Pancake Cake: Part One

Fun fact about me: I have no patience for details. In my process pictures, my stove top is always a mess and I haven’t brushed my hair for three days. I still really love all the tiny fussy steps involved in making dessert. It’s like my whole personality takes a vacation for a few hours. But once the oven turns off and it’s time to decorate the damn things, I am full force Myself again. And Myself is not any good at decorating.

That’s how I ended up camouflaging apple spice cake, chai pastry cream, and caramel glaze as a giant pile of pancakes last autumn.

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Yes, it was fucking delicious.

Recently one of my coworkers decided that nothing would do but that I make another pancake cake. This time, I played up the pancake aspect with blueberry buttermilk layers and lemon pastry cream filling, generating this beautiful disaster:

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Not quite as pancake-looking, but just as delicious.

There are two parts to this recipe: the pastry cream, and then the layers/glaze/assembly. Part 1. the pastry cream, is included below. If you’d rather skip all the process pictures and commentary, I’ll have a bare bones version up soon.

The Lemon Pastry Cream

Start with the pastry cream because it needs to set in the fridge for a few hours before the cake can be assembled.  My basic pastry cream recipe is adapted from The Brown-Eyed Baker’s Boston Cream Cupcakes here. I doubled her original recipe and had a bunch of pastry cream left over. Not a terrible problem, but I probably could have filled the 3 layer cake without doubling.

Important: For the pastry cream, I really recommend that you read the instructions all the way through. There are fiddly steps involved where you won’t be able to step away from the stove, so it’s best to have an idea of what to expect before you start.

Ingredients:
2.5 cups heavy cream
6 egg yolks
2/3 cup granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
8 teaspoons cornstarch
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 (small) lemons

Equipment:
Small pot
Mixing bowl
Cheese grater/zester
Whisk
Measuring cups
Rubber spatula (optional)
Citrus reamer (optional)

Pour your cream into a pot. Stick that pot on the stove on low-medium heat. Come back and stir every so often until simmering. While the cream is heating up, zest your lemons. Throw that zest in the pot. If anyone has any tips to avoid zesting my thumbs, I am all ears.

While that zest-cream is handling itself, separate out your egg yolks. Put them in the mixing bowl. Add in the sugar and salt and whisk it all together. STOP WHISKING. Add corn starch. WHISK SOME MORE. Fifteen seconds will do it.

Once the cream is simmering, pour it out of the pot and into the bowl of egg-sugar-starch mix, whisking as you go. After everything is mixed in, go ahead and pour the mixture back into the pot.

This is the tricky part. This is where you do not stop whisking.Otherwise you will get a skin on top and the cream will burn and everything will be awful. You want to whisk until the pastry cream is thick and shiny in the pot, and has a uniform consistency throughout. Have patience: the hardest part about making pastry cream is waiting for this step to be over. Usually I get one or two fat simmer-type bubbles before this step is over. Think pudding consistency.

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Like this, but with a cleaner stovetop.

Remove pot from heat. Take a deep breath. You can stop whisking now.

Take that butter. Cut it into 4 pieces. Drop them into the pot.

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This simmering mess of heavy cream, sugar, and egg yolks definitely needs more butter.

Grab two of your sadly denuded lemons and juice them. Hot Baking Tip: To get the most juice out of your lemons, put them down on the counter before cutting them open and press on them as you roll them back and forth.

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This expression is completely necessary.

My citrus reamer is my second favorite baking tool. If you juice a lot of lemons/oranges/limes, or if you just like owning tools with terrifying names, consider investing in one.

I juiced my lemons directly into the pot, but it turns out that lemon seeds are sneaky and like to land in pastry cream. So I suggest you juice the lemons into a separate container, pick the seeds out, and then pour the juice into the pot.Poke the butter and lemon juice around in the pot until the butter melts. Then pour the vanilla on top. Whisk it in.

Optional but helpful step: Strain the pastry cream through a mesh strainer. This does help keep the stuff silky smooth, and I absolutely recommend it for recipes that will have gobs of pastry cream in one place (think: éclairs, Boston cream anything). However, cleaning this stuff out of a strainer is a giant pain, and it will be spread thin between the layers of the cake, so this step is not strictly necessary.

Now the pastry cream needs to set. According to most recipes, the correct thing to do is pour it into a bowl and put some plastic wrap on top to prevent a skin from forming. But here’s the thing: you’re going to end up using a freezer bag to squeeze the stuff out onto the cake anyways, so why not just cool the pastry cream in there? Plus, when you find some weird separated bits at the bottom (!?) of the pot, you can just squish them around in the bag to mix them back in.

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Seriously, what the fuck is that?

Seal the bag and throw it in the fridge. Let it sit for at least two hours before using it to assemble the cake. Done!

Here is the mess wrap up:

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Not too bad for something that felt so fiddly!

If you are using the pastry cream for the Pancake Cake, then you will want to clean (but not put away!) your equipment. You’ll need it all for the cake layers.

Take out the butter you’ll use for the cake layers now to let it soften. You can also zest/juice the other lemon now and set that aside for the cake layers.

Part 2: Layers, Glaze, And Assembly

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