GUEST POST, by MANDY JONES
Chocolate Hazelnut Crêpe Cake
From the time I was very young, crêpes were a staple breakfast food on the menu in our home. My favorite meal of the day was “breakfast for dinner”. You know what I’m talking about…foregoing the oven roasted chicken or fresh pasta for a plate of fried eggs, toast, and a greasy side of bacon – or a simple bowl of cereal and milk. In our family, we had crêpes with preserves, powdered sugar, and hand whipped cream for dinner- often. I think my mother’s crêpe recipe was embedded in her DNA since she so effortlessly whisked up a batch of batter in no time at all. All we had to do was mention the word and soon had a stack of perfect crêpes waiting to be filled, rolled and stuffed into our faces. I’m thankful to have inherited this gene because I love making these delicate, lacy-edged treats for my family almost as much as I love eating them. Enjoy the Chocolate Hazelnut Crêpe Cake recipe from my home to yours.
A few weeks ago a friend asked me to help her make a crêpe cake. She received a Du Buyer blue steel pan for Christmas and had fallen madly in love with it, just as I did when I first got mine years ago. Together we made a gorgeous cake layered with crêpes, toasted hazelnut pastry cream, and topped with a chocolate sauce and candied hazelnuts. It was so divine that I needed to make it again! Stat!
Fast forward to last night, I decided to tackle this cake knowing there were quite a few steps involved and that I would likely be up very late finishing. I had everything the recipe required but raw hazelnuts or filbert nuts as I’ve learned they’re also called. My husband, Brian was sweet enough to stop at the market on his way home from work. He thought I needed 2.5 pounds of nuts, but luckily he called before checking out because I only needed 2.5 cups. Big difference, however, I could think of a million things to use those extra filberts for had he purchased them. Oh, and I also needed a bottle of wine. For me. Not the cake. Like I said, good thing he called! 🙂
So, step one: Pour a glass of wine…
Once properly lubricated, I was ready to dive into whisking, mixing, melting, simmering and candying. The rule of thumb is to always try to use the best ingredients, especially the basics. It makes such a huge difference in the final product and I just don’t like cutting corners when baking. Once I discovered King Arthur Flour many moons ago, I haven’t use any other brand. I even recommend it to all of my students that have taken my Simply French cooking classes. It’s just a far superior flour than any other I’ve used before and has been around since 1790! It is an employee-owned company based in Vermont. It is a wonderful quality flour that is consistent. My point… use fine ingredients. It matters.
The recipe (below) is rather long, so I’ll give a brief overview. First, prepare your crepe batter. It needs time to sit for a few hours or even overnight if you have the time. The key to amazing crepes is good quality flour and eggs. A few years ago, I was introduced to Pete & Gerry’s Heirloom Eggs. They are so vibrant in flavor and color. Now I always have them in my fridge. Try them. You’ll love them.
Next, toast your hazelnuts and make the pastry cream. To toast, just place the nuts on a cookie sheet and bake at 350F for 10 mins. Give them a shake halfway through for even toasting. I find that the easiest way to get the skin off the nuts after toasting is to take a handful and rub them together between your palms. The skin flakes right off and falls onto the pan below. Just like that!
The hazelnuts smell nutty amazing once they’re chopped to oblivion in a food processor along with powdered sugar, a pinch of salt and a bit of hazelnut liqueur. The pastry cream comes together quickly with tempered a egg yolk and cornstarch mixture, sugar, milk, and hazelnuts. Use an offset pastry spatula to spread the pastry cream between the layers of crêpes. Spread the cream in a thin, even layer across each crêpe to prevent a hump from forming in the middle of the cake. It takes 1/4 cup of pastry cream between layers. I use a measuring cup for consistency. You should end up with 18 layers of sweet hazelnut goodness.
