There’s a great diner close to my office where Jeff and I sometimes go for breakfast if we have to drive to work and we can get ourselves out early. It’s standard diner fare for the most part but most egg dishes come with a side of pancakes which is what sets this place apart. You could of course get the standard buttermilk cakes but there’s also an option of Swedish pancakes which are essentially crepes with lingonberry butter. That’s reason enough to keep coming back. So when I starting trying to think of how to celebrate this blog’s one year anniversary – that’s right! This blog is 1 year old today – I kept coming back to a crepe cake. Or a mille crepe if you’d like to be fancy, which I often like to be when it comes to naming dishes. After all we did start this off with pancakes. Pancake cake? Yes please.
For those of you doing the literal translation, this cake does not have actually have one thousand crepes. What it is layers of light and airy crepes with strawberry buttercream frosting – not lingonberry because finding frozen lingonberries seemed hard and finding frozen strawberries seemed easy. A traditional mille crepe often has layers of chocolate ganache as thin as the crepes but this is for a celebration. Pile on that buttercream!
And then of course I couldn’t help but gild the lily just a little more by adding a chocolate ganache to the top. Now there is good lily gilding and bad lily gilding, the bad being those desserts that are festooned with so many things you wonder how they don’t topple. The good involves adding more elements without adding additional flavors. By focusing on three flavors – crepe, strawberry, and chocolate – I could get away with adding fancy elements – buttercream, ganache – that would deepen the flavors rather than confuse them. That’s also how I could get away with a thin layer of strawberry jam on top of the cake, under the ganache. Or at least, that’s what I told myself.
The beauty of this cake is that, not only does it look beautiful but it’s very much like an icebox cake meaning it needs to be made ahead so the layers can come together in the fridge. It can even be made over the course of several days. You can fry the crepes one day and wrap them in foil in the fridge (it might help to put some wax paper between them to make them easier to pull apart). Then the next you can make the buttercream and assemble. And then a day or two later you can add the ganache, put candles in the top, blow them out, and celebrate what has been a great year. So this cake is for you although sadly I can’t send a piece through the mail. Thanks for reading along and commenting and trying new things at home; I couldn’t do this without you. Cheers!
Mille Crepe Cake
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s crepe recipe in How to Cook Everything and Dorie Greenspan’s buttercream recipe in Baking: From My Home to Yours
For the crepes:
Makes 12-14 crepes plus one since the first one will probably come out wrong and have to be eaten immediately to hide the evidence. You need 8-10 of them for this cake.
1 1/2 cups milk *
1/2 c water
3/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour **
2 tbs butter, melted and cooled to room temp
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tbs sugar
For the buttercream:
Makes enough to frost one layer of cake or a batch of cupcakes but it’s easy to double.
1/2 cup sugar
2 egg whites
1 1/2 sticks (12 tbs) butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup plus 2 tbs strawberry jam (if it has whole berries in it, puree the jam before using; seeds or seedless is your choice)
Up to 6 drops red food coloring (optional)
For the ganache:
Makes about 3/4 cup of ganache
4 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup cream
1 tsp vanilla
In a medium bowl, whisk all the ingredients together thoroughly, then cover the mix and let is sit for at least five minutes, more if you wish. The longer you let it sit, the fewer lumps there will be but so long as the lumps are small they won’t be noticed in the final crepes.
When the batter is ready, heat a nonstick pan over medium heat with a small amount of oil or butter. Add 1/4 cup of the batter to the pan and swirl the batter around the pan so you make a single circle and the batter is even. Depending on the size of your pan 1/4 cup may be too little or too much – you want to the batter to just coat the bottom after one turn around the pan. If there is still runny batter left after one twirl then you’ve put too much in.
Cook the crepe until the edges lift off the pan slightly and the crepe releases from the pan after 15 seconds of shaking it in a flat plane, about 2-3 minutes. Once it releases from the pan, it’s ready to flip. You can do this using a spatula or by flicking your wrist to flip the crepe in the air. Then cook it on the other side for about a minute. Repeat this until all the crepes are done,stacking them on a plate as they finish. If the pan gets too hot you can cool it a little by removing if from the heat and shaking it a little between crepes.
Once all the crepes are cooked let them cool to room temperature and then either wrap them up for later or immediately move on to frosting them.
To make the buttercream, combine the sugar and egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer or a large bowl if you’re using an electric hand mixer. Boil an inch or two of water in a narrow sided pot and put the bowl over it, making a double boiler. Whisk the mixture over the heat for 2-3 minutes or until the sugar is fully dissolved. This will pasturize the egg whites, making them safe to eat without cooking them. Using a whisk attachment, beat the whites and sugar for 3-5 minutes on medium to incorporate some air. Then switch to the paddle attachment or regular beaters on an electric mixer and add the butter, a few tablespoons at a time, waiting between additions until the mixture is smooth. Once all the butter is in turn the speed to medium high and beat for 8-10 minutes. At around 3 minutes the frosting will break and look grainy and awful and you will wonder what you did wrong. At around 6 minutes it will come back together and look lovely. Beat it until the frosting is glossy and thick. Turn the speed to medium low and add the vanilla. While the machine is on, add 1/4 cup jam a little at a time until it’s fully incorporated. This is also where you would add the food coloring a drop at a time. Cover the frosting and set it aside until you’re ready to assemble.****
To make the ganache put the chopped chocolate in a small heatproof bowl. Heat the cream in a small pot over medium heat until it just starts to steam – don’t let it boil or if it does boil a little, stop it right away. Once the cream is hot, pour it over the chocolate, let it sit for a minute, and then stir it together. Once all the chocolate is melted in, add the vanilla extract. If you want a pourable ganache, use it while it’s still warm. If you want to spread it, let it cool to room temperature.
To assemble the cake put a small smear of frosting on the cake platter (or whatever plate you plan to serve it on) to hold the cake in place. Put down one crepe and frost it with about 1/4 cup of frosting, enough to make a 1/4 inch layer of frosting. Repeat the process of layering crepes and frosting until you run out of one or the other, ending with a crepe. At this point you can put the cake in the fridge and wait a few days before serving. When you’re ready to serve it, spread the top with the remaining 2 tbs of strawberry jam and then pour the warm ganache on top – or frost it on. Stick a candle in and preferably enjoy with friends.
* I used this same recipe when I made blintzes last year but this time I was less prepared. When I ran out of milk and all purpose flour I just substituted the things I had and the resulting crepes were just as delicious. The substitution of water for milk makes the resulting crepes a tiny bit less rich but honestly, who’s going to notice when you layer them in buttercream? Or just eat them them with some jam?
** My only warning when it comes to substituting flours is pay attention to a) coarsness of the flour and b) gluten. I wouldn’t have added bread flour into this dough because it’s high gluten content would have made the batter a little tough. And I used whole wheat pastry rather than plain whole wheat because whole wheat flour can be very coarse (i.e. has visible bits of wheat) and these crepes should be delicate. Other flours you could consider mixing with at least 50% all purpose: cake flour, buckwheat flour, almond flour.
**** Cold buttercream is hard to use and if you have to rebeat it the frosting will break again and it won’t come back as nice as before. I’d suggest just assembling the cake when you make the frosting and then putting the whole cake in the fridge to hand out for a day or two.