A couple of weeks ago I listened to a Radio 4 podcast called ‘Eating to Run’. It was a programme examining the importance of diet to running; and it was fascinating, firstly because of the degree of dedication athletes show to their sport, and secondly because of the conflicting nutritional camps that exist and their opposing beliefs about which foods should be consumed by runners for optimal athletic performance.
An ultra-runner called Scott Jurek who participates in 135-mile races (that’s 24 hours of running nonstop. And I thought I was crazy!) was interviewed about his carbohydrate-heavy, vegan diet. For energy during races, he eats rice-filled burritos whilst running at a pace of six minutes a mile. I can just about keep that pace going for 6 miles, but for 125 and with burrito? Like I say, craziness!
The diet of Kenyan runners was also mentioned. They wake at 5.30am to go for 40km runs at high altitude on empty stomachs. Upon their return, a cup of tea suffices (well, they do say it solves everything!) until lunchtime when a carbohydrate-heavy meal is consumed ahead of another long run. Dinner is porridge. The conflict came when another interviewee – a sports nutritionist who has dedicated his life to researching the right foods for training – insisted a protein-heavy diet is the way to go.
Why do I mention this? Well, clearly I am not about to start training for 135-mile races. No, the reason I’m writing about it is, as much as I love chocolate and cake, I do try to balance it all out with a healthy diet and exercise the rest of the time, thus I am constantly trying to figure out what I am and am not supposed to eat, especially pre and post-exercise.
Because of my sweet tooth, I used to be addicted to fruit. In order to tackle this, my personal trainer suggested I cut it out of my diet (I subsequently almost cut them out of my life!); proposing instead that I snack on rice cakes with peanut butter. So cold-turkey I went on my beloved apples and oranges, instead incorporating into my diet what we all know is really just edible polystyrene in disguise, made quasi-palatable with a hefty blobule of peanut butter. This was all going swimmingly until someone saw me eating PB and remarked "Peanut Butter?! I’d love to eat that but it’s soooooooo fattening!" And there ended my brief affair with P to the B.
With the benefit of hindsight, it seems to me that every other day new advice emerges, urging us to abandon one food group for another. Go forward six months and quite often the advice is reversed! Deep down, I feel it’s all rather silly and that, unless one is endeavouring to be a world-class athlete or run across a desert for 24 hours, surely everything should be allowed in moderation. But especially chocolate. Which is why, after listening to ‘Eating to Run’, I had a very healthy dinner of salmon and salad, followed by a generous slice of this Nutella and mascarpone chocolate crepe cake in honour of Pancake Day!
1. Be prepared to be flipping crepes for a couple of hours;
2. Allow the crepes to cool FULLY before assembling the cake, otherwise your fillings will leak, which can lead to disaster;
3. Allow the assembled cake to set in the fridge overnight before serving , otherwise the layers will start slipping off;
4. You may want to consider trimming your crepes if you prefer a neater looking cake (personally I liked the frilly, uneven edges);
5. You don't need to use Nutella and mascarpone frosting for your fillings, you can use whatever you like. I think lemon curd and a chocolate ganache would be rather satisfying, or simply double cream. The world's your oyster!
Crepes adapted from Nigella; mascarpone frosting is from Butter Baking
For the chocolate crepes (makes about 24):
- 50g cocoa powder (sifted)
- 10ml vanilla extract
- melted (plus more for frying)
- 250g mascarpone
- 250ml double cream
- 50g caster sugar
- 1tsp vanilla extract
- 400g jar of Nutella (YUM!)
- 9" nonstick frying pan
- 9" round springform cake tin
- a large plate or tray with a sheet of greaseproof paper placed on top
Once all the milk has been added and the ingredients are incorporated into a smooth batter, add the vanilla extract. Be warned, with the quantities given, it'll be hard to make the batter by hand and not end up with lumps in it. To get around this, if you have the time, I'd suggest making the batter in two batches, using half of the ingredients in each, so that it's easier to beat.
Whether using a machine or making the batter by hand, add the melted butter once everything else has been beaten in. Whisk the butter vigorously into the mixture.
Let the batter rest in the fridge for one hour.
When you're ready to fry your pancakes, melt a little butter in your frying pan. Note that I found that, because a) I have a good nonstick frying pan and b) there is already butter in the batter, I only needed to add a small cube of butter once every 6 or so pancakes.
Once the butter has melted and is nice and hot, pour a good ladle-full (about 3-4 tablespoons) of batter into the pan, or pour in using a jug if you're happy to judge by eye.
Use the handle of the frying pan to gently swirl the batter around the surface of the pan as soon as you've poured it in, so you get a thin, even crepe.
Fry for about 45 seconds on each side on a medium to high heat, until the crepe is cooked and evenly golden all over. I find that the first pancake, for some reason, is never quite right, so I tend to reserve the right to keep it aside for indulging in separately!
As they come off the frying pan, place the cooked crepes on your plate covered with greaseproof paper. Keep stacking until all the batter is used up (by which time you should have 20-25 crepes), then set them aside to cool fully.
To make the frosting, place all of the ingredients, except the Nutella, in a large mixing bowl and with a handheld electronic whisk, beat together until combined and thick (or beat together with a wooden spoon).
Continue layering, alternating the Nutella and frosting until all the pancakes are stacked except the last one. Place this one on top of the mountain of crepes without any Nutella or frosting on it.
Refrigerate the crepe cake for 4-5 hours, but ideally overnight, otherwise, like me , you may have issues with the Nutella not being set and the pancake tower sliding when you remove it from the tin.
When ready to serve, carefully remove the springform ring and dust the top pancake with cocoa powder.