Showstopping Crepe Cake with Nutella and Toasted Hazelnuts

In need of a showstopping dessert?  Readers, meet the Nutella crêpe cake.  Nutella crêpe cake, meet your many admirers.

Did you ever bite off more than you could chew?  Well, of course you have. We all have.  But very few people have the kind of talent for this type of thing that I do.  If I am having a dinner party I invariably decide to make some new dessert or dinner concoction which, at some point during the day, nearly makes me cry.

Generally it turns out pretty well, but theres always a few minutes (or a few hours) where its pretty touch-and-go.  I had a dinner party this past weekend.  It was small.  We were going to have whole sea bass with thyme lemon beurre blanc, roasted asparagus and pan sauteed potatoes, green salad, cheese and bread and what for dessert?  Of course with all those things to pull together I decided to make one of the most time consuming desserts Ive ever attempted.

Now I do want to clarify something: this recipe isnt time consuming because its particularly difficult to make. In fact, once you get the hang of pouring and cooking the crêpes it becomes maddeningly repetitive and rote.  But in order to make a really spectacular crêpe cake you really do need somewhere between 35 and 50 crêpes and that takes a long, long time.

Then once you have your crêpes all cooked up you have to take them one by tiny one! and stack them on top of each other, spreading Nutella carefully so carefully! between each as you stack them higher and higher.

Is this process long and tedious?  I wouldnt lie to you: yes it is.  Is it worth it to see your dinner guests face light up when they see a stack of crepes held together with Nutella awaiting them for dessert?  Absolutely.

This recipe doesnt require Nutella you could really fill your crepes with anything you would normally fill crepes with.  Brush each layer with melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar or a squeeze of lemon juice.  Use jams or lemon curd.  Maybe even some no-cook cheesecake filling.

Once youve filled your layers and gotten to a respectable height (or when you cant take it any longer), cover the top layer with something delicious.  Here Ive just used more Nutella because, well, you cant really ever have too much Nutella.  But if youre using something else, consider a complimentary flavor for your topping.

If your filling is lemon curd, a raspberry jam would be nice on top.  Or if youre using cheesecake filling between the crêpes, some strawberries would be a great way to finish.  A bit of texture variation is nice too.  Here Im using toasted chopped hazelnuts for some crunch.  Consider additions like crushed graham cracker, chocolate chips, waffle cone pieces, or toasted nuts to bring some textural interest to the cake.

A final word about serving: this cake is MUCH easier to slice and serve if it has been chilled.  Otherwise the layers kind of slide around, creating a less-than-ideal final look.  Instead, put the cake into the fridge for an hour or two before serving and consider cutting pieces and plating them with enough time for the cake to come back to room temperature before dessert time.  Enjoy!

Crepe Cake with Nutella and Toasted Hazelnuts Recipe

For crepes
  1. 4 eggs
  2. 1 cup water
  3. 1 cup whole milk
  4. 7 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
  5. 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar
  6. 1 1/3 cup flour
  7. *special equipment: blender, crepe pan, large offset spatula
For cake
  1. 35-50 crepes
  2. 1-26.5 ounce jar Nutella
  3. 1/2 cup hazelnuts
  4. *special equipment: cake stand, parchment circles, small offset spatula
First, make crepe batter
  1. Pour all ingredients for crepes, starting with the liquids and finishing with flour, into a blender. Process on high speed for about a minute or until the ingredients are completely incorporated and are approximately the consistency of heavy cream.
  2. Pour batter into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to chill for at least 2 hours, or up to overnight.
Toast the hazelnuts
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Place the hazelnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet. Toast in the oven for 15-18 minutes or until skins are nearly black and meats are a golden brown color. Set aside to cool.
  3. Using fingers and a kitchen towel, roll the nuts to release the skins. Chop nuts roughly leaving some very large pieces or whole nuts and chopping other pieces into smaller bits. Set aside.
To make the crepes
  1. Heat a crepe pan or 6-8″ frying pan over medium heat until pan is VERY HOT, about 7-8 minutes. If you are using a pan that is not normally intended for making crepes, brush the surface of the pan with butter to prevent sticking. The pan will be ready for the crepe batter when the butter begins to smoke.
  2. Once heated appropriately, remove pan from heat. Using a 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) measure , pour about 3/4 of a scoop (3 tablespoons) of batter into the center of the pan. Quickly swirl the pan to distribute the batter around the bottom of the pan, but not up the sides. The pan should be very lightly coated with batter. Place the pan back over the heat and cook for 45-60 seconds or until the edges of the crepe become brown.
  3. Using an offset spatula, pull the edges of the crepe away from the sides of the pan. Slide the spatula under the edge of the crepe and, working quickly and fearlessly! – flip the crepe to the other side. The side now facing up should be evenly browned and crispy.
  4. Let the second side of the crepe cook for another 30-45 seconds. Check for doneness by lifting the edge of the crepe and checking for blotchy brown markings on the underside of the crepe. Using the spatula, lift the crepe out of the pan and flip it, evenly browned side down, onto a large dinner plate to cool.
  5. Repeat to make the desired number of crepes, setting crepes one on top of the other to cool.
To make the cake
  1. Place an 8-inch parchment circle in the center of a cake stand. Lay a crepe, browned side down, on top of the parchment. Scoop approximately 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons room-temperature Nutella onto the crepe. Using an offset spatula carefully spread the Nutella in a thin layer over the crepe, stopping about 1/2 to 3/4 inch from the edge of the crepe.
  2. Stack another crepe, browned side down, on top of the Nutella layer. Repeat this process until you have a stack of about 35-50 crepes. The edges of the crepes will not align perfectly and may look irregular and “lacy.” Leave the top crepe bare.
  3. Cover the top crepe with a thicker layer of Nutella, using approximately 1/3 to 1/2 cup of Nutella. Swirl the Nutella artfully to create a pleasant look. Top with chopped nuts. Cover lightly with aluminum foil or plastic wrap and set in the fridge to chill for 1-2 hours before serving.
  4. Cut cake with a very sharp knife and allow to warm slightly before eating. Enjoy!

