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From Halyna - NY, 11-13-2005
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Msg ID 1419746
Mille CrÍpes from Lady M Cake Boutique
Source: New York Times, Food Section
By Amanda Hesser, May 15, 2005

Since it's impossible and foolish to claim that something is the best of anything in New York, I'll hedge my bets and say that the Mille Crepes at Lady M Cake Boutique, just off Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side, is at least the second-best cake in the city. It succeeds so splendidly not just because it's wildly delicious but also because it's a clever design. Any number of decent pastry chefs could have come up with it. But they didn't. (Or at least they didn't look it up in some old cookbooks, but more on that later.) A team of mysterious investors at Lady M did, and they have filed to trademark the name Mille Crepes.

Tom Schierlitz

Here's what it is:
20 (as opposed to 1,000) lacy crepes layered with clouds of whipped-cream-lightened pastry cream. The top crepe is spread with sugar and caramelized like creme brulee. A fork plunged into a slice slides like a shovel through fresh snow. You get a whiff of smoky sugar, then layer after silky-sweet layer.

The components of the Mille CrÍpes
The crepes, the pastry cream, the whipped cream -- are plain as can be. It's the way they are constructed, with every proportion considered and refined, that makes you think differently about cake. "The recipe has to be perfect," said Hideyuki Niwa, who bears the title C.E.O. of this single-location bakery. "The cream itself has to be firm enough so the cake doesn't collapse. The crepes have to be baked thin enough so that when you cut through with a fork, it can't be an impediment. We've had many failures."

Most bakeries are born out of love and butter and modest ambition, but not Lady M. The shop on East 78th Street is a clean, bright box done completely in white, with a sleek glass pastry case jutting through the room. In the back are a handful of tables; not even a cash register is visible. What little color there is in the room comes from the cakes and pastries themselves -- eclairs, a paper-thin apple galette and fruit tarts, none of which compare in style to the Mille CrÍpes.

Niwa, who was previously an investment banker, prefers to talk about sugary, comforting confections in terms of branding, strategy and intellectual property. He would not say how many investors were involved in Lady M or even where they were from. ''We wanted to be the Maison du Chocolat of the cake industry,'' he said by way of explanation. The company began in earnest in 2002, selling cakes to restaurants, which it still does. Its green-tea Mille CrÍpes, for instance, is served at Megu.

When I asked if I could speak to a pastry chef about how the Mille CrÍpes is made, Niwa said that company policy didn't permit its pastry chefs to speak to the media. "We're not interested in them being personalities," he said. Niwa was also evasive when asked what inspired the Mille CrÍpes. After many phone calls, I was allowed to visit the production kitchen in New York's baking ghetto, Long Island City. The pastry chef, whose name I agreed not to mention, was marvelously precise, assembling the layers of docile cream and crepes in less than six minutes. (Niwa likes to time the chefs and find ways to shave off precious seconds.)

Back home, I decided to try to crack the mystery of the Mille Crepes. I opened Joy of Cooking, and right among the pancake recipes is one for crepe cake, made with a dozen crepes layered with lemon sauce. A similar version, layered with whipped cream and jam, called g‚teau de crepes, appears in the Larousse Gastronomique. As the book explains, filled layers of crepes is an age-old recipe.

The top-secret Mille Crepes is feasible to make at home after all. Using the crepe recipe from Joy of Cooking, the vanilla pastry cream from Desserts by Pierre Herme and Dorie Greenspan, and my own whipped cream, my gateau de crepes was charming the way the sagging roof of an old cottage is, and darn tasty.

But in fact, food is like fashion. Others may mimic, but style and faultless execution are the mark of a determined individual. People may copy Lady M's Mille Crepes, but when they want a perfect specimen, they will go to the store -- or just pick up the telephone and have it delivered to their doors.

The Mille Crepes is $35 (6-inch) and $65 (10-inch) at Lady M Cake Boutique, 41 East 78th Street. It is also available by mail order, (718) 937-8877.

GATEAU DE CREPES
For the crepe batter:
6 tablespoons butter
3 cups milk
6 eggs
1 1/2 cups flour
7 tablespoons sugar
Pinch salt

For the vanilla pastry cream:
2 cups milk
1 vanilla bean, halved and scraped
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch, sifted
3 1/2 tablespoons butter

For the assembly:
Corn oil
2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon sugar or more
3 tablespoons Kirsch
Confectioners' sugar.

1. The day before, make the crepe batter and the pastry cream. Batter: In a small pan, cook the butter until brown like hazelnuts. Set aside. In another small pan, heat the milk until steaming; allow to cool for 10 minutes. In a mixer on medium-low speed, beat together the eggs, flour, sugar and salt. Slowly add the hot milk and browned butter. Pour into a container with a spout, cover and refrigerate overnight.

PASTRY CREAM:
Bring the milk with the vanilla bean (and scrapings) to a boil, then set aside for 10 minutes; remove bean. Fill a large bowl with ice and set aside a small bowl that can hold the finished pastry cream and be placed in this ice bath.

3. In a medium heavy-bottomed pan, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch. Gradually whisk in the hot milk, then place pan over high heat and bring to a boil, whisking vigorously for 1 to 2 minutes. Press the pastry cream through a fine-meshed sieve into the small bowl. Set the bowl in the ice bath and stir until the temperature reaches 140 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Stir in the butter. When completely cool, cover and refrigerate.

4. Assemble the cake the next day: Bring the batter to room temperature. Place a nonstick or seasoned 9-inch crepe pan over medium heat. Swab the surface with the oil, then add about 3 tablespoons batter and swirl to cover the surface. Cook until the bottom just begins to brown, about 1 minute, then carefully lift an edge and flip the crepe with your fingers. Cook on the other side for no longer than 5 seconds. Flip the crepe onto a baking sheet lined with parchment. Repeat until you have 20 perfect crepes.

5. Pass the pastry cream through a sieve once more. Whip the heavy cream with the tablespoon sugar and the Kirsch. It won't hold peaks. Fold it into the pastry cream.

6. Lay 1 crepe on a cake plate. Using an icing spatula, completely cover with a thin layer of pastry cream (about 1/4 cup). Cover with a crepe and repeat to make a stack of 20, with the best-looking crepe on top. Chill for at least 2 hours. Set out for 30 minutes before serving. If you have a blowtorch for creme brulee, sprinkle the top crepe with 2 tablespoons sugar and caramelize with the torch; otherwise, dust with confectioners' sugar. Slice like a cake.

Batter adapted from Joy of Cooking. Pastry cream adapted from Desserts by Pierre Herme and Dorie Greenspan.

Servings: 10


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