La Chandeleur was just a few days ago and Mardi Gras is coming up next week. With apologies to Carl Sagan, it’s fair to say that the French consume “billions and billions” of crêpes: in Brittany alone, they have been common fare since the 13th century. Savory galettes can make a complete meal; sweet crêpes de froment are served as a dessert or as a snack.
I was in New York during Restaurant Week in 2011 and treated myself to Megu, a Japanese restaurant near the United Nations. For dessert, I chose the Matcha Mille Crêpes, an ethereal green tea flavored cake, a tower of crêpes layered with pastry cream. A year later at Le Colonial, the very same cake was listed on the menu and delicious memories flooded my mind. Miam miam! I found out these Mille Crêpes were the specialty of Lady M, an upscale pastry shop on the East Side.
Another year, another trip, another slice of cake: having lunch with a supplier in the Plaza Hotel Food Hall, I spotted a Lady M boutique and couldn’t resist the green beauty. I was hooked. Although I don’t particularly enjoy baking, I really had to try to make this at home. An internet search revealed several recipes and it didn’t look too difficile. Mille crêpes, like mille-feuilles, is a misnomer: you will not need to make one thousand crêpes, only twenty, which is pretty much what a standard batch of batter will yield (you can also save yourself some time by using Francine’s crêpe mix.)
Many variations are possible, either by adding a flavor to the crêpe batter or to the pastry cream. I had brought back a few bars of Pralinoise that I incorporated to make a delicious praliné cream. The assembly is a bit time-consuming but doesn’t require any particular skill. And it’s surprisingly easy to slice. This video will show you a few tricks.
I won’t be in my own kitchen on Mardi Gras so a mille crêpe is not in the cards this year. The appeal of individual crêpes lies in giving everyone the opportunity to choose their favorite fillings but the mille crêpes cake will elicit oohs and aahs from everybody at the dinner table. Next time, I’m trying François Payard’s recipe.
La Chandeleur: a pagan then religious celebration that takes place on Feb. 2nd
La galette: a buckwheat crêpe, for savory fillings
La crêpe de froment: a wheat crêpe, for sweet fillings
Miam miam: yum yum
Le mille-feuille: a pastry known as a Napoleon, made with thin layers of puff pastry
La Pralinoise: a hazelnut chocolate bar made by Poulain
Mille Crêpes with Green Tea Cream
Gâteau de crêpes au thé vert
by Francois Payard
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (220g) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (30g) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/2 cup (100g) sugar
Pinch of salt
8 large eggs
2 cups plus 1 tablespoon (500g) whole milk
Grated zest of 2 oranges
10 tablespoons (5 oz. or 150g) unsalted butter, browned
1 cup (250g) heavy cream
Vegetable oil, for the pan
Green Tea Pastry Cream
2 cups plus 1 tablespoon (500 g) whole milk
2 teaspoons (10g) powdered green tea
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (120g) sugar
5 tablespoons (40g) cornstarch
6 large egg yolks
4 tablespoons (2oz.; 60g) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup (250g) heavy cream
Make the crêpes: Combine the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, and salt in a large mixing bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, and orange zest. Incorporate them gradually into the dry ingredients, whisking constantly with one hand as you pour them with the other. Doing this slowly will prevent lumps from forming. Whisk in the butter, then the cream. Strain the batter over a bowl to make sure that it is smooth, then whisk it again so that it is thoroughly combined. Cover the batter, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.
Whisk the batter well. Place a small crêpe pan or nonstick skillet (about 8 inches in diameter) over medium heat. Pour about 2 teaspoons vegetable oil in the pan to grease it. Once it is hot, use a 1/4 cup measuring cup or a small ladle to pour a little less than 1/4 cup of batter in the pan. There should be just enough batter in the pan to coat the bottom in a thin layer. Tilt the pan in a circular motion so that the batter is evenly spread in the pan.
After about 2 minutes, the edges of the crêpe should start firming up. Use a spatula to lift a side of the crêpe and flip it over. Cook on the other side for about 1 minute, then remove the crêpe to a plate. Repeat the process until all of the batter is used, piling the crêpes one on top of the other as they are cooked. If the crêpes start to stick to the pan, add a little more oil. Cover the stack of crêpes with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until cool, up to 1 day.
Make the Pastry Cream: Line a shallow pan, such as a 9-inch square cake pan or a small rimmed baking sheet, with plastic wrap. Bring the milk to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Whisk in the green tea powder.
Meanwhile, combine the sugar and cornstarch in a medium bowl, and whisk in the yolks. Continue whisking until the yolks turn a very pale yellow. Slowly pour a fourth of the milk into the yolk mixture, whisking constantly to keep the yolks from curdling. Once the milk is well incorporated, return the mixture to the saucepan over medium heat, and cook, whisking constantly and scraping the bottom and sides of the pot with the whisk to prevent lumps from forming, until it becomes very thick and bubbles start popping from the center of the pan for at least 20 seconds. You need to bring it to a boil so that the cornstarch gets activated.
Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter. Pour the pastry cream into the prepared pan and cover it with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming. Let it cool to room temperature, and then refrigerate it until it is completely cool, up to 1 day ahead.
Whip the heavy cream at medium speed in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until it holds soft peaks. Whisk the pastry cream to a creamy texture, then gently fold in the whipped cream with a spatula.
Assemble the Cake: Place one of the cooled crepes on a serving platter. With a small offset spatula, spread a very thin layer (about 1/16 inch) of the green tea pastry cream over the crepe, going all the way to the edges. Place another crepe on top and repeat the process until the cake is 2 to 3 inches tall. Refrigerate for about 1 hour before serving, up to 6 hours ahead, so that the cake has time to set.
Makes one 8-inch cake; serves 8