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Recipe

Twenty-Layer Vanilla Cream Crêpe Cake

Andrew Meade

Yield: Makes one 8-inch crêpe cake

Servings: 8

Originally made famous by the Lady M Confections boutique in New York, this ethereal cake is composed of twenty paper-thin crêpes that are layered with a light vanilla-and-orange-scented cream filling. The crêpes meld with the cream, so each forkful melts in your mouth, with the subtle flavors of sweet orange and vanilla lingering behind. The top of the cake is sprinkled with sugar and caramelized with a blow torch just before serving, adding a crackly sweetness to the dessert. Like anything really wonderful, this cake takes some time to make, but once the crêpes and pastry cream are made, assembly is relatively fast. Note that a 10-inch skillet will make an 8-inch crêpe.

Ingredients

For the crêpes

  • 7 Tbs. (3-1/2 oz.) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
  • 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. finely grated orange zest
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • Vegetable oil or melted butter, for coating the pan

For the pastry cream filling

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 2 Tbs. (1 oz.) unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 vanilla bean, or 1 Tbs. vanilla bean paste or extract

For assembly

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 5 Tbs. granulated sugar
  • 1 Tbs. Cointreau or Grand Marnier (optional)

Preparation

Make the crêpes

  • Place the butter in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until it melts and then turns brown and has a nutty fragrance, 4 to 6 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.
  • Place the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until blended. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, and vanilla until blended, then gradually add to the flour mixture while running the processor. Mix just until blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, then turn the processor on and add the orange zest and browned butter until combined. Add the cream and process until just blended. Transfer the batter to a pitcher or container with a pouring lip. Cover the container and refrigerate the batter for at least 2 hours (or up to 3 days). Don’t skip this step — chilling the batter will allow the flour to absorb the liquid and the gluten to relax.
  • To make the crêpes, take the batter out of the refrigerator and bring it to room temperature (otherwise the crêpes will be too thick). Stir the crêpe batter well to re-blend.
  • Place a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat and allow it to get hot. Brush the pan with a little vegetable oil or melted butter, then pour in a scant 1/4 cup crêpe batter, rolling the pan from side to side to coat it evenly. When the bottom of the crêpe has begun to brown, after 30 seconds to 1 minute, turn the crêpe (I use a long, nonstick offset spatula to flip it, but you can use a silicone spatula to lift up an end, then turn the crêpe over with your fingers or, if you’re really competent, you can flip it over in the air) and cook on the other side for another 10 to 15 seconds. Place the cooked crêpe on a piece of parchment paper on a plate. Continue cooking the crêpes until all the batter has been used, stacking the crêpes one on top of another as they are finished. You will need 20 perfect crêpes for this cake. Cover and store in the refrigerator until needed. The crêpes can be made 1 day ahead of time; just bring them to room temperature before using.

Make the pastry cream filling

  • In a medium saucepan, bring the milk to a boil over medium heat. Remove from the heat.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until pale. Sift the cornstarch into the mixture and whisk to combine. Whisk about one-quarter of the milk into the yolk mixture to temper it, then whisk the yolk mixture into the pan with the remaining milk. Cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until the pastry cream thickens and boils. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the butter until it is completely melted. Strain the pastry cream through a fine-mesh sieve into a medium stainless steel bowl to remove any lumps. If you are using a vanilla bean, split it lengthwise with a paring knife, scrape out the seeds, and whisk them into the pastry cream (or whisk in the vanilla paste or extract). Prepare an ice bath by filling a larger bowl one-third full with ice and water, then set the bowl of pastry cream in the ice bath and stir frequently until cold. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming and refrigerate until ready to use.

Assemble the cake

  • In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the cream with 3 Tbs. of the sugar at high speed until it forms soft peaks. Remove the pastry cream from the refrigerator. Whisk it until it is smooth and stir in the Cointreau.
  • Gently fold one-third of the whipped cream into the pastry cream to lighten it. Fold in the remaining whipped cream.
  • Place a crêpe on a cake plate and top with 1/3 cup of the lightened pastry cream, spreading it over the entire crêpe with a small offset metal spatula. Top with another crêpe. Continuing layering the cream and crêpes until you have used 20 crêpes, ending with a crêpe. Refrigerate the cake for at least 4 hours (or up to 24 hours).
  • Right before serving, sprinkle the remaining 2 Tbs. sugar evenly on top of the cake. Caramelize the sugar by passing a butane or propane torch over the top of the cake until the sugar melts and turns brown. Serve immediately.

Make Ahead Tips

The crêpes can be made 1 day ahead of time; just bring them to room temperature before using.

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