There is something to be said about having a summer birthday – school is out, cares are few, and the pool is open. It seems that everyone blessed with birth during the hotter parts of the year will invariable have at least one pool party in their life. The down side is that since school is generally not in session and people are still on vacation having a party with all your friends in town is a rarity. Also, if you live in the northeast, where I grew up and where air conditioning is not found in most houses, a summertime birthday will involve a grilled meal, sweating guests and melting frosting. Baking the cake is always done the day before in an attempt to allow the house to cool before the guests descend. The end result was always exhaustion although from the weather or the day’s festivities I never will know. I live in an air conditioned house now, but the oven was allowed to remain off while this cake was assembled. Simple, light and delicious is the new summertime cake.
Gâteau de Crêpes
For the crepe batter:
6 tablespoons butter
3 cups milk
1 1/2 cups flour
7 tablespoons sugar
For the vanilla pastry cream:
2 cups milk
1 vanilla bean, halved and scraped
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch, sifted
3 1/2 tablespoons butter
2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon sugar or more
3 tablespoons Kirsch
The day before, make the crepe batter and the pastry cream. Batter: In a small pan, cook the butter until brown like hazelnuts. Set aside. In another small pan, heat the milk until steaming; allow to cool for 10 minutes. In a mixer on medium-low speed, beat together the eggs, flour, sugar and salt. Slowly add the hot milk and browned butter. Pour into a container with a spout, cover and refrigerate overnight.
Pastry cream: Bring the milk with the vanilla bean (and scrapings) to a boil, then set aside for 10 minutes; remove bean. Fill a large bowl with ice and set aside a small bowl that can hold the finished pastry cream and be placed in this ice bath.
In a medium heavy-bottomed pan, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch. Gradually whisk in the hot milk, then place pan over high heat and bring to a boil, whisking vigorously for 1 to 2 minutes. Press the pastry cream through a fine-meshed sieve into the small bowl. Set the bowl in the ice bath and stir until the temperature reaches 140 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Stir in the butter. When completely cool, cover and refrigerate.
Assemble the cake the next day: Bring the batter to room temperature. Place a nonstick or seasoned 9-inch crepe pan over medium heat. Swab the surface with the oil, then add about 3 tablespoons batter and swirl to cover the surface. Cook until the bottom just begins to brown, about 1 minute, then carefully lift an edge and flip the crepe with your fingers. Cook on the other side for no longer than 5 seconds. Flip the crepe onto a baking sheet lined with parchment. Repeat until you have 20 perfect crepes.
Whip the heavy cream with the tablespoon sugar and the Kirsch. It won’t hold peaks. Fold it into the pastry cream.
Lay 1 crepe on a cake plate. Using an icing spatula, completely cover with a thin layer of pastry cream (about 1/4 cup). Cover with a crepe and repeat to make a stack of 20, with the best-looking crepe on top. (If you are assembling the cake in hot weather you may find that the cake is leaning or sliding. Straighten to the best of your abilities and chill until the creme is a more firm. Then continue assembling.) Chill for at least 2 hours. Set out for 30 minutes before serving. If you have a blowtorch for creme brulee, sprinkle the top crepe with 2 tablespoons sugar and caramelize with the torch; otherwise, dust with confectioners’ sugar. Slice like a cake.
Source: Adapted from Smitten Kitchen