- Andy Brumbaugh
Because we live so close to the French-speaking province of Québec, most Vermonters are probably familiar with the magic that is a crêpe. Stuffed with sweet or savory fillings, crêpes are super versatile and a nice departure from traditional American pancakes.
When I was a teenager, my family took a trip to Montréal to celebrate my sister's birthday and found ourselves at a crêperie. When we informed the waiter about the special occasion, he presented my sister with a crêpe topped with a flaming sparkler. That was a memorable experience.
When I first saw a crêpe cake years later, I thought of my sister and that spectacular crêpe. Also called Mille Crêpes (or "a thousand crêpes"), the layered confection is sure to impress. It's a bit labor-intensive, but it isn't too difficult once you master the technique of swirling batter onto your pan and gently flipping the paper-thin crêpes. You can layer this cake with a variety of fillings — from pastry cream to nuts, fruit compotes and curds to ganache.
For my own creation, I decided to go with alternating layers of chocolate ganache and a mixture of raspberry jam and mascarpone cheese. These flavors complement each other, and they don't overwhelm the delicate crêpes.
Crêpe batter is simple. It works best if you let it sit for at least an hour after making it. This resting period helps relax the gluten in the batter, and it minimizes air bubbles, resulting in more evenly textured crêpes. Though stores sell specialized (and expensive!) crepe pans, I found that a well-seasoned, low-sided, cast-iron frying pan is perfect for the job.
Ganache is one of those delicacies that sounds more complicated than it actually is. All it requires is some good dark chocolate and cream. When hot, the ganache can be used as a glaze. Cool it slightly, and it is a wonderful filling. Let it cool even further, and it can be rolled into balls to make decadent chocolate truffles.
I made this cake to serve a crowd, but you could make a more petite dessert for two — perfect for Valentine's Day — using a round cookie cutter, or even a canning lid, to cut small circles out of your crêpes and layer them. For an extra decadent treat, try coating the whole cake with a thin layer of ganache.
Traditionally, this cake would have about 20 layers. I lost count while stacking, though, and ended up with a whopping 27! If you'd like, make extra crêpes and enjoy them for dinner with savory fillings, such as ham, mushroom, or spinach and cheese. Crêpes can also be frozen for later use. Separate them with wax or parchment paper, then wrap the whole stack in the same material, and freeze it in a plastic bag. You can thaw crêpes individually, and they offer a welcome alternative to sandwiches in your kids' school lunches.
- ½ cup + 1 tablespoon butter, melted (plus extra butter for the pan)
- 6 eggs
- 2 ¼ cups low-fat milk
- 1 ½ cups water
- 3 cups flour
- 500 grams dark chocolate
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 8 ounces mascarpone cheese
- 2 cups raspberry jam
- Fresh raspberries
- Confectioners' sugar
- To make the crêpes, melt the butter, then blend it with the eggs, milk, water and flour using a mixer or a hand whisk. Make sure the batter is smooth, with no lumps. Refrigerate for at least an hour, up to overnight.
- Heat a heavy, nonstick frying pan or a well-seasoned cast-iron pan (8 to 10 inches in diameter, with low sides) over medium heat. Melt a small pat of butter in the pan, then spoon in about ¼ cup of batter, swirling the pan to evenly coat the surface. Cook just until the batter looks dry on top (about 30 to 60 seconds), then carefully flip using a spatula. Cook on the second side for about 20 to 30 seconds, then transfer the finished crêpe to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Continue the process until the batter is gone.
- To make the ganache, break the chocolate into small pieces. Heat the cream, either in a pan or microwave, until it is just about to boil. Add the chocolate to the cream and stir until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. (If the chocolate doesn't melt entirely, put the bowl containing the mixture over a pot of boiling water and stir until melted.) Cool the ganache to room temperature. If it gets too stiff, you can reheat it.
- To make the raspberry-mascarpone filling, heat the jam for about 30 seconds in a pan or microwave, then whisk it into the mascarpone until well-blended. Refrigerate until you're ready to assemble the cake.
- To assemble the cake, place a crêpe on your cake plate and top with 3 or 4 tablespoons of cooled ganache, spreading it evenly. Place a second crêpe on top of the ganache, lining up the edges of the crêpes. Top the second crêpe with 3 or 4 tablespoons of the raspberry-mascarpone filling, then top with another crêpe. Repeat until you have about 20 layers.
- Finish the cake with a few fresh raspberries, securing them to the cake by dipping the bottom in a little ganache. Allow the cake to rest in the refrigerator, covered loosely with tin foil, at least an hour, up to overnight. This lets the layers set and the flavors meld.
- When ready to serve, dust the top of the cake with confectioners' sugar and cut into thin slices.