There are many scenes in Hector Malot’s classic novel Sans Famille (English translation Nobody’s Boy) that have stayed with me over the years, but none are as memorable as those where the main character Rémi helps his foster mom to make crêpes on Shrove Tuesday. Rémi’s descriptions of these moments are pure sensory joy: from the cracking of the eggs to their whisking with the milk and the sizzling of the butter, every word tells a vibrant story about food seen through a child’s eyes. Growing up I was fascinated with the crêpe-making scenes in Malot’s book. Maybe it was because they were about butter, eggs, and milk – items which were in very short supply in our family. Maybe it was because I was hungry a lot back in the day. Or maybe, just maybe, it was because I loved crêpes – I always had, I always will 🙂
I started thinking about the crêpe-making scenes in Sans Famille again recently, after I was asked by Nielsen-Massey to review their Tahitian Pure Vanilla Bean Paste. I have enjoyed reviewing Nielsen-Massey products and incorporating them into my family’s recipes for close to two years now. What better way to celebrate the arrival of spring than with a deliciously aromatic dessert, a classic in our family which pays homage to my childhood fascination with crêpes and gets elevated by the addition of pure vanilla? Vanilla crêpe casserole, here I come! 😉
Nielsen-Massey’s Tahitian Pure Vanilla Bean Paste is crafted from Tahitian Pure Vanilla Extract, along with real bean specks from the vanilla pod. As explained on Nielsen-Massey’s website, Tahitian vanilla ”is a favorite of pastry chefs around the world for its floral, fruity flavor profile that is often described as cherry-like.” The paste’s thick consistency is also a big plus, since this particular formulation enables chefs “to add more delicious vanilla flavor without thinning out batters or sauces.”
I decided to use Nielsen-Massey’s Tahitian Pure Vanilla Bean Paste to make mom’s old and trusted crêpe casserole recipe, which involves stuffing crêpes with a ricotta-based filling, placing them in a baking pan, pouring sour cream and milk on top, and baking for about 30 minutes. This recipe has been a staple in our family for what seems like forever. I can’t remember the first time mom made me this casserole, but I definitely remember and crave its mild flavor ever so often. There is something utterly endearing about these thin crêpes stuffed with the sweet milky ricotta and enveloped in tangy sour cream – something that reminds me of my childhood, Malot’s Sans Famille, and all that’s honest and pure in food. My husband is also a big fan: give him a big bowl of this, and he’ll be happy for days! 🙂
First step is, of course, making the crêpes. I mixed eggs with milk and sugar…
… and then added 1/2 tbsp Nielsen-Massey Tahitian Pure Vanilla Bean Paste. I loved the consistency of the paste – not too runny, not too thick, and overall just perfect for pouring:
I whisked for a few moments to allow the vanilla bean paste to spread into the batter uniformly. I then added the flour and whisked until the flour was incorporated fully, making sure there were no clumps in the batter:
My mom made the crêpes for me (thank you, mom! 🙂 ) and it took her about 20 minutes in total. It’s not as difficult as it seems – you just have to spread the batter quickly and evenly in the preheated, buttered small pan (ours was 8in diameter). Cook for about 30 seconds on each side or until golden, turning once during cooking. The quantities in this recipe are enough to make 16-18 crêpes. Make them thinner than we did, and you’ll get more crêpes.
Once mom was done making the crêpes, we set them aside and started working on the filling by mixing ricotta with eggs, sugar, dried cranberries and vanilla bean paste. I used the paste in both the crêpe batter and the filling for the crêpes, and the resulting flavor was deep and intensely aromatic without being overpowering.
Here’s how the filling looks like when it’s done:
My mom started stuffing the crêpes with the ricotta mixture. You’ll need about 3 tbsp filling per crêpe.
We rolled the crêpes one by one…
… and placed them in a buttered baking dish (ours was 9in square glass).
We put the crêpes one on top of the other, making sure not to press too firmly.
No need to worry if you have ricotta mixture left (we were left with about 2 tbsp):
Just spread the remaining mixture on top of the rolled crêpes as evenly as possible. The crêpes will be fine, and you’ll feel proud about not throwing anything away 🙂
We poured the sour cream and milk mixture on top of the crêpes just before bake time. The sour cream will provide an extra layer of tangy flavor to the dish.
We baked the crêpes for about 30 minutes, until golden-brown. We took the dish out of the oven and let it cool slightly before cutting the casserole into squares.
We usually eat crêpe casserole with fresh berries and chopped hazelnuts. Whatever berries are in season will be a great addition to the dish:
I loved working with Nielsen-Massey’s Tahitian Pure Vanilla Bean Paste to recreate one of my all-time favorite desserts. The addition of the vanilla bean paste elevated mom’s sweet crêpe casserole, rendering it fragrant and elegantly flavored, a true joy for anyone who likes sweet cheese and crêpes. The casserole exhibited a delicate fragrant sweetness, which was beautifully counterbalanced by the tartness of the cranberries and sour cream and the freshness of the berries. While savoring every crumb and inhaling every smell, I realized how lucky I was to remember Hector Malot’s novel in the first place. It is the simplest memories and details that make life so wonderful and precious, after all 🙂
For more exciting recipes that use Nielsen-Massey products, go on social media and search for the #NielsenMasseyInspires hashtag. You can also head over to my Instagram account tomorrow and enter my giveaway for a chance to win a Nielsen-Massey Tahitian Pure Vanilla Bean Paste. Good luck!
*Disclaimer: While I received a complimentary product to facilitate this review, all opinions expressed here are my own.