Two kinds of Crepe Cake (Vanilla and Blueberry) and Epic Baking

This cake is one of my life achievements – you may think that’s sad, but it’s hard not to be proud once you spend three days on one dessert. During those three days there are many moments where you start questioning yourself (Am I crazy for doing this?), the recipe (Did I really just use a dozen eggs?), and cake itself (Will this be worth it??). The answer is yes! Especially to the last question. Yes this cake is definitely worth it! I found the recipe procrastinating for midterms and day dreamed about it all the way till after finals. The concept of crepe cake is genius. Fresh crepes = good. Rich vanilla pastry cream = always good. Multiple layers of each in one bite = heaven. Why three days? There’s a lot of overnight chilling that needs to happen. The first day you make the crepe batter and pastry cream, stick it in the fridge and dream about cake. The next day you enlist the help of your little sister and learn the art of crepe making. Unless you’re an expert the first few crepes will invariably look a bit disfigured, but you can hide them underneath lots of pastry cream (or use them to taste test your crepe batter). The batter is quite thin so I found instead of making “20 perfect crepes” I ended up with about 40! Which definitely isn’t a problem. The crepes were just the right thickness and were very easy to layer – you just have to make sure they are all uniform in size and shape otherwise you’ll end up with a mound of crepes instead of a cake. Since I had enough crepes to make two cakes I decided to replace the Kirsch in one cake with creme de cassis and put fresh blueberries in between the layers. You only need to chill the cake for at least two hours before serving, so technically it would only take two days to make this cake, but other plans forced me to chill the cake overnight. Talk about an exercise in patience. The next day was the fastest I’ve biked home from work. We took out the cakes, put some finishing touches (I got to use a mini blowtorch for the first time! Caramelizing sugar on top creates a nice crunchy contrast), and finally cut a slice.

Both cakes were amazing. With so much pastry cream you would think it would be quite rich, but the cake tasted almost light and airy. The addition of creme de cassis and blueberries really elevated the cake and gave an interesting twist. I think it would be interesting to experiment with different liqueurs for different flavours. Grand Marnier for an orange crepe cake? What about Frangelico for hazelnut-cream cake? So many possibilities…

The Real Crepe Cake
 (from Cream Puffs in Venice)

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

Crepe Batter Recipe

6 tablespoons butter
3 cups milk
6 eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
7 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of salt
Vegetable oil

Instructions
1. Cook the butter in a small pan on medium heat until brown like hazelnuts. Set aside.
2. In another small pan, heat the milk until steaming; allow to cool for 10 minutes.
3. 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.

Vanilla Pastry Cream Recipe
2 cups milk
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch, sifted
3 1/2 tablespoons butter

Instructions
1. Bring the milk to a boil. Turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla extract then set aside for 10 minutes. 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.
2. 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.
3. Press the pastry cream through a fine-meshed sieve into the small bowl. Set the bowl in the ice bath and stir until the temperature reaches 140 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Stir in the butter. When completely cool, cover and refrigerate.

Cake Assembly

2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons Kirsch (or creme de cassis or any other liqueur)
icing sugar (optional)
fruit (optional)

Instructions
1. To make the crepes, bring the batter to room temperature. Place a nonstick or seasoned 9-inch crepe pan over medium heat.
2. Swab the surface with the oil, 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 5 seconds. Flip the crepe onto a baking sheet lined with parchment. Repeat until you have 20 perfect crepes.
3. Whip the heavy cream with the tablespoon sugar and the Kirsch. It won’t hold stiff peaks but that’s okay. Fold it into the pastry cream.

4. Lay one 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. If using fruit, sprinkle fruit between layers. The amount of fruit you add is to your preference (try to maintain the levelness of the cake). Make a stack of 20 crepes, with the best-looking crepe on top. Chill for at least 2 hours. Set out for 30 minutes before serving.
5. 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.

Batter adapted from ”Joy of Cooking.” Pastry cream adapted from ”Desserts,” by Pierre Herme and Dorie Greenspan. Serves 10.

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Apple honey-bourbon caramel pie for Uncle W.

You know those uncles that you only see once a year, bringing you the coolest gifts and telling the corniest jokes? That’s my Uncle W. He has lived everywhere, from the busy commute of England to the pyramids of Egypt to…Kazakhstan (memorably described as “the armpit of the world”). His international lifestyle means I only get to see him during his annual visit to Canada, which happened to be right after I came back from school. I was beyond excited to start baking in my mom’s kitchen. It’s utterly luxurious compared to my student housing kitchen (ample counter space that’s clean? A huge pantry of well-organized ingredients? And most importantly – a brand new KitchenAid stand mixer?!). So when I called Uncle W. to ask him what dessert he wanted for the family dinner that night, I was hoping he’d go for something exotic or challenging, something that I’d been holding myself back from making during the school year. I was thinking “maybe a mango panna cotta, or salted caramel banana cream pie, or fruit flan made with frangipane…” and then he says “Oh I know! Apple pie!”

