Caitlin arrived in Cincinnati last Saturday, partly for work, and partly to celebrate her 27th birthday (that Monday).
After picking her up at the airport, we headed to dinner. After dinner, we returned to my apartment, where – as is her custom – Caitlin examined the contents of my refrigerator. After sampling the almond butter and my homemade tzatziki sauce, she concentrated her sights on the large, domed item, carefully wrapped in foil.
It was, obviously, her cake. But what kind of cake, she wondered. Alas, I could not answer the question; it was not yet her birthday.
After a small amount of pleading (it was, after all, her birthday weekend), I agreed to give her a series of hints.
It had pumpkin, I told her, knowing that was one of her favorite ingredients. It also had a healthy mix of whole wheat and all-purpose flour, because it was incumbent that we eat the entire cake. But even though it was (1) a cake, and (2) contained flour, I told Caitlin that nothing had been baked. The oven had never been opened.
Caitlin looked me over. “Are you teasing me?”
“No,” I told her. “It’s a no-bake cake.”
“Tell me the truth,” she implored.
“I’m being serious. I just mixed the flour, milk, and eggs, and let them set in the refrigerator. It’s a raw cake!”
“Okay, okay,” I relented. “It’s not a raw cake. But it’s true that the cake’s unbaked.”
Caitlin puzzled over the unbaked cake for the next two days. And naturally, I refused to supplement my original hints, preferring to torture watch her wonder what exactly could be hiding under that deep layer of foil. Soon enough – or maybe not soon enough if you ask Caitlin – I revealed the unbaked mystery cake: A Pumpkin Crepe Cake.
The Crepe Cake, sometimes called a Milles Crepes, is a classic dessert, and one version can be found in the venerable Joy of Cooking. Hedging her bet, Amanda Hesser called another version of the Crepe Cake the “second-best cake” in New York City. That version, sold by the Lady M Confections, retails for $75.00 a cake!
Of course, with a crepe pan and a little patience, you can make your own crepe cake at home. And that extra $75 – well, that’s just birthday money!
PUMPKIN CREPE CAKE
PREP TIME: 20 minutes
COOK TIME: 2 hours
YIELD: 1 delicious 18-layer crepe cake
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 cups one-percent milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups two-percent milk
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
4 egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons corn starch
1 tablespoon sugar-in-the-raw
1/4 cup sliced strawberries
HOW YOU DO IT:
1. Mix together all of the ingredients for the batter. Let the batter rest for about an hour (if possible). In a medium-hot crepe pan, drop 3-4 tablespoons of batter and swirl the skillet to coat. When browned, turn the crepe over to the other side and cook for another minute. Allow the crepe to cool on a cooling rack. Repeat this process using all the batter. It should make about eighteen to twenty crepes. (Of course, this does not account for “sampling” or “quality-control” during the crepe-making processs).
2. Heat the milk mixture with vanilla bean in a nonreactive saucepan. Whisk together the yolks, salt, and sugar until the mixture is pale and thick. Fold in the corn starch. Temper the yolk mixture by whisking in some of the hot milk, then pour the yolks into the saucepan. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the milk boils. Remove the vanilla bean and chill until completely cool (you can put the saucepan in the refrigerator; just be sure to place it on a cutting board or mat).
3. Place a crepe on your serving platter or serving dish. (You don’t want to have to transfer the assembled cake). Spread the crepe with a thin layer of the pastry cream, but enough so that the crepe is entirely covered. Repeat with all the crepes. Sprinkle the raw sugar in the middle of the top crepe, and caramelize with a creme brulee torch. Garnish with additional sliced strawberries. Slice and serve!