The centre cannot hold.
Especially when said centre is made of crepes and pastry cream. Behold! The crepe cake!
Doesn't that look lovely(ish)? It's rather a pity that that's not how it looked when it got to the table. This is:
Back in January, my friend challenged me to veganize this cake. It looked complicated, so I decided to wait a while, until I was a bit more comfortable in the kitchen. A while turned into months and then her birthday was coming, so I decided to figure it out and make it her birthday cake. I really wanted to get it right, so I started working on it over a month in advance because the filling kind of freaked me out. This wasn't merely a case of substituting margarine for butter and a little bit of soy yogurt for an egg and I didn't know what to do, so I took it to The PPK. As always, they were very helpful and directed me toward the pastry cream filling of the Brooklyn vs. Boston Cream Pie Cupcakes in Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. I decided layering that with a few batches of the sweet crepes from Veganomicon would do the trick and set to work.
Here's my first attempt:
Failure. The crepes were too thick and not browned enough and the pastry cream was too loose. The reason? I couldn't get my agar flakes to dissolve. I officially hate agar flakes.
A few days later, I tried again:
Per the suggestions of the lovely people on The PPK, I reduced the crepe batter from 1/2 cup to 1/3 per crepe and dissolved the agar flakes in the microwave (which still took HOURS). The crepes still weren't brown enough, but it was only a test, so I was going for speed (as you can see by my ever-so-smooth filling job). It looked good enough to me. The cream was thick and the crepes were thin, so the cream was able to support the crepes, instead of the other way around. With eight crepes, I called it success. But the recipe called for 25 crepes and it never occurred to me that the number would cause a problem.
Though it looked good, I found the taste slightly lacking. It tasted good and it was nice and sweet, but it didn't taste like anything. Just sweet. I wanted to layer in some thinly sliced strawberries, but I thought that would be too much of a variation (read: cheat) from the original recipe, so I decided to substitute chocolate extract for vanilla in the final cake, top it with powdered sugar and write on it in melted chocolate (at first, I wasn't going to write on it at all, then I was thinking of using royal icing or something similarly generic).
The birthday dinner was on Wednesday, so I planned my week accordingly. Monday night, I went home early and made the crepe batter (four times the written recipe) and the pastry cream (six times the written recipe). I knew I'd have the agar issue, so I did that first, working on the batter while the agar sat in the warm/hot soy milk slowly dissolving, then whisking it for five minutes at a time. For hours. My right arm is currently on strike.
This is a lot of crepe batter:
Please notice the box of soy milk in the background. It's right side up, but I'm pretty sure the text on the back is upside down.
More pastry cream than I ever want to see again:
Tuesday night, I went to see The Futureheads do their first US show in two years (which was superawesome. Expect a fall tour. Run, don't walk for tickets!), then went home and made the crepes and put it all together.
I only needed 25, so I put aside the uglier crepes and the best one (for the top) on a cutting board as I worked. I got to 18, paused to wash my hands, looked over at the cake and it looked like a landslide. As I stood there, the crepes were sliding off of the cake, onto the table, then almost onto the floor! I ran over and caught them (part of them were already hanging off the table), then grabbed up the whole cake and dropped it down on the cutting board. Right on top of the nicest crepe. Crap.
Once I got the pastry cream of of myself (and the table) and convinced myself I was neither going to cry nor throw the crepes around the room, I started reassembling the cake crepe by crepe, using my hands to smooth the filling, instead of my spatula. Since half the filling ended up on the table, cutting board and me, I thought the cake might hold together better with the thinner layers of filling. Since it was already covered with pastry cream, I included the "best crepe" in the cake and topped it off with a clean one, so the cake ended up being twenty crepes instead of 25. That was good enough for me, so I dusted it with powdered sugar and wrote on it with the melted chocolate.
That's how it looked when I put it away. This is how it looked when I woke up:
Appetizing, isn't it? (No)
I IMed the birthday girl when I got to work and basically apologized for completely ruining her birthday (because that's how it felt to me) and tried to brainstorm how to fix it. A coworker noticed I was upset and when I showed her why, she laughed at me. When she was done laughing, she suggested I just move the top of the cake to the center of the pile and trim it around, so that's what I did.
Here it is, with the trimmings my coworkers and I ate throughout the day:
And here's the finished product:
Obviously, it's not nearly as attractive as it started out, but it was presentable enough. And everyone seemed to enjoy it. Even the wait staff at the restaurant tried some, but they didn't tell me what they thought of it, so maybe that was their polite way of not telling me they hated it.
Wow, this post is sort of epic (read: too damn long). Sorry about that. But if it took you this long to read it, think of what it must have been like to do it!
And if you're reading this, happy birthday, Shar! (that's what the cake says, in case you can't tell)