The weather here in Sydney is finally turning! With warmer weather just around the corner, it’s great to be able to prepare dishes that sing of spring. For me, that usually means lighter meals, and more vegetables. This dish embodies spring time – it can be eaten cold, as part of a salad and is just so pretty and colorful to look at!
I took this recipe from my Mom who adapted it from Julia Child’s cookbook called Julia Child & More Company. Simply put, it is a molded mountain of crepes layered with vegetables and cheese. If I may give you one tip, plan ahead. This dish has many components and one can easily think to give up after seeing the 17 or so ingredients. But if you take your time in preparing this dish you will be handsomely rewarded. Trust me. If there was one dish that would convert me into a semi-vegetarian – this would be it!
For the crepe batter
- 1 cup flour
- 2/3 cup milk
- 2/3 cup water
- 3 eggs
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons melted butter
Vegetables and Cheese for Filling
- 450 grams carrots
- 8 to 8 tablespoons butter
- salt and pepper
- 450 grams fresh mushrooms
- 4 tablespoons shallots
- 500 grams fresh broccoli
- 2 cups shredded grated Swiss cheese
Custard Mixture for Filling
- 1 cup (225 grams cream cheese at room temperature)
- 6 large eggs
- 1 cup heavy cream
- salt and pepper
- a pinch of fresh nutmeg to taste
- Crepe pan
- 1 loaf tin (Julia uses an 8 cup/2 litre baking dish such as a charlotte mold, 4 inches deep)
Pour the flour into a bowl. Blend the milk and water into the flour, beating with a whip until smooth, then beat in the eggs, salt and butter. Let rest for an hour or two so that the flour granules can absorb the liquid – making a tender crepe.
The Crepes – cooking
To cook the crepes, heat the frying pan or pans until drop of water sizzle on the surface. Brush lightly with a little butter (usually only necessary for the first crepe), and pour 2 to 3 tablespoons or so of the batter into the center of the pan, turning the pan in all directions as you do so to spread the batter over the bottom surface. Cook for 30 seconds or so, until you see, when you lift an edge, that it is nicely browned. Turn and cook for 15 seconds more. Arrange the crepes as they are made on a cake rack so they will cool and dry off for 5 minutes or so. When dry, stack together, wrap in foil and place in a plastic bag.
*Note: Crepes will keep for 2 to 3 days in the refrigerator. To freeze, it is best to package them in stacks of 6 or 8; either thaw at room temperature, or unpackage and heat in a covered dish in a moderate over for 5 minutes or until they separate easily.
Preparing the vegetables
Trim and peel the carrots, and cut into julienne matchsticks. Saute in 1 1/2 tablespoons butter in a large frying pan, swirling and tossing frequently until carrots are nicely tender and being careful not to brown them. Season well with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Trim and wash the mushrooms, and cut into a fine mince. Saute in the same large frying pan along with the shallots until the liquid from the mushrooms evaporates (around 10 minutes). Season with salt and pepper and set aside in another bowl.
Trim and wash the broccoli. Cut bud ends off stalks to make them about 2 inches long. Starting at the cut ends, peel as much skin off as you easily can; peel skin of stalks cutting down to expose the tender whitish flesh, then cut into pieces half the length of your little finger to ensure quick and even cooking. Drop the peeled stalks and florets into rapidly boiling salter water and boil uncovered for 3 to 5 minutes. Drain immediately and chop into piece about 1/4 inch in size. Toss briefly in 2 tablespoons hot butter and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
The vegetables can be cooked a day ahead. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
The Custard Mixture
Blend the cream cheese with the rest of the custard ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth.
Preheat the over to 180c. Smear some butter over the inside of the baking tin and line the bottom of the dish with buttered wax paper. Fit 1 crepe (good side down) in the bottom of the dish and space 4 around the sides.
Spread 1/4 of the grated cheese in the bottom of the dish, cover with the carrots and pressing them well in place, and top with 1/3 of the remaining cheese. Ladle in enough custard mixture to come just to the level of the carrots and cheese.
Arrange 1 crepe on top, and spread over it the mushrooms and another ladleful of custard.
Arrange 1 or more crepes over the mushrooms and spread 1/2 of the remaining cheese, then broccoli and the final bit of cheese.
Pour on the last of the custard mixture and fold the first layer of overhanging crepes up over the filling; cover with a crepe and fold the first layer of overhanging crepes up over the filling; cover with a crepe and fold the outside layer of overhang up over it, and cover with 1 or more crepes. Place a round of buttered wax paper over the dish, and cover with a sheet of foil.
Bake the gateau immediately in case the custard leaks against the sides and bottom of the dish, sticking the crepes to it and making a mess later when you attempt to unmold!
*Note: I only used a loaf pan which was considerably smaller than the baking dish Julia recommended. As such, there was some leftover custard and vegetables. Never mind, the idea is that you layer the dish with cheese, vegetables, custard and then the crepe. Except for the mushrooms which is just custard and mushrooms. If using a loaf pan, you will also have leftover custard and I had some left over vegetables to make sure that my loaf pan did not overfill.
Baking using the 8 cup baking dish
This will take around 1 3/4 hours. Bake on lower middle rack in a preheated oven, placing a pan below the dish in case some of the custard filling dribbles. In about 1 hour, when the gateau has started to rise, turn oven up to 205C. It will eventually rise and inch or more and is done when a meat thermometor reads 71c. Remove from the oven and let rest at room temperature for around 20 to 30 minutes allowing the custard to set and settle. Then run a thin blade knife carefully around the inside of the dish, and unmold.
Baking using the loaf pan
This will take around 1 hour. Bake on the lower middle rack in a preheated oven. After an hour, turn the oven off and leave the gateau to rest for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest at room temperature for 20 to 25 minutes, allowing the custard to set and settle. Then run a thin blade knife carefully around the inside of the dish and unmold.
Surround the gateau with lettuce leaves and fresh tomatoes.