. Without much thought (likely because there is no filter on this festering gob of mine), I replied, “well your birthday is Saturday, I’ll make one for you.” A thin layer of sweat immediately formed on my upper lip.

“Okay,” chef said, “but you don’t have to.” I knew right away that her statement translated to a total lack of confidence… and that the crêpe gauntlet had been laid down.

I haven’t made a crêpe in over a decade. But I used to make a lot of them so I knew that I would need a proper pan and just the right recipe. I googled Lady M and found that The New York Times had published their recipe. The crêpe batter, which was adapted from The Joy of Cooking would work fine but to impress my friend, I hoped that my pastry cream (which would include a cardamom sugar I wanted to try) would do the trick.

For 2 ½ hours, I made crêpes. About 40 of ‘em. (Yes, I threw away the first few.) But then I got into a groove. Crêpe, crêpe, crêpe, then cool, then assembly. For the filling, I whipped one cup of heavy cream to soft peaks and folded it into the pastry cream which I spooned a few teaspoons of onto a serving platter. I lay a crêpe in the center, smeared a thin layer of pastry cream almost to the edges (the weight of layers would eventually squish the cream to the edges) and then topped it with another crêpe, repeating until all the crêpes were used. I placed the final crêpe, a perfect sphere directly on top, then placed in the fridge until I was ready to serve.

What should have happened, sadly, did not. I thought, “I’ll just pull the cake out of the fridge and take the chill off.” But when I opened the fridge, I found this.

I wish I could tell you what happened. Was the cream too loose? Or maybe it was fridge fairies? Either way, I tried to restack, but eventually gave up. We ate the cake and it was delicious…

But my friend, the chef, was thrilled when I announced that we also had cherry pie for dessert.

Gâteau de Crêpes

For the Crêpe Batter:
3 cups milk
6 eggs
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
Pinch salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, browned, and cooled to room temperature

In a small saucepan over medium heat, scald the milk; allow to cool for 10 minutes. In a mixer on medium-low speed, beat eggs, add flour, sugar and salt. Slowly add the hot milk and browned butter. Let cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate overnight.

For the Pastry Cream:
2 cups milk
5 egg yolks
½ cup sugar
6 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a small saucepan over medium heat, scald the milk; allow to cool for 10 minutes. In a separate saucepan over low heat, whisk egg yolks, sugar, and flour until thickened, about 5 minutes. Whisk in milk, raise heat to medium-high and bring to a gentle boil. Remove from heat and whisk in butter and vanilla. Strain through a fine mesh sieve. Place plastic wrap directly on top of the sauce (to prevent skin from forming) and refrigerate 4 hours.

Crêpe batter
1 cup heavy cream
Pastry cream

Heat a crêpe pan over medium heat and with a pastry brush, brush a thin layer of oil onto the surface of the pan. Ladle or pour a thin layer of the batter (about 3 tablespoons) into the center of the pan; pick up the pan and tilt it around to swirl the batter out to the edges. Cook about 2 minutes until it is barely golden (I use a silicone spatula to have a peek), flip and cook the other side for about 1 minute. Remove to a plate and repeat until all the batter is used.

While the crêpes cool, whip heavy cream to soft peaks and fold into the pastry cream. Reserve your most perfect crêpe for the top of the cake. Spoon a few teaspoons of pastry cream onto a serving or cake platter. Lay a crêpe in the center. Smear a thin layer of pastry cream almost to the edges (the weight of layers will eventually squish the cream to the edges) and top with another crêpe. Repeat until all the crêpes are used, ending with the reserved crêpe on top. Place in the fridge for a few hours. Remove one hour before serving.