Brioche Pain de Mie Buttery-Sweet Sandwich Bread

Welcome back loyal MGK readers!  I know its been a long long time and for that I sincerely apologize.  But I figured that the best way to make up for a more-than-month-long hiatus was to feature some truly exceptional recipes on the blog for my first week back and the recipes coming up this week certainly are that.  Theyre all great on their own, but put them all together and you get the worlds greatest ham sandwich the Croque Monsieur. Now thats something we can all get behind.

Every good sandwich starts out with really great bread.  My taste for the Croque Monsieur is a little non-traditional, but thats ok.  Everybody has their own tastes and preferences, right?  And I think that the buttery-sweet flavor of this brioche pain de mie is just perfect set against the salty flavor of ham, nuttiness of béchamel, and richness of melted cheese.

Like most breads, this one starts with yeast.  Lots of it.  A full tablespoon to be exact.  Proof it, then mix it with flour, salt, sugar, butter, eggs, and some other stuff and youll get a delicious, sweet, eggy brioche!  Promise.

Well, OK I cant really prooooomise you that this bread is gonna turn out (it was pretty touch-and-go there for a while in my kitchen) but if you can coax it and cajole it a little bit, its well worth the effort.  Although I would certainly recommend planning at least a day ahead so that you dont have to get up at 3am to remove the dough from its chill in the fridge like I did.

This is a stand mixer dough, for sure.  Although I will say that I had to take it out and knead it by hand for a while myself since my dough hook was no longer penetrating the dough there in the middle.  It starts out as kind of a mess (see above) then transforms into a grainy mass (see above, again) and then finally after probably 20-30 minutes of kneading finally settles into this glossy, uniform ball.

This is what I was doing at 3am forming the chilled dough into little loaves and putting them into loaf pans and then putting those loaves into the oven to proof for the remainder of the night so that they were ready to egg wash at about 7am.

But when I pulled THESE out of the oven some 45 minutes later, the drudgery of all that work seemed worthwhile.

I mean, JUST LOOK AT IT!  The color!  The crust!  And if only I could describe the sweet eggy bready smell that this will fill your house with!  Glorious.  Just glorious.

The texture of this loaf is actually much different than any other brioche Ive tried.  Its closer to a pain de mie which, in France, is similar to our white sandwich bread.  But this is no Wonder Bread.  Its a delicious and sweet treat for amazing french toast, simple bread and butter or best of all! croque monsieur.  I hope you enjoy it!!!

