This Sunday marks the last day of summer vacation and the first school night of the school year– a bittersweet feeling for all.   My children played a role in helping me create this back to school menu.  It is mostly good comfort food, but with a knock-out dessert.
It has been quite some time since I made this cake.  In fact, the last time I made it was for my mother’s birthday over three years ago.  The recipe may seem daunting, but really all it takes is a little patience.   A jammed packed summer with three kids will teach one patience, won’t it?  It was a good summer and I couldn’t be happier to make this cake for them.  This cake consists of layers (upon layers) of chocolate crêpes.  In between these layers is a swiss meringue buttercream that is flavored with Nutella and lightened with a little whipped cream.  It is then finished with a rich chocolate glaze.

When I make the crêpes, I seem to come out with more than originally called for (thirty-nine to be exact).  However, I am unable to get all the way to the thirty-two layers for the final cake.  I come in between twenty-eight and thirty.  That leaves a few extra crêpes for snacking and that’s o.k. by me.  I also add a bit of espresso powder to bump up the chocolate flavor in the crêpes.  The recipe calls for hazelnut cream, but I use Nutella and reduce the amount of sugar.  A bit of Frangelico in the filling is optional, but good.

Good Sunday comfort food with a decadent dessert and nothing but crêpe expectations for the coming school year!  Ooof!

Darkest Chocolate Crêpe Cake
serves 14-16

For the Crêpes
makes about 30-40 crepes (I get 39)

1/4 cup water
3/4 cup (6 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon espresso powder
2 1/2 cups whole milk at room temperature
6 extra large eggs
1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract

For the Filling
makes about 8 cups
2/3 cup heavy cream
6 extra large egg whites
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 3/4 cups (14 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces and softened
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon Frangelico (optional)
1/3 cup Nutella
Pinch of kosher salt

For the Glaze (makes about 2 cups)
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 Tablespoon light corn syrup
Pinch of kosher salt
10 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

Candied Hazelnuts
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 ounces hazelnuts, toasted and roughly chopped

For the Crêpes
In a medium sauce pan, bring the water to a rolling boil over medium-high heat.  Add the butter one piece at a time, whisking to combine after each addition.  Remove from the heat and add the chocolate.  Stir until completely smooth; set aside.

In another medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt and espresso powder.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, and vanilla.  Gradually add the milk mixture to the flour mixture, whisking until smooth.  Gradually add the chocolate mixture, whisking until smooth.  Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate overnight.  Once rested, pour and press through a fine-mesh sieve; discard any lumps.

Lightly coat an 8-inch crepe pan or 10-inch non-stick skillet with melted butter and heat over medium heat; wipe out excess.  Pour about 3 tablespoons of batter into the pan, swirling to coat bottom.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook the crêpe, flipping once until edges are golden and center is set, about 30-45 seconds per side.  Transfer crepe (I invert the pan with a whack on the counter) to a sheet of waxed paper.  Continue with remaining batter (no butter needed for non-stick skillet), placing a sheet of waxed paper between each crepe.  Crêpes can be made and refrigerated for up to one day.

For the Filling
In a medium bowl using a wire whisk or a hand held mixer, beat the cream until soft peaks form, about 3-5 minutes.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

Whisk egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer set over a pan of simmering water.  Stir until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture registers 160º F on a candy thermometer, about 3 minutes.  Remove from the heat and place the bowl on the stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Beat on high until slightly cooled and stiff (not dry) peaks form, about 5 minutes.  Switch the whisk attachment for the paddle attachment. With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the butter, a few pieces at a time, mixing well after each addition (meringue will deflate slightly as butter is added).  Add vanilla, Frangelico, Nutella, and salt; beat until the mixture comes together, about 5-7 minutes.  (Mixture will separate at first.  If the mixture looks grainy, place in the refrigerator to cool. Then beat again until smooth and fluffy).  Using a rubber spatuala, fold in the refrigerated whipped cream; use immediately.

To Assemble
Place an 8-inch round of parchment paper over a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet .  Place a crêpe on top of the parchment.  Evenly spread about 3 tablespoons of filling on top of the crêpe.  Top with another crêpe.  Continue layering with filling and crepes, using about 32 crêpes and ending with a crêpe on top.  Refrigerate until firm, at least one hour.

For the Hazelnuts
Combine the sugar and water in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Cook until the sugar dissolves.  Bring the mixture to a boil.  Without stirring, continue to cook until the mixture turns a light amber color. Remove from the heat and add the hazelnuts, stirring to coat.  Pour the candied hazelnuts onto a piece of parchment paper and spread to an even layer.  Allow the mixture to cool completely.  Break or chop into smaller pieces.

Spoon 1/2 cup of the glaze on top of the cake, spreading to edges with off-set spatula.  Spread remaining glaze around the sides of the cake, coating completely.  Refrigerate until glaze is firm and set, about 30 minutes.  Cake can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. Garnish with candied hazelnuts. Enjoy!