Sunday, May 27, 2012

Fancying it up–Gateau de Crepes


French food week on 52 weeks of belated cooking posts. I mean 52 weeks of cooking. The week of the best cuisine in the world, at least if you subscribe to the theory that French food is the best food. I haven’t eaten enough or done enough comparison to make that judgment myself, but there is definitely a reputation there.

Then again, maybe there isn’t such a reputation anymore, depending on who you ask. That’s all I’ll say on that matter for now.

On a more personal level however, as a Vietnamese American, it is hard to deny the influence of the French upon our cuisine. The introduction of baguettes led to the now well known banh mi. Custards, potatoes, and onions are also a few of the many other introductions they made to Vietnamese cuisine, and I certainly have no complaints with these items at all.

And while it would be fairly easy to show off a French influenced Vietnamese dish, I shall try to be a bit more French leanings with the Gateau de Crepes, literally translated into a Crepe Cake. It may also be called a  mille crepe, or thousand crepes, but given that it is either 20 or 30 layers typically, wouldn’t it be better to call it the vingt or trente cake?

This is the first time I’ve made this and I would change up a few things next time so please take note! Inspiration and technique taken from smitten kitchen, recipes mostly adapted from Ruhlman’s Ratio.

Ingredients for the crepe batter: Flour, Sugar, Salt, Milk, Eggs.

The ratio for crepe batter by the way is 1 part eggs, 1 part liquid and a half part of flour. For sweet crepes, add more sugar and just a pinch of salt, and vanilla extract optionally to enhance the sweetness.

For this application: 4 oz. of flour, 8 oz. milk, 8 oz. of eggs (4 large eggs). For seasoning, a pinch of salt, a tablespoon of sugar, and a half teaspoon of vanilla extract.

By volume, one scant cup flour, one cup milk, four eggs. And again, for seasoning, a pinch of salt, a tablespoon of sugar and the optional half teaspoon of vanilla.

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The assembly is as simple as throwing the ingredients together.

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And then whisk vigorously until it forms a loose batter. Let it settle for a half hour or refrigerate until you’re ready to use it.

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In the meantime, make some pastry cream, which I have done before for the cream puffs. Just omit the instant coffee this time. Well, I suppose you could keep it in, might be interesting.

I made a half recipe this time: 4 oz. milk, 4 oz. cream, 2 oz. sugar, 2 oz. butter, 3 tbsp. of cornstarch dissolved in 1.5 oz. of milk, and one teaspoon of vanilla.

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The amazing thickening power of cornstarch rarely fails to impress me.

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Now that that is done, your crepe batter should be well rested and ready for action.

The idea is to heat your pan to medium heat, put in just enough batter to coat the bottom when tilted and swirled around, cook the crepe for about a minute (sometimes thirty seconds will suffice depending on your heat) then flipping and cooking very briefly, five to ten seconds.

This being Cast Iron Therapy after all, I thought it would be nice to use a well seasoned cast  iron skillet.

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It actually works fantastically aside from one small problem.

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It was too damn big. I was going through crepe batter really fast with just two. A really small 6 inch cast iron skillet would be ideal.

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Instead I settled for this small non stick, which performed admirably after getting used to its temperature swings.

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If you are me, your first few crepes always seem to be lacking a certain.. grace.

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But they get better.

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Soon it is second nature. Let the crepes cool on a rack.

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Then stack and wrap until ready to use. One quick note here, I think the final result would have been even better had the crepes bit just a bit more ephemeral. A little extra quarter cup of milk would have thinned the batter out nicely.

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I had a tiny bit of crepe batter left, so I made this tiny little one with a dab of jam. Nice little bite to warm me up for the real thing later.

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There’s a bit more assembly required. Pastry cream as is is a bit too thick for spreading, so a fortified whipped cream is folded into it. In my case here, one cup of whipping cream, a heaping teaspoon of sugar and 1.5 tablespoons of port. Kirsch is actually the alcohol called upon, but I can’t be bothered to buy fancy things I’ll use once, but I’m sure it would be amazing.

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Whip it up to a decent thickness, but accept that peaks will not form. I’m guessing it is on the part of the alcohol.

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If using a stand mixer and feeling lazy/your pastry cream was on the thick side, just throw the pastry cream in and whip it up with the heavy, scraping down the sides as necessary.

Yeah I messed up, it really was too thick. Still, I’ll just have to keep on living. One day at a time.

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Now is the fun part. Lay down one crepe, spread some pastry cream on it.

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Continue several times until you reach the desired height.

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That looks good. If I had more money, I would have busted out a blow torch and spread some sugar on top, giving it a lovely brulee like finish. I really need more money.

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I had a few extra and a little bit of cream so I made a mini gateau with cream, and I spread some jam on the bottom of the top crepe.

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And there you have it, a little one.

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Artful pose.

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Digging in shot. It felt like how kids would imagine cutting into a big poofy cloud. I recommend serving with some sweet fruit or jam to enhance the creamy richness of the crepes and pastry cream.

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The little one with jam already in it was quite delightful by the way.

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Sweet crepes, adapted from Ratio:

  • 4 oz. of flour,
  • 8 oz. milk,
  • 8 oz. of eggs (4 large eggs).
  • a pinch of salt
  • tablespoon of sugar
  • half teaspoon of vanilla extract
  1. Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl, and mix until a slack batter is formed.
  2. Let rest for at least a half hour, or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to a day.
  3. Heat a lightly oiled and small well seasoned skillet or a small and well oiled non stick pan over medium heat, pour in just enough batter that will be tilted enough to coat the bottom.
  4. Cook until set, approx. one minute, then flip and cook for 5-10 seconds. (Note: After your first crepe, if you feel the crepe is too thick, add a quarter cup of milk to thin the batter)
  5. Remove to a rack to cool.
  6. Repeat until all the batter is used.
  7. Stack and wrap cooled crepes until ready to use.

Cast Iron Therapy version of Gateau de Crepes (adapted from smitten kitchen and Ratio):

  • 1 recipe of sweet crepes, cooked into twenty small crepes, as described above.
  • 1/2 recipe pastry cream (omit instant coffee)
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1.5 tablespoons of Port (or Kirsch)
  • 1 heaping teaspoon of sugar
  • Optional: Confectioners sugar, jam, fresh fruits.
  1. Whip whipping cream, sugar and alcohol until thick. Fold into pastry cream until smooth.
  2. Assemble gateau by laying one crepe on a plate, and spread with whipped cream/pastry cream mixture, then layer another crepe on top. Repeat until desired height is achieved or all crepes are used.
  3. Dust with confectioners sugar and brulee with a torch.
  4. Chill the gateau for at least two hours.
  5. Slice and serve, with jam or fresh fruit if desired

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