I would eat this cake for breakfast.
Really, a crêpe is basically a very thin pancake, either sweet or savoury, filled or layered with just about anything you can think of under the Canadian summer sun. If maple syrup flowing over the edges of pillowy soft pancakes is an acceptable start to a lazy Sunday morning, then I'm sticking to my guns (and rationalizing) an entire stack of thin pancakes layered with honey sweetened & vanilla flavoured pastry cream should be just as customary.
Besides, it's the celebratory weekend where it's demanded we show our Canadian pride with anything and everything red, white & delicious. Snowbirds, beaches, farmers' markets, parades, fireworks, bbq's, backyards, beer, and cake!
Mille crêpe is the classical name for this cake as mille means 'thousand'. A bit of an exaggeration but you get the idea of many layers composing the cake. It is quite forgiving to prepare if you need another reason to attempt the recipe besides the stunning presentation.
This crêpe cake can be prepared in stages if it seems overwhelming to complete all at once. Prepare the batter up to a day in advance; prepare the crêpes up to a day in advance; prepare the pastry cream up to 4 days in advance. Assemble the cake up to a day in advance. If you follow along with my work at all, you know I like to share ideas and recipes that can be adapted to whatever seasonal ingredient is available. Could you imagine this cake topped with juicy peaches or blueberries?
A couple of suggestions:
Crêpes should be thin and delicate. Not too delicate that they fall apart but still thin enough to know they are not a pancake. If they are thicker than a couple of millimeters, oh well. They will still taste fantastic but if they are too thick try adding a little water to the batter. Alternatively, if they are too thin add 1-2 tablespoons of flour to thicken. It's almost customary that the first one or two crêpes you prepare will be 'duds' but in their own sense they are the best because as 'testers' you can eat them hot off the pan still coated in succulent butter.
The pan you cook the crêpes in should be hot enough that it only takes a minute to cook them on the first side without burning. The edges of the crêpes should curl and become lacy - crêpe means 'curled'. Test the pan before adding the butter and batter by dropping in a few drops of water; it should spatter and hiss. If it takes longer to cook the crêpes they could become soggy or doughy (and could also mean they are too thick). Oh well, they will still taste delicious.
When preparing the pastry cream, take care to not overcook it. Because you are cooking an egg based custard with cornstarch, there is the chance you could literally make scrambled eggs. Stir constantly and never leave the pastry cream unattended while on the stove top. As soon as it's sufficiently thickened, take it off the heat and cool it down as quickly as possible.
Funny/humbling story time: chefs school, 2002. Celebrity chef Andrew Shott is the guest chef in residence for a week. "Can you make pastry cream?" Mr. Shott asks me. "Sure can!" I replied.
"Sure I can screw it up and scramble eggs," is what I could have replied instead because that is exactly what I did. Yes, you can strain out the curdled/lumpy bits of egg from a custard (or puree them so they are unrecognizable) but you cannot get rid of the 'cooked' egg flavour no matter what you do. If you curdle a custard, it's not the end of the world. Maybe you can learn from my mistakes though and skip this kitchen lesson. If you don't, oh well.
18-Layer Strawberry Crêpe Cake
Recipe inspired from Serious Eats
1 1/2 cups milk
3 tablespoons local honey
1/2 vanilla bean
4 egg yolks
4 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
pinch of salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
1 cup 35% cream
1 tablespoon icing sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
1 cup water
1/2 cup melted butter + 2 T
Prepared pastry cream
1 quart local strawberries
Icing sugar for dusting
Eating. Drinking. Sharing.