They are all over the place. Every time I turn around another one just grabs my attention. They are almost impossible for me to ignore. Burning holes in the back of my head, staring me down as I travel from store to store, aisle to aisle. A good looking one will catch my eye and I’ll think about it and think about it until I can’t stand it anymore. Then usually desire takes over and BOOM – I own another cookbook. Well with this one, I stupidly held off working on the “I need another cookbook like a fish needs a bicycle” and “Christmas is coming” mottos. And I got my wish – The Essential New York Times Cook Book by Amanda Hesser. YES – it’s fabulous! I’ve been reading it ever since Santa (okay, my son Luke) placed it under the tree. I love her background stories with each recipe and I love the twists and updates on the classics. I love her straight forward recipe writing approach - no nonsense - this is how you do it sort of way.
The first recipe I tried was her Gateau de Crepe. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate a recipe that works and does so perfectly. The crepe recipe made exactly 20 crepes. The pastry cream recipe made exactly enough for filling the 20 crepes. The cake wobbled a bit but did not fall down (which was my fear when I thought about making this in the past) and was absolutely one of the most delicious desserts I have ever made. So, thank you Amanda Hesser for a wonderful New Years Eve dessert and a new tradition.
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
For the assembly:
2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon sugar or more
3 tablespoons Kirsch (I used Grand Marnier)
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. Pass the pastry cream through a sieve once more. Whip the heavy cream with the tablespoon sugar and the Kirsch. It won't hold peaks. Fold it into the pastry cream.
6. 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. 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.
Batter adapted from Joy of Cooking. Pastry cream adapted from Desserts, by Pierre Herme and Dorie Greenspan. Serves 10.
It’s All Delicious Notes: Recipe from The Essential New York Times Cook Book by Amanda Hesser