I have been cooking for a really long time and I never plan to stop. The first thing I learned to make was Hollandaise sauce, standing on a chair by the Mixmaster when I was six years old. I could hardly read recipes butI loved being in the kitchen.
My mother was a demented tyrant, but boy could she cook, and she cooked with love and passion. My dad was a talented part-time pastry chef and my granny was a cook who worked every day but Mondays until she was well over 80.
I come by my cooking chops honestly and I have actually cooked professionally in the restaurant world in my checkered past.
My Cowgirl Mama about 1944
My favorite things are dishes that are spectacular, pretty easy to prepare and will get the cook a lot of compliments!
I think there's a lot of mystery and almost fear around the art of cooking and cooking well. There are a lot of 'secrets' and 'shortcuts' that you only learn through trial and error, practice, or if somebody shares their 'ah ha' moments with you.
One of the things I am asked to make again and again is the crepe cake that is shown here. It is spectacular no matter what fruit and filling you use, tastes amazing and is a lot easier than it looks once you master a few tricks of the trade.
I worked at one of the first crepe houses in Houston a long, long time ago. Liliane's Maison de Crepe. Liliane was a cranky round Frenchwoman with a glorious accent, an amazing laugh and a chef who had tantrums. I think my experience at Liliane's is what made me fall in love with all things French.
The restaurant had a tiny old gay French piano player who tinkled the ivories in the dining room while wearing a velvet smoking jacket, a maitre d' who was always fighting with the waiters, and the best crepes I have ever tasted. My sons were small and I was working two jobs, but this job? I loved it… So in honor or Madame Liliane, Crepes!
I chose to make Blueberry and Lemon crepes for this foray, but in the spring I get asked again and again for a birthday crepe cake stuffed with fresh strawberries, vanilla creme and almonds. In the summer, peaches with amaretto are amazing, and raspberries and nutella are another possiblity. If you can think of something yummy, you can take the basic concept and go crazy.
I always rummage around and gather up my ingredients first. Make your fillings–or in the lazy woman's world, peel the top off the vanilla pudding containers. hee hee. Today I did make lemon pudding–from a box. I used canned blueberry pie filling BUT I took about two cups of fresh blue berries, stemmed and checked them good for nasty berries, and dumped them into a bowl with the filling. Canned pie filling is great for making your fresh berries stick in your crepe stack. You get the punch of fresh fruit and the cake doesn't slip slide away.
Basic Sweet Batter Ingredients:
2/3 cup half & half (or milk)
2/3 cup water
1 1/2 cups flour, all purpose presifted
2 tablespoons butter melted
4 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons of appropriate liquor, such as cognac
2 teaspoons vanilla
For your crepes:
In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs, a whisk works wonderfully well, add half and half and water and whisk until its all blended.
Gradually whisk in the flour.
Add the rest of the ingredients and beat until the batter looks like melted ice cream in thickness and consistency. Thick, creamy but not too thick is what you are going for.
Alcohol: I choose the liquor based on A) what I’m making and B) what I have on hand. In this case, I chose triple sec because I liked the flavor profile with the lemon layers. I like Amaretto with peaches and cognac with strawberries, don’t be afraid to experiment.
Adding my alcohol of choice, it gives a little flavor but mostly helps add color to the crepes as they cook
Okay, you have your batter made, your fillings prepared and waiting in bowls for use in a little while. This is the part where it gets fun. I am lucky enough to have the World's Most Fantastic Crepe Pan. I have had it since before son Joshua was born and he is well over 30 at this point, so the pan is well seasoned. Its a Taylor and Ng pan and they probably don't even make them anymore BUT there are nice crepe pans out there. If you like crepes, go buy one. My entire family knows there will be blood shed if they wash my pan. It only needs wiping off and hanging back up at this stage of its life.
I am assuming you don't have a pan like I do, so I wanted to prove to you and to me that you can make great crepes with a junky pan. I got out my most evilly used old teflon warhorse that suffered through years of teenage cooking and should probably be thrown away at this point. When you start hunting through your skillets the trick is choose one that is NOT heavy. You have to pick it up and move it around so weight is one of the secret tricks. You don't need a great big huge skillet, just a fairly flat one with about a six inch wide bottom.
I always melt a little extra butter when I'm melting the crepe batter butter. Dip a paper towel into the butter and swab your pan/skillet with it. Put the pan on medium heat and let it sizzle. Choose a measuring cup that is about 1/3 of a cup. Fill it with batter use trick number two: PICK UP the pan and remove it from the heat while you pour in the batter. This keeps the batter from cooking and sticking instantly so you can roll it around to cover the pan bottom.
Rotate the pan, roll it around in your hand to spread the batter around the bottom. Yes, the first two or three crepes will be a mess until you figure out the motion that lets you swirl the batter around the pan bottom.
Put the pan back on the heat.
Wait until the top of the crepe looks dry, crepes don't have holes that bubble up like a big fat flapjack so dry is your key word. Use a really good METAL spatula to flip the crepes over. Plastic spatulas just don't get the job done here. They tear your crepes and don't slide under neatly. The crepe is going to flip just fine, you can even use your fingers. ow! hot! hot! to straighten out any that do an El Foldo on you. Relax, enjoy, find the rhythm. It only takes about 10 or 15 seconds to get the second side done.
Use your spatula to pick it up and put it on a plate. Stack your crepes any which way, they don't stick together and you can unpeel them when you build your cake. Start again, get your batter, pick up pan, rotate it, put it down, etc.etc. Re-butter your pan when you need to, about every 3rd or 4th crepe for a 'virgin pan'. You are done with this phase and you have a lovely big stack of crepes.
Move to the assembly process, the best part–no wait, that's eating it. Put down a crepe on whatever plate you are serving from, spread a layer of the first filling. Plop down another crepe, spread a layer of the next filling, keep going. Trick 3: If you are using fruit filling, mound it in the middle and put the next crepe on top of it. Use your hand and push straight down to spread the filling. If you do it this way you won't have filling running out the sides and plopping on the plate.
Keep going until your stack is stacked. I always save one crepe and enough filling to roll it up and have a good taste of my efforts.
I keep those handy dandy little roasting skewers around and stick four or five into the finished cake top. It keeps it from sliding until it gets good and chilled and it also helps when you have to transport a crepe cake. Bamboo skewers work just as well and they keep the plastic wrap from clinging to your pretty cake top. I put one last dollop of filling and some slivered almonds on mine and popped it into the fridge to cool thoroughly.
Here is how it looked three hours later. The fun part is when you slice one of these and carefully slide a slice out. They are so pretty! They look archaeological with all their layers and people are always so surprised when something that looks like a pancake is so stunningly beautiful. They also taste amazing. This one is light and airy with the berries and lemon, not heavy at all. I'm sure being so light and airy it has no calories at all….bon appetit!