Active Time: 1 HR 30 MINTotal Time6 HR 30 MIN
Yield: Serves : 8 to 10
My first professional New York City cooking job was right out of culinary school, as an apprentice in the kitchen at Le Cirque 2000. This was the late ’90s and under the leadership of the inimitable chef Sottha Khunn in the back and the Maccioni family in the front, and the restaurant felt like the epicenter of the New York fine-dining universe. The kitchens themselves were enormous, taking up the better part of two floors deep within the Palace Hotel on Madison Avenue. I was the lowest rung on the proverbial culinary ladder, not to mention the only woman in the savory kitchen at the time (there were a few other women working for dessert mastermind Jacques Torres in the pastry department). From day one, I was assigned to the hot appetizer, pasta, and risotto station, and my first task each morning was to make 50 or so perfect French crêpes. These would later become the wrappers for a delicate vegetable beggar’s purse, which would sit on a dramatic swoosh of rich yellow curry, alongside a single seared giant prawn.
If you have ever made crêpes before, you know there’s a definitive process you must follow to ensure their success: mix batter, allow batter to rest (this allows air bubbles created during the mixing process to work their way out, the gluten to relax, and the starch molecules to absorb some of the liquid, which gives the batter a thicker and more uniform consistency), warm a well-seasoned crêpe pan (or small nonstick skillet) and add a little fat, then using a ladle, pour a small amount of said batter into the hot pan while simultaneously moving the pan in a smooth, circular motion to quickly and evenly spread the batter in a thin layer to cook. When small bubbles appear around the edges, flip the crêpe (best done with your fingers), let the underside cook for just a minute, and slide it onto a towel-lined plate to cool. The first crêpe is often a bust; the pan may not be seasoned enough yet, the temperature spotty. But persevere, and by the second you should be off and running. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
My memory of those mornings is crystal clear. I would stand over the piping hot stove for about two hours, pouring and flipping, pouring and flipping, my face bright red from the heat. We had this one specific crêpe pan for the job, passed down from cook to cook, seasoned to perfection from years of use. The action of crêpe-making became muscle memory. To this day, I can almost feel the rhythm of it. Then there was the smell: raw flour and, in the background, a hint of blackberries. You see, while I was busy with my pan, the pastry team was prepping furiously for dinner service in the next room, mixing and whisking and sugaring away. My favorite dessert was their blackberry soufflé, a signature of chef Torres. On occasion, after a particularly difficult night of service, I would sneak into the back and they would slip me one, the ideal end to an otherwise grueling day.
Since then, crêpes and blackberries have been intrinsically linked in my mind. Luckily they go well together, especially in July when the berries are at their peak and a lazy weekend morning spent flipping crêpes yields enough for my new favorite cake, layered with rich mascarpone whipped cream, tart berries, and a little lemon zest. I admit, part of making it is how good it feels to flex those muscles again, but even that pales in comparison to how satisfying it is to slice through all of its beautiful layers and take the first heavenly bite.
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (about 6 3/8 ounces)
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons lemon zest
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 6 large eggs
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
MASCARPONE WHIPPED CREAM
- 1 (8-ounce) container mascarpone cheese
- 1 pint plus 1/4 cup heavy cream, divided
- 1/2 cup unsifted powdered sugar (about 2 ounces), divided
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest
- 2 cups fresh blackberries, divided
How to Make It
Step 1 Make the crêpes
Whisk together flour, sugar, lemon zest, and salt in a large bowl. Process eggs, milk, and heavy cream in a blender until well combined, about 30 seconds. Add flour mixture to egg mixture; process until smooth and frothy, about 1 minute, stopping to scrape down sides of blender as needed. Transfer batter to a container with a tight-fitting lid; seal and chill at least 4 hours or up to overnight.
Remove batter from refrigerator; gently whisk to reincorporate any bubbles or separation.
Brush an 8-inch nonstick skillet with some of the melted butter, evenly coating bottom of skillet. Cook over medium until butter is hot, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Using a 1/4-cup measuring cup, immediately add a scant 1/4 cup batter to one side of skillet. Swirl skillet to spread batter in a thin, even layer.
Return skillet to heat; cook over medium until crêpe edges are light golden and set, about 1 minute. Using a small offset spatula, gently lift one edge of the crêpe; using your fingertips, quickly flip crêpe. Cook until other side of crêpe is pale golden and a few spots begin to appear on bottom, 30 to 45 seconds. Transfer crêpe to a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet to cool; cover with a clean, dry lightweight towel.
Step Step 5
Repeat steps 3 and 4 with remaining butter and batter, wiping skillet clean and lightly brushing with butter every few crêpes, or as needed. (You should have 20 crêpes to use for cake. Reserve any extra crêpes for another use.) Chill crêpes, covered, until ready to use.
Step 6 Make the mascarpone whipped cream
Combine mascarpone, 1/4 cup heavy cream, 1/4 cup powdered sugar, and lemon zest in bowl of a stand mixer; gently whisk by hand until incorporated. Add remaining 1 pint heavy cream; fit mixer with whisk attachment. Beat mixture on medium-high speed, gradually adding remaining 1/4 cup powdered sugar, until stiff peaks form, 1 to 2 minutes.
Mash 3/4 cup blackberries in a medium bowl. Add about half of the mascarpone whipped cream to mashed berries, and fold gently to combine.
Step 8 Assemble the cake
Remove crêpes from refrigerator. Place 1 crêpe on a cake platter or flat serving dish. Using a small offset spatula, gently spread a thin layer (about 3 tablespoons) of the plain mascarpone whipped cream over crêpe, leaving a 1/4-inch border. Top with 1 crêpe, and gently spread with a layer (about 3 tablespoons) of the blackberry mascarpone whipped cream. Repeat process with remaining 18 crêpes, alternating with layers of plain mascarpone whipped cream and blackberry mascarpone whipped cream, until you have used the final crêpe (Do not spread anything on top layer). Chill remaining plain mascarpone whipped cream until ready to use. Using kitchen shears, trim any excess crispy crêpe edges that may hang over. Cover cake with plastic wrap; chill at least 1 hour and up to 8 hours.
Remove cake from refrigerator, and uncover. Spoon remaining plain mascarpone whipped cream over top of cake, creating a small well about 6 inches wide in the center. Pile remaining 1 1/4 cups blackberries on top. Slice cake using a serrated knife, and serve.
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