The chocolate icing is a cinch! I’ve tried a few different methods and found that melting the chocolate first over a double boiler before pouring in heavy cream yields a smoother texture. It also prevents having to re-heat it later to melt those bits of chocolate that didn’t fully melt from the start.
Once your icing is prepared, it’s as easy as pouring it over the cake, topping it with candied hazelnuts and VOILA! This cake makes me so happy!! It is definitely a labor of love, but oh so worth it once you take the first bite. Don’t be intimidated by its complexity. It’s quite simple to make if you break it down into manageable parts. Take your time and enjoy the process. Once the cake is finished and placed on the table, it will be gone before you know it!
Chocolate Hazelnut Crepe Cake
Crepes (step 1)
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter – melted (I prefer to use clarified butter)
2 1/3 ups whole milk
6 large (Pete & Gerry’s Heirloom) eggs
1 1/2 cups (King Arthur) All-Purpose Flour
1/ teaspoons Kosher salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Melt butter. In a large bowl whisk together eggs, milk, salt, flour, sugar and butter until smooth. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour or up to 2 days. You can also use a blender to combine the ingredients. To make crepes, pour 1/4 cups batter in a pre-heated crepe pan or skillet, which has been brushed with butter. Swirl the batter until the pan is coated evenly. Return to heat until the edges of the crepe become lacy and lift from the pan. The bottom of the crepe will have browns slightly. Gently flip and cook the other side for a few seconds. Stack crepes and let cool until ready for assembly.
*I always have to “throw away” the first crepe (a.k.a. eat it!) to prime the pan.
Hazelnut Pastry Cream (step 2)
1 1/3 cups toasted hazelnuts (skinned)
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons hazelnut liqueur (I used Frangelico)
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
3 1/4 cups whole milk
6 Tablespoons granulated sugar
5 egg yolks – Pete & Gerry’s Heirloom Eggs
5 Tablespoons cornstarch
2 Tablespoons melted butter (I like to use clarified butter)
In a food processor, blend confectioners’ sugar, liqueur, salt and hazelnuts until the consistency of a damp powder. In a saucepan, heat milk, sugar and hazelnut powder to a simmer. In a separate bowl combine egg yolks and cornstarch until smooth. Temper the eggs using the heated milk mixture. Once the eggs are warm, whisk them into the pot with the milk mixture. Bring the combined egg and milk mixture to a boil until it reaches the consistency of pudding. Remove from heat and stir in melted butter. Transfer to a bowl, cover the direct surface of the pastry creme with plastic wrap so a skin doesn’t form, and refrigerate until completely chilled.
Candied Hazelnuts (step 3)
1/3 cup toasted hazelnuts skinned
1/2 cup granulated sugar
pinch of sea salt (I use French grey salt)
Heat sugar and water until the sugar has melted and the liquid turns light brown. Add salt and hazelnuts. Continue to cook until the color darkens slightly. Remove from heat, remove nuts from pan and place on parchment paper to cool. They will easily pull from the paper later. Coarsely crush the nuts to sprinkle over the cake after the chocolate icing has been poured over.
Assembly (step 4)
Using a cake stand or cake plate, place one crepe in the center. Spoon 1/4 cup of the pastry creme onto the center of the crepe and spread evenly to almost the edges of the crepe. Continue this pattern until you have used all of the crepes but one. This last crepe will be the topmost layer before the chocolate icing is poured over.
Chocolate Icing (step 5)
5 ounces semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 Tablespoon hazelnut liqueur
Place chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Using a double boiler, melt chocolate chips until they are completely soft. In a small saucepan, heat heavy cream and liqueur until simmering. Pour heavy cream over the chocolate and stir until smooth. Let cool until it thickens slightly. Pour over layered crepe cake slowly and spread to edges if needed. Top cake with crushed candied hazelnuts
*If the chocolate isn’t fully melted, return to the double boiler heat just long enough to allow the rest of the chocolate to melt. Melting the chocolate before mixing with heavy cream helps eliminate this issue.