Sunday, April 29, 2007

If I Ever See a Chocolate Crepe Again It Will Be Too Soon

Every once in a while a recipe comes into your life that is like that bright red swimsuit in the copy of the latest fashion magazine or the window of the department store downtown. A good idea in theory but when you try it on.. Let's just say like that red swimsuit, some recipes should just remain pretty eye candy; as was the case with this month's Daring Baker Caper.

It all began so innocently. Brilynn from Jumbo Empanadas suggested we bake the crepe cake of her dreams, the Darkest Chocolate Crepe Cake from the Kitchens of Martha Stewart.

Bri had been oogling this recipe and causing the rest of us in the group to salivate over the idea of luscious, rich chocolate crepes with a creamy layer of hazelnut filling between each crepe layer all topped with a shiny sinful fudgy frosting. Bonus round was we got to play with spun sugar and hazelnuts! Oh yum!!! What possibly could go wrong? After all, we are the Daring Bakers. Oh, let's see here... JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING!

I'm not a Martha Stewart hater. I admit, she appears a bit snooty and does sometimes take a "holier than thou" tone but all in all, I admire her for building the type of empire she has and for actually having the brass balls to play in the men's end of the corporate shark pond. I have her Baking Handbook and I've made a few things from there that have turned out wonderful (biscotti is to die for). I also have a fondness for crepes. When I'm in Paris, I make sure I have at least one meal from a Breton creperie as I always stay in a small hotel about ten steps from the Metro stop Vavin in Montparnasse, the section of Paris filled with creperies. So, I was very excited to finally get a chance to make my own crepes as it was something I had never done before. Based upon the picture of the crepe cake and all the steps involved in the recipe, I expected this to be a bit more challenging than the Red Velvet Cake from last month but I didn't expect it to turn into the nightmare it became...

The evilness started right away with the crepes. The batter recipe calls for over a stick of butter, 8 oz of chocolate, 6 eggs AND 2 1/2 cups of milk and only a cup and half of flour. Now, as I've said, I've never made crepes before but I have made quite a few pancakes and read a few recipes for crepes (Julia Child anyone?) and this recipe seemed out of balance; too much oil and liquid and not enough stuff to bind it all together. But, hey who am I to question the Domestic Diva and her army of test kitchen staff?

The first time I made this batter and tried to make the crepes was an unmitigated disaster. I had crepes sticking to the pan, my fingers, tearing and not holding shape. I used the entire batch of batter and got exactly one pathetic looking crepe

Ok, I thought. It is me. I'm obviously doing something wrong here. Maybe I'm using the wrong kind of pan. So I made another batch of batter and switched pans from my non-descript wide omelette pan to a french crepe type pan and the results were even worse...

UGHHH!!!! What was I doing wrong??!! Querying my fellow DBers, I found that I was not the only person struggling with the crepes. There were horror stories of burnt fingers, gooey batter stuck to pans that required three day soaks, wasted weekends and from the sounds of the few comments, some new expletives based around Martha and crepes were invented and flung around kitchens all around the world (a few crepes too!) Not to be deterred and with the encouragement of a my fellow masochistic crepe makers, I decided to call it a day and try again the next weekend later. Last weekend, I came home and while MBH puttered around on a computer program, I wasted some more milk, flour and eggs; as I got the exact same results, a brown gooey mess stuck to my pan, crepes that fell apart. The crepes were so awful I considered robbing a Harvard Square creperie for my crepes.

This weekend however, I decided that after most everyone else had reported the same failures with the crepes it couldn't possibly be me but rather had to be the recipe. Sure enough, with the exception of two or three Daring Bakers, a few adjustments to the recipe had been made by the other Daring Bakers who had succeeded with their crepes; more flour, less butter, don't grease the pan with butter, use a bit more batter than the recipe called for, and let them cook longer. So, deciding that Martha's crepe recipe was just wrong, I added more flour (about 1/2 a cup more), took out one egg, and 3 Tbsp of butter. I also switched pans to MBH's fantastic omelette pan and used vegetable oil lightly brushed on the pan instead of melted butter and guess what??!! I made crepes!!!

