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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Too many chefs in the kitchen make. . . a pretty fantastic cake!

You know that old proverb? The one that goes "Too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the broth"? Well, they obviously haven't been cooking in my kitchen.  This particular cake (another stunner from the always reliable Bouchon Bakery Cookbook) took the joint efforts of three people to construct.  (Actually, if I were to be honest, my husband did most of the grunt-work for this project. . . maybe 60% if I had to quantify exactly.)  But what can I say, I have a (somewhat justified) fear of hot stoves (and really, to be functional, a stove has to be hot).  Knowing that, it probably won't be too much of a stretch to understand my fear of blow-torches (compounded by a vision of what my insurance agent's face would look like after being hit with yet another claim within a week of my last one.)  Hot stoves. . . blow-torches. . . I'm getting ahead of myself.  I know, this is a baking website, but for the second entry in a row, there is no baking involved.  It's somewhere around eighty to ninety degrees out, my last electric bill (due to overuse of my AC) was high enough to become the topic of conversation at a recent dinner party, and I am simply not interested in intentionally driving the temperatures in my home up even more by utilizing the ovens.  So, I've moved to chilled desserts for the time being. That's not to say that there is no excessive heating involved.  I did have to use the stove a bunch and the blow torch heats to. . . are you ready for this?  2700 degrees Fahrenheit. Yes, there are four digits and no decimals in that number.  Do you blame me for getting a bit squeamish around this particular kitchen tool?  But at least it doesn't heat the entire house up the way that the oven does.  And the final project is this beautiful, delicate, chilled dessert, perfect for a hot summer night. Another plus for this recipe -- it can be made in stages.  4 to be exact, on up to 4 different days.  Great when trying to avoid breaking a sweat in the pursuit of dessert perfection.

Crepe Cake, from the Bouchon Bakery Cookbook

Day One:  Pastry Cream

Ingredients  

Egg Yolks
Vanilla Bean
Sugar
Custard Powder
Milk
Butter at room temperature
Orange Zest

So, as always, I will not give the exact proportions of ingredients to avoid a copyright violation, but I do have to mention that to make this recipe (cream and crepes) took 13 eggs.  THIRTEEN EGGS.  Does anyone else find that absolutely outrageous?  When grocery shopping, I picked up a dozen eggs, thinking that I could make the cake, use a few for omelets,  and have several left to keep in the refrigerator for a week or so.  Needless to say that didn't happen. . .(well. . . I guess it did, after I emergently picked up the second carton. . .)  

But I digress -- back to the pastry cream. . . 

  • Mix the seeds from the vanilla bean along with the egg yolks in a stand mixer with a whisk attachment at medium low.  
  • Reduce the speed to low, add the sugar, then whisk at medium until the mixture is pale yellow and thick (about 3 minutes).  
  • Reduce the speed to low again, add the custard powder and mix to combine.  
  • On low, add the milk and mix for a minute or two. 

  • Pour the mixture into a saucepan, sufficiently large to allow stirring without splashing.  
  • Mix with a spoon or spatula on medium heat until the mixture starts to thicken.  You will typically see small clumps at the bottom of your utensil at this point.  
  • Switch to a whisk and stir vigorously, making sure to get the sides of the pan, until the mixture is the consistency of a thick paste (slightly thicker than paper mache glue).  It is essential not to overcook, otherwise your cream will be thick and lumpy. 
  • Transfer the mixture into a fine sieve and force through into a large bowl.  Again, the bowl should be large enough to allow for aggressive stirring without spilling.
  • Add the butter and whisk until the mixture is smooth. 
  • Whisk in orange zest. 
  • Set aside to cool.  
  • Once cool, cover with plastic wrap, ensuring that the top of the wrap is directly on top of the cream, to prevent a "skin" from forming, and place in the refrigerator.  The cream can be stored for up to a week in the refrigerator.

How beautiful is that color?! Just like sunshine. . .

Day 2: Crepe Batter

Ingredients

Milk
Eggs
Flour
Sugar
Salt
Vanilla Bean
Butter, melted then cooled
Grand Marnier
Of note, this is a wonderful crepe batter.  And very super duper easy to make.  Like child's play really.  Keep it in mind for as an all purpose 'easy, but looks fancy and hard' breakfast.

  • Combine the eggs, milk, flour, sugar, salt and Grand Marnier in a blender. Blend briefly to distribute ingredients. 
  • Add seeds from vanilla bean and blend again, briefly, to combine.  
  • While the blender is running, drizzle the butter in. 
  • Strain into a container and refrigerate until ready to use, and at least overnight.  The batter is good for at least a couple of days in the refrigerator. The batter will be runny.  This is normal, and actually good for a crepe batter.



