I’ve just done away with four hours of my life, having spent them almost exclusively in my kitchen. Once upon a time I’d have considered that a grand waste of time, but these days I’ve decided that’s ok. Nice, even. Part of me thinks I’d be content doing this cooking/baking stuff all day long.
Still, it seems I have a knack for inserting myself into kitchen situations that are beyond my comfort level, where the learning curve appears (at least at first) neck-breakingly steep and time consuming. But isn’t that often what the kitchen experience is all about, anyway?
This time it was for the noblest of ventures, the daughter’s birthday cake. We’re not talking plain ol’ cake, though. No mere yellow or devil’s food here. We’re talking crêpe cake, layer upon buttery layer of crêpes, stacked and smeared with highfalutin custard. It’s cake as couture, delicate but rich, self-important but too pretty to turn away from.
The idea hit when I turned to a glorious, glossy, magazine photo of a professionally configured crêpe cake (for sale, the price tag in the neighborhood of $75+ shipping and handling). It’s one of those things you see, and immediately think (seized by sheer ambition or the momentary crazies), Oh, I could do that. I sold my impressionable daughter on the confection, and started Googling recipes.
It was then, after the commitment had already been made, that I realized the size of the project. That I would be required to turn out twenty or so presentable – not simply edible – crêpes. That I would be responsible for whipping up the pastry cream filling that those in-the-baking-know (this does not include me) refer to as a crème patissière.
Not only that, but I would have to contend with an ice bath. Is it just me, or do the words “ice bath” rouse fear in other, otherwise capable preparers of food? An ice bath asks for some serious multitasking. It entails more arms than I have. It means I’m to divert attention away from heavy-handed whisking at one corner of the counter, to cross the kitchen to the freezer, to cross the kitchen again to the sink. And because I’m making something with a French name, I have to do all this with something like finesse. Something like grace.
It’s almost too Martha-esque, so that I can only picture me in a modern-day Lucy Ricardo moment (which I promise would be sad, not a single bit funny). In my vision I’m struggling with my arms around a large and slippery stainless steel bowl full of this so-called ice bath, plunging into it another bowl full of my hot, jiggling custard, and spilling the lot all over my travertine floor, which of course would send me sailing smack into the dishwasher door.
So while my crêpe making past is sporadic, at least I’m familiar with the process. But this pastry cream stuff. Hmm. Not so much familiar with that.
Although, I had to remind myself (because talking ourselves through these things is what gets us through them, after all), I did make the Buche de Noel this past Christmas, chocolate genoise, ganache and all. And it turned out just fine. Quite lovely and tasty, even. So, daunting as it seemed, I knew I had it in me somewhere to accomplish this crêpe cake, too.
And I did. A third of it is still in the fridge, in fact, and available for tastings.
For those of you anxious to please your next cake-eating crowd (or if you just want to see a more glorious version of the dessert), I used a combination of Amanda Hesser’s recommended recipes (see below) and the crème patissière recipe from Joy of Baking (link also below). I doubled the crème patissière recipe and went with the chocolate variation (I added extra chocolate, because our chocolate taste runs high around here). While Joy of Baking does not mention the ice bath, I was too afraid not to cold-shock my custard, so I did that part à la Hesser’s instructions, anyway.
I layered the crêpes with a smidge of raspberry preserves and the custard, then finished the cake with a dusting of cocoa powder and some fresh raspberries.