Not as many as the recipe called for (about 20 instead of 30) but they were crepes. They looked like crepes. They smelled like crepes and they tasted like crepes.

The next two steps of the recipe came together pretty well. I'd already had success with the hazelnut creme from the previous weekend that by all reports is very good schmeered on top of Ben and Jerry's Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream and as the "jelly" component of a PBJ sandwiches. This week it went well again. I had to forgo using whole hazelnuts for the sugared hazelnuts this weekend. I used the last of my whole ones last weekend and like the hazelnut creme they found their way into other uses. This weekend I couldn't find whole hazelnuts at my local store so I used crushed hazelnuts and made hazelnut brittle that I broke up into several pieces. I had the crepes and creme layered in about 20 minutes. Feeling pretty good about how things were progressing with my crepe cake, I decided to call it a day and finish the cake in the morning.

There is only word that comes to mind now, hubris. Hubris the great leveler of all men, women and boiled chocolate frostings... Friday night, feeling pretty darn cocky and frankly just wanting to get this friggin' challenge over, I decided to do something I knew I shouldn't, make boiled frosting at 11pm at night. MBH had fallen asleep and I lay there tossing and turning thinking I should just get this over with. So I got up, went into the kitchen, and made the frosting. Or rather burned the frosting. I can't blame the recipe for this one. I have only my proud self to blame. One really should keep their eye on a pan full of heavy creme, light corn syrup, and salt when one is making frosting. Also, adding 2 cups of water and 1/2 a cup of vinegar to a hardened blob of charred heavy cream, light corn syrup and salt, letting it soak overnight and then letting it come to a slow boil will get your 2 quart Caphalon sauce pan back to rights!

Yesterday morning, after cleaning out my sauce pan, I made the frosting watching the pan with a hawk's eye. The frosting came together nicely this time and after about 20 minutes it was ready to pour over the crepe cake.

My crepe cake doesn't look as nice as Martha's. It sags at one end but after the HELL I went through to get the crepes I don't care. I got the crepes done, the cake is assembled and ready for the final step, sprinkling the hazelnut brittle.

You'll notice this is only half a crepe cake. This is because I decided to go for height vs shape. I spread the hazelnut cream on each crepe and folded it over to build up height and It resulted in a very pretty effect when I sliced the cake.

This cake was the most difficult cake I've ever made. There was a lot of fustration due to a bad recipe but once I got the crepes the result was actually quite good; especially the hazelnut cream filling.

I'm not discouraged by crepes and I'm actually eager to try them again but you can bet your sweet bippy they won't be made with a Martha recipe!

I encourage you to go read the rest of my extremely nimble and persevering Daring Bakers posts about the Darkest Chocolate Crepe Cake by clicking on the links to their blogs over on my side bar! I'm sure you'll get some laughs and see quite a few chocolate crepes...



Hazelnut Cream Filling

Serving: Makes about 8 cups

  • 2/3 Cup heavy cream

  • 6 large egg whites

  • 1 2/3 Cups sugar

  • 1 3/4 Cups (3 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, softened

  • 1 Teaspoon pure vanilla extract

  • 1/3 Cup hazelnut cream, (available from Whole Foods Market, or Nutella

  • 1 salt

  • Put cream into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment; beat on medium-high speed until soft peaks form, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl. Refrigerate 1 hour.

  • Whisk egg whites and sugar in the clean bowl of mixer set over a pan of simmering water until sugar has dissolved and mixture registers 160 degrees;, 2 to 3 minutes.

  • Attach bowl to mixer fitted with the clean whisk attachment; beat on high speed until slightly cooled and stiff (but not dry) peaks form, about 5 minutes.

  • Fit mixer with paddle attachment. With mixer on medium-low speed, add butter, several pieces at a time, mixing well after each addition (meringue will deflate slightly as butter is added). Add vanilla, hazelnut cream, and salt; mix until mixture comes together, 3 to 5 minutes. Fold in whipped cream with a rubber spatula. Use immediately.