I was going through my notebook of things to cook last week, collecting inspiration for the coming weekend cooking-and-blogging binge, when I realized that an opportunity had fallen into my lap. This week, I get to wish four people happy birthday in five days. I could make a real celebration cake…but only one of the celebrants would be around to eat it in person. Hmm. Well, I figured it would be best to look on the bright side since cake was involved. I would make the cake that I wanted to eat, knowing I would hardly have to share.
So, in order by date: Happy birthday, Dad! Happy birthday, Seth! Happy birthday, Ben! Happy birthday, Uncle Bri! I made you all this cake. I left off the candles because I didn’t think it could hold 169 of them. It was really, really good. I’m sorry most of you couldn’t try it, but I enjoyed your slice, I promise.
The cake I wanted turned out to be, primarily, a delivery vehicle for my new obsession, coconut caramel. I’d been saving this recipe for coconut dulce de leche from the New York Times and am happy to report that my instincts were right (also please appreciate that the serving suggestion is basically just to eat it with a spoon). It takes some time but very little effort to cook down cans of coconut milk with brown sugar until it turns into a dark, thick caramel. After I ate most of the first batch in a week, spooning it on everything I could think of, I was looking for a way to incorporate it into more formal desserts.
Turning the caramel into pudding and slathering it between crepes sounded like a good place to start. The final slathering of chocolate ganache and sprinkle of toasted coconut seemed fitting, since it reminded me of my favorite Girl Scout cookie.
Crepe cakes are inherently impressive. Each slice reveals a seemingly incredible number of crepes, held together by paper-thin layers of cream. It’s actually just about 20 crepes, which you’ll get the hang of making quite quickly. The first few always go in the trash and you’ll have more than enough batter to do sufficient quality control.
The crepe making and stacking are the most labor-intensive parts of this cake, but each goes fairly quickly as you master the technique. You’ll need to divide and conquer the recipe over a few days — or a lazy day at home — to allow for sufficient chilling of the crepe batter, cooked crepes, coconut caramel filling, and the assembled cake.
- FOR COCONUT FILLING
- 2 14-ounce cans coconut milk
- ⅔ cup dark brown sugar
- 1 ¼ cups whole milk
- 1 ¼ cups heavy cream
- 6 tablespoons cornstarch
- 3 egg yolks
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- FOR CREPES
- 2 cups flour
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 3 cups whole milk
- 4 eggs
- 4 tablespoons butter
- FOR TOPPING
- 5 ounces finely chopped dark chocolate
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- ¼ cup coconut flakes (I use unsweetened)
- Make the coconut caramel: Mix the coconut milk and brown sugar together in a large pot or pan (to maximize surface area). Bring to an active simmer and cook for 90 minutes, stirring and scraping down the sides every 10 minutes. Don’t worry if there are some dark clumps, they are easily whisked away. The mixture will thicken and turn dark brown. Remove from heat. You can store the caramel in the fridge for a few days or proceed to make the filling immediately.
- Make the coconut filling: Whisk together the rest of the filling ingredients in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture becomes very thick, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in the coconut caramel. Don’t worry about lumps, they won’t be detectable in the cake. Cover and chill completely in the fridge.
- Make the crepes: Whisk or blend all the crepe ingredients together and let the batter rest in the fridge for at least an hour and up to 12. Heat a 9-inch non-stick skillet or crepe pan over medium heat. Brush the surface with a little oil or melted butter. Pour about 3 tablespoons of batter into the pan and swirl to coat the bottom in a thin layer. Cook until the bottom begins to brown, about 1 minute. Flip with a thin spatula and cook just until the other side has a few golden brown spots, about 15 seconds. Stack the crepes on a plate or baking sheet. You’ll need about 20 for the cake, but you’ll have enough batter for about 30. Throw away the screw-ups and store the extras in the fridge. Allow the crepes to cool completely before assembling the cake or store them in a plastic bag in the fridge until you’re ready to proceed.
- Assemble the cake: Lay a crepe on a large plate or cake stand. Using a spoon or offset spatula, spread a thin layer of the coconut filling (scant ¼ cup) over the crepe, to cover completely. Cover with another crepe and repeat until the filling is used up. Chill for at least 2 hours in the fridge.
- Finish the cake: Toast the coconut until golden in a 350-degree oven. Bring the heavy cream to a boil and pour over the finely chopped chocolate. Allow it to sit for a minute and then stir until all the chocolate is melted. If there are still chunks, microwave it in 5-second bursts, stirring well between each, until smooth. Pour the chocolate over the cake and spread so it runs over the side in a few places. Sprinkle coconut over the top of the cake and return to the fridge briefly, to allow the chocolate to set.
- Let the cake sit at room temperature for at least 20 minutes before serving.