Day 3: Final Touches
(Making the Crepes and Diplomat Cream 
and Constructing the Cake)

Diplomat Cream 

Ingredients:

Whipping Cream

  • Take pastry cream from fridge and let warm slightly.
  • Whisk until smooth.
  • Whip cream until soft peaks form.
  • Whip in pastry cream until smooth and set aside

 Crepes (courtesy of my husband)

  • Take batter from fridge and whisk briefly to combine.
  • Heat a 10 inch frying pan or a crepe pan on the stove at medium.
  • Wet a paper towel with canola oil until barely damp and wipe pan.
  • When the pan is hot, ladle slightly over 1/4 cup of batter onto the center of the pan and immediately swirl the pan around to completely cover the surface.  This must be done quickly because the batter starts to harden almost immediately.
  • After approximately 15 seconds, lift the edge of the crepe with a spatula and slide your hand under the body of the crepe.
  • Flip and cook until golden. 
  • Transfer the hot crepe onto a parchment paper or Silpat lined baking sheet. Once cool, the crepes can be stacked to save space.
  • Repeat until the batter is done. 

Construction

  • Line a 10 in cake board with plastic wrap.
  • Place the most visually pleasing crepe on the board, face down. 
  • Spoon or pipe 1/3 cup of cream onto the middle of the crepe.  
  • Carefully spread the cream to the edge of the crepe.  Try to keep a thicker layer of cream at the edge of the crepe when compared to the center.  The crepes themselves are naturally thicker in the middle, and this step will prevent a domed cake. 
  • Top with another crepe.  
  • Repeat the process, ending with an uncovered crepe on the very top layer.  Wrap in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight to chill.

Day 4: Serving and Eating (finally!)

  • Remove the cake from the refrigerator and unwrap.  
  • Flip the cake onto your hand, and slide onto a serving platter.  
  • Sprinkle the top of the cake with a handful of sugar and use a blow-torch to caramelize the top of the cake to a rich golden brown. (This was again done courtesy of my wonderful husband, who managed to perfectly crisp nothing but the top of the cake, saving our property and appendages from any damage.)

This is when I got ambitious and decided that I wanted to try some fancy plating techniques.  So after watching a couple of YouTube videos (which made the whole thing seem almost laughably easy), I figured I could quickly decorate the cake plate before serving.  Because I did not have any dessert sauces on hand to make fancy artwork, (and after the 4 day endeavor that was this crepe cake, I had no desire to make a sauce,) I decided to warm a couple of jellies of contrasting colors and use those to decorate.  This was a terrible idea.  Don't ever do this.  

I recently (read: at the moment that I needed it) found that I don't own a funnel.  Spooning hot jelly into a squeeze bottle with a very small opening, without a filter is almost impossible.  Luckily, one of my dear friends who was visiting for the weekend, and who happens to possess infinitely better fine motor skills than I do, was kind enough to do this for me.  (She also introduced me to a pie which can be made in a couple of hours with one bowl and no motorized equipment.  That will be the next blog post.  And a welcome relief.) 
 Meanwhile, I spilled hot jelly on my jeans, since I did not realize until that very minute that hot jelly is more liquid than gel(ly) (get it, haha.) It was red, of course (the jelly, not the jeans), and I was frantically attempting to scrub it out, while watching my husband blow-torch the cake (and, I admit, trying to micromanage the whole thing). Next problem -- one of the jellies that I chose to use (apricot), happened to have all of these little pieces of fruit scattered throughout.  Good for taste-buds, not so much for squeeze bottles with tiny openings.  Thirdly, (I know, the problems kept mounting) when I tried to work with the jellies after piping them onto the plate, they smeared and clumped all over the place, since, (and if I had thought about this AT ALL before attempting, I would have realized that. ..) sauces and jellies are two totally different textures.  

Oh well, in the end, I just gave up and piped small raspberry jam circles around the plate.  Not as pretty as I had imagined, but definitely not as hideous as my initial attempt. And the cake was delicious and light and airy and everything that a summer dessert should be.  I ate it crepe slice by crepe slice to maximize the length of enjoyment, which may have defeated the purpose of making it a cake, but it did taste delicious. And the jelly came out of my jeans, so all's well that ends well!





***Since I know that 95% of people out there will decide that this is way to much work (not to mention, too many eggs) for one cake, I've formulated a life-hack for this recipe.  Here it is:

Crepes: Can be bought from Kroger.  I think that they are sold 4 or 5 to a pack, so you will need a few packs.
Cream: Make 2 packs of instant vanilla pudding.  Mix with cool whip (vanilla pudding:cool whip is 2:1)
Construction: No way around this.  You will have to stack and spread just like in the original recipe.
Topping: Just sprinkle some sugar on top.  It won't have the pretty caramelized look, but you will still get the crunch and the sweetness.

I think that the next time I make this cake, I'm definitely going to try this alternate version.  If you beat me to it, let me know how it turns out!


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