I am not a religious person. Just the same, I’m surprised that it took me so long to become aware of la Chandeleur, the French term for a Christian holiday on the second of February.
Early one morning I walked into the kitchen to find Chef unpacking a brand-new professional Krampouz crêpière. He anticipated the question perched on my lips: “On va faire des crêpes pour la Chandeleur,” he answered enthusiastically.
I sifted the term through my brain to refine its meaning but quickly gave up, vowing to consult Wikipedia when I returned to my apartment in the evening. From behind my computer screen I learned that the holiday is referred to as Candlemas in English and that, in France, the presentation of Jesus is somehow inextricably linked to the consumption of crêpes.
Being of the mind that February is unequivocally the worst month of the year, I was delighted. I usually dread the slow slide from the radiant light of mid-winter festivities to the frivolous rosy glow of Valentine’s Day. At least this year I would have a belly full of crêpes.
The next day Chef had begun using the raclette à crêpes to smooth the thin batter on the hot cast iron surface of the crêpière. He swore intermittently while flipping misshapen crêpes onto a plate. At the end of the day, the chef pâtissière, Keiko, wrapped a stack of misshapen pancakes in foil and pressed them into my arms.
Despite their visual imperfections, the first batch tasted perfect. They were smooth, velvety and lightly perfumed with vanilla bean. All in all, the perfect backdrop to a rich filling. This cake uses an adapted version of that same recipe as a base for classic summer flavors. Alternating layers of smooth vanilla pastry cream and homemade strawberry and mint jam are sandwiched between layers of thin crêpes.
30 Layer Crêpe Cake:
Makes one 16cm cake (6-8 people). This recipe allows for some mistakes and will produce about 35 crêpes in total. The batter needs to rest several hours and arranging the layers is quite involved so skip this one if you’re in a rush.
150g melted butter
1/2 vanilla bean
pinch of salt
- Make 32 small rectangles of parchment paper by folding single sheets into four and using scissors to cut along the folds.
- Melt the butter in a saucepan.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar and salt to combine.
- Cut open the vanilla bean pod and scrape out the seeds from one half. Add these to the milk. Save the second half to be used in the pastry cream.
- Use a wooden spoon to combine the eggs with the dry ingredients. This mixture will be quite dry and the eggs will not combine completely.
- Add the butter and continue stirring until the mixture is somewhat homogenous, if clumpy.
- Pour the milk in a thin stream while whisking.
- Continue whisking to create a light layer of foam on the dough.
- Cover with film and let the dough thicken in the fridge for a minimum of 2 hours. I prefer to let it stand overnight.
- After the dough has thickened, heat a frying pan and butter the pan. Use a paper towel to remove excess butter.
- Pour just enough dough into the frying pan to thinly cover the bottom.
- When the crêpe starts to show very slight variations in color, it is usually cooked through.
- Use a spatula to fold the crêpe in half (there is no need to flip it over) and gently remove if from the pan.
- Place on a plate and cover with a small piece of parchment paper.
- Repeat steps 10-14 until all the dough has been used. Eat the rejects.
- Cover the pile of crêpes with cling film and store in the fridge. This will allow the crispy edges to soften and will make the crêpes easier to handle when you are assembling your cake.
- When the crêpes have cooled, you may use a circular cake ring to cut off the uneven edges. This is absolutely unnecessary but if you like nice round circles, like me, you’ll be happier.
Strawberry and Mint Jam
15 large mint leaves
- Hull and halve the strawberries.
- Transfer them into a large saucepan and mash with a wooden spoon.
- Add sugar and the zest and juice of one lemon.
- Boil the mixture for five minutes, then reduce to a simmer for about 45 minutes.
- Finely chop the mint leaves and add them to the strawberries. Cook for an additional 15 minutes.
4 egg yolks
1/2 vanilla bean
- Pour the milk into a large saucepan and add the second half of the vanilla bean pod.
- In a separate bowl, whisk the sugar into the egg yolks. It is imperative to pour the sugar in all at once and begin whisking immediately. Otherwise, you may end up with lumps in the mixture.
- Whisk in the cornstarch and add a splash of the cool milk mixture to dilute the eggs.
- Heat the milk until it almost boils over. Temper the eggs by pouring a fourth of the hot milk into the egg mixture while whisking vigorously.
- Pour the contents of the bowl into the saucepan and whisk until the mixture thickens. Move the pan on and off the heat source if you are afraid of burning the cream.
- When the cream starts bubbling audibly, it is ready to remove from the pan. Scoop it into a bowl.
- Cover the cream with cling film. The cling film must touch the cream directly as this prevents it from forming a skin.
- Allow to cool in the refrigerator.
- Once cooled, whip the cream in a large bowl to lighten it’s texture.
- Peel off the parchment paper before placing a crêpe in the middle of a serving plate.
- Spread an even layer of pastry cream on it using a small offset spatula.
- Clean the spatula on a paper towel and lay down another crêpe layer. This time spread a thin layer of the jam on the crêpe.
- After cleaning the spatula again, repeat steps 10-11 until all the crêpes have been used.
- Decorate with strawberries.