I enjoy cooking, but have not yet in my life been much of a baker. I've been particularly intimidated by the idea of decorating a cake, for some reason. My mom and my sister both decorate beautiful cakes, and I know the basic idea -- I've just been unwilling to try. It's probably because I know I need practice, and am unwilling to turn out the many lopsided, messy, goopy cakes required to learn on before I get good.
However, I did want to make something really special for Ben's birthday this year. He got his birthday gift (luggage -- he has a stated preference for practical gifts, and we were going on a trip) without wrapping and without fanfare a couple weeks before the actual birthday, and I thought a beautiful, delicious cake would be a good substitute for the actual unwrapping of presents/general fanfare. And when I saw a crepe cake on one of the many food blogs I peruse, I knew that was what I wanted to make.
When I first presented the cake to my husband and his family, my sister-in-law commented that it looked like it was a lot of work. And yeah, this is not something you can make in a hurry. Fortunately, the work can be spread out over a couple of days.
I used this recipe from Smitten Kitchen, and it's a good one. The crepes in particular are extremely yummy -- eating the ruined crepes that I hadn't poured, swirled or flipped properly was one of my favorite parts of putting this together. However, the special deliciousness of the crepes kind of got lost once the whole cake came together, so I think next time I make this (and I WILL make it again) I'll use a crepe recipe that's slightly less fussy. The main thing is to get 20 or so good round crepes.
I'm also looking forward to playing with different fillings. The pastry cream with whipped cream was fantastic (and with ganache on top tasted basically exactly like a chocolate eclair in cake form), but I saw some variations in google recipe search that looked really good, too, like lemon curd, fruit and yogurt, and cream cheese with white chocolate.
So here's the timeline for making a crepe cake:
Saturday morning, while baby naps: Make the crepe batter and stick it in the fridge. You've never heard before that crepe batter is better if it has time to rest before being cooked, but you don't make your living off running a food blog. Trust it. Try to make the pastry cream now, but if your baby decides that long naps aren't really her thing, that can be done while she plays on the floor next to you.
Saturday night, after baby is asleep: Make the crepes. The recipe says the crepes only need to cook about one minute on the first side and a few seconds on the other. The recipe also says to flip the crepe with your fingers. This is insane, and written for people who cook so much they have no nerves left in their fingertips. Ignore. Sweat over the stovetop for an hour, thinking about how much you love your husband. Try not to lie to him when he asks about the number of ruined crepes, even though you were hoping to eat them all yourself.
Saturday night: Lie awake stressing about the stack of crepes in the fridge. What if they all stick together? What if the cake isn't impressive enough? What if the pastry cream is lumpy? Should you make a whipped cream frosting for it tomorrow or a chocolate ganache? Tell your brain to shut up and sleep.
Sunday morning, while baby naps: Don't bother straining the pastry cream again, as the recipe suggests. It looks fine, and at this point, you are past caring about any lumps. Whip heavy cream with some sugar, but substitute a little splash of vanilla for kirsch, which you don't have and aren't interested in buying. Fold together the whipping cream and pastry cream. Take the crepes (which have NOT stuck together and were never even thinking about it) and start to assemble. This part goes pretty quickly. Crepe, cream, crepe, cream, crepe, cream. Feel tremendously impressed with yourself and take lots of pictures.
Sunday afternoon: Decide that you really DO want to put a chocolate ganache glaze on it, because the cake looks a little bare just on its own. Heat 2/3 cup heavy cream with 1 tablespoon light corn syrup until just simmering, then pour into a bowl with 6 ounces chocolate chips that you've made some attempt at chopping up a little. Stir until glossy. Pour over the cake. It might pour more quickly than you thought it would, and make a huge mess. You might get chocolate all over your white shirt. For this reason, I would not recommend wearing a white shirt while you do this. At least not one that you're attatched to.
Note: This makes a good deal more ganache than you need. You could probably halve the recipe, or you could save the rest for something else, or you could eat it straight out of a bowl with a spoon. It's up to you. (I'm not saying which option I chose, only that it was DELICIOUS.)
Sunday night: Serve after dinner to your husband and assorted in-laws. Bask in the accolades. Do not let your sister-in-law who does not like anything with cream or butter to have any, because she will not appreciate it. Save two big slices for later, because it is still actually NOT your husband's birthday and you have to have SOMETHING for the actual day.
(That's your excuse, at least.)