…apple pie?

“Umm…you just want regular old fashioned apple pie?”
“Yeah that sounds great! See you tonight!”
Click.

Well then. I offered the entire dessert world on a platter but the man still chose the ubiquitous apple pie. Who was I to say no? If I had to make apple pie he definitely wasn’t getting it the regular old fashioned way.

I used the Perfect Apple Pie recipe from seriouseats.com which I’ve been dying to try since it was posted. Kenji, the recipe developer, goes into the science of apple pie – the apples which give the best structure, enzymatic activity of apple juice, the secret to perfect pie crust. It all culminates in one of the best pies I’ve ever made.

But it wasn’t enough – this couldn’t be a normal apple pie, I wanted flair! I decided to introduce honey-bourbon caramel to the apples. Caramel and apples go way back, they’re like the people who have been friends since the fourth grade. Except now caramel has gone off to college in Kentucky and come back boozed up and ready to party. The bourbon cut the sweetness of the caramel and added complexity; I only added 2 tbsp and could barely taste it so next time I’d probably put in a bit more to bring out the flavour.

The golden pie crust was super buttery and flakey, shattering under my fork to reveal the spicy tender apples mixed with smoky sweet caramel. Needless to say, Uncle W. loved it and we all fought over the last piece. Nothing like family lovin’ to make your desserts taste better.

We ate the pie so fast I couldn’t get a picture of a slice

Easy Pie Dough (from Serious Eats)

Ingredients
•    12.5 ounces (1.56 cups) all-purpose flour
•    2 tablespoons sugar
•    1 teaspoon kosher salt
•    1 1/4 cups unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pats
•    6 tablespoons cold water

Procedures

  1. Combine 2/3rds of flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse twice to incorporate. Spread butter chunks evenly over surface. Pulse until no dry flour remains and dough just begins to collect in clumps, about 25 short pulses. Use a rubber spatula to spread the dough evenly around the bowl of the food processor. Sprinkle with remaining flour and pulse until dough is just barely broken up, about 5 short pulses. Transfer dough to a large bowl.
  2. Sprinkle with water then using a rubber spatula, fold and press dough until it comes together into a ball. Divide ball in half. Form each half into a 4-inch disk. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before rolling and baking.

Apple Honey-Bourbon Caramel Pie (adapted from Serious Eats and Sassy Radish)

Ingredients
•    3 pounds Golden Delicious, Braeburn, or other baking apples, peeled cored, and sliced into 1/4-inch slices
•    3 quarts boiling water
•    1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus 1 tablespoon for sprinkling over crust
•    1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
•    1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
•    1/4 teaspoon allspice
•    1/4 teaspoon salt
•    1 tablespoon cornstarch
•    1 recipe Easy Pie Dough
•    1 egg white, lightly beaten

Honey Bourbon Caramel Ingredients:
•    1/2 cup brown sugar
•    1/4 cup mild honey
•    2 tbsp bourbon
•    2 tablespoons water
•    3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Procedures

  1. Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and place a heavy rimmed baking sheet on it. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Place apple slices in a large bowl or pot. Pour boiling water directly over top. Cover and set aside at room temperature for ten minutes. Drain apples well and transfer to a large bowl. Allow to cool for 10 minutes, tossing occasionally. Add sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, salt, and cornstarch and toss until apples are evenly coated. Set mixture aside.
  2. Bring 1/2 cup sugar, honey, bourbon and water to a boil in a 1 1/2- to 2-qt heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved, then wash down any sugar crystals from side of pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water. Boil without stirring, swirling pan occasionally so caramel colors evenly, until dark amber, about 5 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat and add butter, swirling pan until butter is melted. Be careful here as the caramel will hiss and spatter. Pour over apples and toss (caramel may harden but will melt in oven – promise!).
  4. Roll one disk of pie dough into a circle roughly 12-inches in diameter. Transfer to a 9-inch pie plate. Add filling. Roll remaining disk of pie dough into a circle roughly 12-inches in diameter. Transfer to top of pie. Using a pair of kitchen shears, trim the edges of both pie crusts until they slightly overhang the edge of the pie plate. Use the thumb and forefinger on your right hand to crimp the edges of the two pie doughs together. Cut 5 slits in the top with a sharp knife for ventilation.
  5. Use a pastry brush to brush an even coat of lightly beaten egg white all over the top surface of the pie. Transfer pie to sheet tray in the oven and bake until light golden brown, about 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 375°F and continue baking until deep golden brown, about 25 minutes longer. Remove from oven and allow to cool at room temperature for at least 2 hours before serving.