I spent my very first Mother’s Day weekend nearly baby-free and in the kitchen. I know, how did that happen? You see, Jacob sojourned at his grandparents’ and I was very sad and missed him terribly and then I drank wine without worrying about the repercussions, got 10 hours (!) of uninterrupted (!) sleep (!) and discovered that I can really cook a lot of things without a cute to the point of distraction baby in the next room and I was a little less sad. And then we hosted brunch for both of our families. The end.
Oh, you want to hear more about brunch, don’t you? Well, there were drop biscuits. Patted-out scones. A crazy braided sweet bread that I promise to tell you about soon. Buttered whole wheat toast triangles and cheesy scrambled eggs. Fruit salad. Mimosas and Bloody Marys. So much bacon, my apartment still smelled like a smokehouse the next day. And crêpes, stacked and filled with creamy mushrooms and cheese.
I’d been planning to make a savory crêpe cake ever since I made a sweet one, filled with a vanilla bean pastry cream, topped with a brûléed lid — seriously, the best birthday cake I have ever made — three years ago. But I allowed myself to become distracted with stratas and savory bread puddings, baked eggs and eggs in a spicy tomato sauce, babies and cookbooks. Where are my priorities? But with time on my hands on Saturday, I went for it — with a little guidance from Alton Brown.
Crêpes can be unnerving to make. First, they’re time-consuming as it is best if you rest the batter for at least an hour, and many recipes insist that you do so overnight. Some say this is to let the protein relax and the starch expand, others say that it is to remove air bubbles; all agree that it improves the texture. Then, there’s the fact that it’s so much easier to make them in a nonstick pan, which many of us have ditched over the years after a news story about flaking coating rightfully scared us. (I keep one around, just for crêpes and fried eggs.)
Finally, there’s the fact that the first crêpe always goes in the garbage. Oh, you thought it was just you? The first one one was never meant to be, it sticks or tears, it’s too thick or thin, your fingers burn and you drop it, you flip it too soon; it’s best to move on quickly. The second one may be usable, but it’s never a pretty little thing. By the third one, however, if all goes well, you get into a rhythm. You see how much batter is too little, how much is too much, and you wonder why you don’t make crêpes more often. [See above, “unnerving”.] But in a way, they’re a cook’s dream: they can be made a day, a week or a month in advance, they reheat like a dream and you can use them for anything, sweet or savory. And, of course, Nutella, which these days demands its own category on the site.
My process was just like this, with additional irks from the filling component. (I’ve made a slew of tweaks, below.) Worse, just as I was assembling the crêpes stack I panicked, realizing that it was actually a tiny little thing (think 7 x 5 inches), alerted everyone “Don’t come hungry!” then quickly toasted some bread from the freezer and whipped up some cheesy scrambled eggs. An hour later I learned that the crêpes were actually quite filling but that people will happily eat any amount of scrambled eggs you put out because they’re so relieved you didn’t overcook them. But we’ll get into that breakfast trick another day.
How to host brunch: (And still sleep in!)
Mushroom Crêpe Cake
Adapted a bit generously from Alton Brown
I made a bunch of changes to this recipe — skipping the shiitakes, confident I could make a delicious filling with just plain old brown mushrooms; thinly slicing all of them because I wanted the filling to lay flat; adding some heat guidance on the stove; a little thickener to the sauce, which was much too thin to spread (it mostly stayed in the pan) and a bunch of boring fixes for things I ran into — a lot more than I’d expected to need. I’ve concluded I’m getting too exacting in my advanced age because who complains about an Alton Brown recipe not working?
Serves 6, or 8 if you’re putting out a spread
1 cup yellow onion, diced
3 tablespoons butter
1 pound cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon flour
1/2 cup (4 ounces) milk
1/2 cup mild white cheese, mozzarella or provolone, shredded
Savory crêpes, recipe follows
2 tablespoons chives, thinly sliced (I skipped this, didn’t have them on hand)
1/4 cup Parmesan, shredded
In a large sauté pan over medium-low heat, melt one tablespoon of butter and begin to cook the onion so that it “sweats” but does not gain color. Turn the heat to medium-high, add all of the mushrooms and remaining two tablespoons butter. Season with salt and pepper and sauté until mushrooms are soft. Stir in the flour, then drizzle in the milk while you stir. Reduce the liquid in the pan by half. Add the provolone or mozzarella and let it melt. Immediately take filling off the heat.
Layer two crêpes on a buttered sheet pan (Brown says that this allows you to still save your cake if the bottom one sticks — smart!). Spread a thin layer of the filling onto the crêpe, then a few chives. Top with another crêpe and spread more filling. Repeat this process until you are out of filling. (You’ll likely run out of filling before crêpes.)
Top with a final crêpe and sprinkle on the Parmesan with a caveat: Brown says you can run this under the broiler until the Parmesan is melted and golden brown. I know not all broilers are created equally (and my dinky oven is distinctly less equal than others) but mine just browned at the edges and didn’t melt. I’d either skip this next time or borrow the baby’s brûlée torch and use that instead. If you’re more confident in your broiler’s skills, go for it.
The original recipe suggested one include herbs, spinach or sun-dried tomatoes in the crepe batter. I used herbs and honestly felt it added nothing; I vote for you to skip this. If you want to add those flavors, do it where they will be more effective, in the filling. I was able to eke out 6 crêpes in an 8 1/2-inch skillet. I would have had extras were the first couple not duds.
2 large eggs
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1 cup flour
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon salt
Butter, for coating the pan
In a blender combine all of the ingredients (excepting the butter for coating the pan) and pulse for 10 seconds. (Too lazy to bust out a blender, I mixed the flour and salt and slowly whisked in a mixture of the eggs, milk, water and butter.) Place the crepe batter in the refrigerator for one hour, or up to 48 hours.
Heat a small non-stick pan. Add butter to coat. Pour a couple tablespoons of batter into the center of the pan and swirl to spread evenly. Cook for 30 seconds and flip. Cook for another 10 seconds and throw the crepe in the garbage; seriously, the first one is always cursed. Sometimes the second too. By the time you get to the third one, go ahead and keep what you made, even if it’s not perfect. Lay the crêpe flat on a large cutting board to the cutting board to cool; continue cooking until all of the batter is gone.
Do ahead: Crêpe batter can be made up to two days in advance, stored in the fridge. Cooked, cooled and well-wrapped, crêpes can be stored for several days in the fridge or up to two months in the freezer. Frozen crêpes can be thawed on a rack; gently peel them as you need. Filling can be made a day in advance; reheat slowly, over a low flame. I made my crêpes in advance, and the filling in the morning; it doesn’t take much time (and even less if you clean and slice your mushrooms the night before).