My memories are recipes. Nothing reminds me more of certain people or places in time than food. A piece of chicken grilled in just the right way instantly transports me back to a pool filled with my cousins, splashing away as my grandparents grilled on the patio and our parents chatted and laughed. Dad’s “Can’t Miss Ribs” suddenly remind me of a boisterous night with neighbor friends and a rousing chorus of “In Heaven There is No Beer” with five dancing, jumping little girls and laughing moms. Cinnamon apples or warm homemade yeast rolls appear and I can hear my grandpa making Donald Duck noises at the opposite end of the holiday table.
A single bite is like a time machine, taking me back to a place or point in my life. A taste simultaneously tugs at my heart and my mind, making me wistful, happy, nostalgic, or sad as I remember those that have come and gone or momentous occasions in my life. Whenever I’m longing for comfort, I can open my recipe box and have those that I love at my kitchen table.
Crêpes will always remind me of our wedding. We didn’t serve crêpes at our reception, there were none to be found on our brunch menu the following day, and we did not indulge in a single bite as we traversed the Napa wine country on our honeymoon. But on the Thursday evening before we married, after a day of bustling about with last minute preparations, we dined al fresco at a quiet little French-inspired café in our college town. The weather was perfect with blue skies and moderate temperatures. A chilled rosé sat on the wrought iron table and plates of balsamic dressed greens, Croque Monsieur, and savory crêpes sat in front of each waiting diner. The fast pace of the day melted into a leisurely evening as we lingered over our dinners, enjoying the conversation, the gentle breeze, and the anticipation of the excitement and activity the next few days would bring. Enjoying the moment, we stayed on through dusk, sipping steamy cups of coffee and nibbling on crêpes beurre sucre and sweet crêpes filled with warm summer berries. If perfection could be captured in a single dining experience, this came extremely close.
I closed my eyes and time had sped forward a few years (or so it had seemed). I was enjoying a lazy Saturday morning, one so clear and calm that it reminded me of that peaceful patio dinner, and I stumbled across a recipe for a cake towering with layers of lacy, delicate crêpes and orange zest-flecked whipped cream. In an instant, I knew I had to make it and I knew, without a doubt, that it would remind me somehow of that dinner.
There are a few things you need to know about crêpe making. First, tradition says you should let your batter rest for several hours, up to overnight, to allow the flour to absorb some of the moisture for a thicker batter. This also allows the batter to relax and for the bubbles to dissipate. The end result is a tender crêpe free of holes. This recipe eschews tradition (ha HA!) and moves straight to the stove. While I’m sure this batter would benefit from a little snooze, impatience wins out in the battle between perfection and consumption. Sure, you may have a crêpe or two with a few holes, but those can easily be buried in the middle. I always set aside my shining star – the perfectly golden crêpe with delicately lacey edges – and use that as the crowning jewel.
Second, I will put money on the fact that you will throw out at least one crêpe out of the first five you make. It is guaranteed. Crêpe making can be a fickle business as your pan is too hot or too cold and you fiddle with the knob on your stove until you finally get it just right. Goldilocks would be proud. And hungry, when she saw this spectacular dessert set before her wide eyes.
To me, this is dessert perfection. I have it on good authority that this is an “anytime” cake. Perfect following a lovely dinner, ooh-and-aah inspiring mid day, and decadent for breakfast when paired with a mimosa. Just sayin’…
grand marnier crepe cake
recipe: prepared exactly as instructed by Gourmet
6 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
3 cups chilled heavy cream, divided
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, divided
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup confectioners sugar, divided
2 teaspoons grated orange zest, divided
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
Blend eggs, milk, 1/2 cup cream, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla with flour, salt, 1/4 cup confectioners sugar, and 1 teaspoon zest in a blender until just smooth.
Brush a 10-inch nonstick skillet lightly with some of melted butter, then heat over medium-high heat until hot. Pour in a scant 1/4 cup batter, immediately tilting and rotating skillet to coat bottom. (If batter sets before skillet is coated, reduce heat slightly for next crêpe.) Cook until underside is golden and top is just set, 15 to 45 seconds. Loosen edge of crépe with an offset spatula (my personal preference – feel free to use a heat resistant rubber spatula), then flip crêpe over and cook 15 seconds more. Transfer to a plate. Continue making crêpes, brushing skillet with butter each time and stacking on plate.
Beat remaining 2 1/2 cups cream, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, 3/4 cup confectioners sugar, 1 teaspoon zest, and Grand Marnier in a large deep bowl with an electric mixer until cream holds stiff peaks.
Center a crêpe on a serving plate and spread with 1/4 cup cream. Continue stacking crêpes and spreading with cream, ending with a crêpe. Chill at least 2 hours and up to 24 (although I have left this sit for as many as 72 hours – it usually doesn’t last much longer than that).
Here’s hoping this creates a memorable meal for you!
All content and photographs © 2010 jb’s pour house