 Brioche Pain de Mie (Sweet and Buttery Sandwich Bread) Recipe

Ingredients
  1. 1 1/2 tablespoons instant yeast
  2. 1/4 cup warm water
  3. 3 tablespoons sugar
  4. 3 large eggs, room temperature
  5. 2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  6. 1/4 cup nonfat dry milk
  7. 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  8. 10 tablespoons butter, softened at room temperature
  9. 1 egg white (for egg wash)
Instructions
  1. Proof yeast in a stand mixer by adding yeast, water and sugar to bowl and allowing to rest for 3-5 minutes or until yeast becomes foamy and bubbly.
  2. Attach dough hook to stand mixer.
  3. Add eggs to yeast mixture and mix at medium speed until all of the wet ingredients are well combined.
  4. Add all remaining ingredients to the bowl and mix, beginning at a low speed moving up to a higher speed, for approximately 20-25 minutes or until the dough is smooth and glossy. If the mixer is not able to fully incorporate the dough, remove the ball from the mixer and knead on a clean countertop by folding the dough in half and, using the heel of your hand, pressing outwards along the center of the folded dough. Then, turn the dough 1/4 of a turn and repeat until smooth.
  5. Place the kneaded dough in a greased bowl for up to 3 hours or until dough has doubled in size. Time for this process will vary depending on the temperature of your ingredients, heat of your room, etc. If your dough is not rising, try covering it with a dampened towel and placing it inside your oven WITH THE HEAT TURNED OFF.
  6. Once the dough has doubled in size, place it in the refrigerator for 5 hours or overnight to chill.
  7. Remove the dough from the bowl and form into a loaf shape. You may also cut the dough in half and form into two loaves. Place the loaf or loaves into greased pans and set aside to rise for 3 1/2 to 4 hours or until doubled to tripled in size. You may also place the dough in an oven that’s turned off or you can preheat your oven to its lowest temperature, turn the oven off, and place the loaves inside if you’re having trouble getting the dough to rise.
  8. Brush the tops of the loaves with a whipped egg white mixed with about a tablespoon of water.
  9. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place loaf or loaves into the oven for 15-20 minutes uncovered. Check dough for color at the end of the initial baking period. If the loaves are deep brown-red in color, tent them with foil and continue cooking for an additional 20-25 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 190 degrees.
  10. Remove from pan(s) and cool on a wire rack before slicing. Enjoy!

Meeting Nigella

Thats me on the left, all gussied up and shiny.  On the right?  Thats Nigella Lawson.  Yep.  Sure is.  I met Nigella.

How I came to meet Nigella is quite ordinary: I bought a ticket.  If you love Nigella you probably know that she released Nigellissima, her ninth cookbook, back in late winter/early spring of this year.  So when I heard that Nigellas U.S. book tour would bring her to nearby Milwaukee, I bought a ticket immediately.

Now Im not usually one to get all excited about celebrity.  I dont care much about movie stars or television stars or rock stars.  If I saw one in the grocery store Id be far more likely to ask if they know whether this store carries Cento tuna rather than get all starry-eyed and excited.  Nigella, on the other hand, sent me into full-on tittering celebrity watch, counting the days until I would go to Milwaukee (in a predicted snowstorm, no less) to eat food and drink wine and meet my celebrity chef heroine.

I got to Milwaukee a bit early on the evening of the event and spent an hour milling around the Milwaukee Public Market which, if you get the chance to go, houses an incredible array of culinary wonders from Wisconsin cheese (natch), olive oil and vinegar tasting at Oro di Oliva, great shiny everlasting gobstoppers and a Spice House location that made me swoon.  My phone was in grave danger of running out of battery without so much as a single picture of Nigella, so I took far fewer photos at the market than I would have liked.  I wish Id gotten a shot of the Iberico ham leg or the incredible flowers and coffees.

The event was a dinner prepared from Nigellas newest cookbook a compilation of her favorite Italian recipes.  Italian cooking is some of my favorite cooking, so I was thrilled.  The venue, The Grain Exchange in Milwaukee, was beautiful.  A large ballroom with maybe two dozen tables all beautifully prepared for the meal.

I took my seat and met my tablemates just before Nigella arrived with great pomp and celebration.  She wore the same dress she appears in on the cover of her book and looked positively radiant.  She took up a glass of wine immediately and started circulating to the tables.  When Nigella came to our table, I worried I might cry.  Seriously.  Thats how excited I was to meet this woman.  Nigella chided me that I shouldnt cry because shed feel like a terrible person if I did.  I laughed and took a few photos before Nigella was whisked away to the next table.  I wished Id had more time to talk to her, but no matter.  It was time to eat!

First course: white truffle mac n cheese.  Oooey-gooey truffle-laced deliciousness.  So good.
Second course: Brick Chicken and Roasted Brussels Sprouts.  Chicken cooked flat in a pan with a brick resting on it to crisp the skin on all sides simultaneously.  Just delicious.
Third course: Minted Lambchops with Arugula and Roasted Potatoes.  Lambchops frenched and marinated in a minty mixture before heading to the oven with olive oil laced baby potatoes.  Unbelievable.

Dessert!  Orange-infused Chocolate Mousse and Orange-Almond Biscotti.  Ive always hated biscotti because its usually dry as bone and hard as stone.  This biscotti was moist, soft, delicious.
I headed home to Chicago at about 9:30 that night, a little worried that the predicted storm would start at any moment.  As I drove off the highway and along residential and side streets toward home, the snow started to fall lightly.  It was a perfect evening with good food, good company and a chance to meet my culinary heroine.
Ill always remember meeting Nigella.