Wednesday, 26 October 2011


Today, I am sharing a beloved family secret: my dad's recipe and method to create delicious crêpes! It's got a bit of everything that makes cooking awesome: they are very easy to whip up, taste great and can be stuffed with almost anything that crosses your mind. They can be breakfast, lunch, dinner and midnight snack!

I had a late morning today and wanted something that could be both breakfast and lunch, as I would need sustenance running all over the island to make my appointments. And let's be honest, I also had a sweet tooth... I have an almost obsessive love of maple syrup, and of all the sweet tasting things in the world, nothing beats it as far as I am concerned. I wanted something I could drown in the golden-brown wonder and devour. Crêpes were just the thing to make me finish my coffee and run to the stove.

Fun fact: in Paris, they have crêpe-stands in the streets, the same way you have hot-dogs carts in New York City! They give it to you rolled up in parchemin paper, so you can stuff your face with a warm crêpe full of chocolate spread and banana slices as you walk down the Champs-Élysées! I confess that this luxurious snack left a lasting impression.

My dad is the son of a French innkeeper, so this technique is old-school French crêpe-making (or so I am told). I used to consider them a treat, but once I got the hang of it, there was no stopping me from making them every weekend. The quantities given make enough batter for 4 to 6 crêpes about 10-inches across, which is perfect for 2 people to pig-out on at brunch. However, it is very easily doubled if you have company.

I found a great non-stick crêpe pan at Stokes, for about $25. It's worth every penny if crêpes become more than an occasional treat in your kitchen. They distribute the heat evenly, and make flipping the buggers with a flick of the wrist very easy, if you plan on looking impressive and professional. A good old frying pan works just as well; just make sure to give it a quick spray of non-stick cooking spray (too much greasy stuff in the pan will make your crêpe congeal), and use a thin spatula to flip the crêpes.

Also, let's not confuse crêpes, which are thin and flexible, with pancakes, the thick American breakfast food that is similar in some aspects (i.e. they are cooked in a pan and generally served under lots of maple syrup). I will tackle pancakes in the future, but this morning, let's make some crêpes, baby!

Here are the ingredients, and method:

1 tablespoon butter
approximately 2 cups all purpose flour
approximately 2 cups milk
2 eggs
1 pinch sugar (if making sweet crepes)
1 pinch salt (if making salty crepes)

Melt the butter in a small saucepan and set aside. In a large mixing bowl blend the butter, the eggs, the sugar or salt, and 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of milk. Mix well with a whisk and progressively add the rest of the flour and milk, mixing well, until the batter is a lovely cream color, and thick but not firm or stiff; it must still drip from the whisk. At this point, you can cover your bowl with plastic wrap and leave it to chill in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour. Just make sure to let it get back at room temperature before you start cooking.

Preheat a crêpe pan over medium heat. Let it get as hot as you can; it will make your life easier. Give it a light spray of non-stick cooking spray (light!). Spoon the batter on the pan with a ladle; 1 ladle-full should give 1 crêpe. Quickly swirl the batter in the pan so that it form a thin layer that covers the entire pan. Let it cook until it is easily flipped with a wide spatula. Flip every minute until it is lovely and slightly golden on both sides. This should take about 2 minutes for each crêpe.

This should yield 6 to 8 crepes, depending on how big and thick you make them. Feel free to use non-dairy milk if you want to: the crepes will be just as creamy and tasty!

I also experimented with a vegan crêpe recipe, from "Vegan with a Vengeance". Family bias aside, the end result was good, though perhaps a little bland for plain crêpes; these babies fare better stuffed with fruit (spectacular with banana slices and maple syrup, as pictured). If you plan on eating them by themselves, I would suggest adding a sprinkle of nutmeg to the batter.

1 1/2 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
1/2 cup chickpea flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups water

Combine the flours and salt in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour and add the water and olive oil. Blend until completely smooth, by hand or with an electric mixer. Cover the bowl in plastic wrap, and chill in the fridge for half an hour. Preheat a crepe pan over medium-high heat and spray lightly with cooking spray. Use a ladle to pour the batter in the pan; tilt and rotate the pan so that the batter covers the bottom of the pan. When it looks like the top of the crepe is set and the corners of the crepe are beginning to brown lightly, flip over with a thin spatula and cook on the other side for a minute.

Although good, I find these are a bit harder to work with than my dad's batter. They tend to stick together a bit more, and the taste of flour is more present. Still, as far as animal-free alternatives go, I've yet to find a tastier recipe.

Here are a few ideas to make your crêpes memorable morning (or, you know, whenever) feasts:

Sweet crêpes ideas = any of the following garnishes: sliced fruits (strawberries, bananas, mangoes) or whole berries with whipped cream, Nutella, English cream...
Salty crêpes ideas = any of the following garnishes: steamed asparagus, sautéed mushrooms, cheddar or Swiss cheese, prepared ham.
Or for sweet and salty experiment, serve crêpes with sliced Granny Smith apples, Brie cheese and candied Pecan nuts.

Now, keep the following in mind: the first crêpe is the test-crêpe. Use it to judge if your batter needs more milk or flour. If it spreads thickly or unevenly, add a splash of milk, blend well and try again. If it's so liquid it won't "catch" and cook, add some flour, a small handful at the time. You can only really tell from experience, and it's worth tearing a crêpe or two to get a good end result. You should see it cook pretty clearly if your batter has the right consistency: the edge will curl up very slightly, the surface will brown evenly and it will be easy to flip.

I can eat plain crêpes with maple syrup every day (for every meal, in fact), but if you plan on garnishing, have everything ready BEFORE you prepare your batter. Chop the fruits, sauté or grill veggies, prepare the cheese. Speaking of cheese, the secret to a lovely, uniform coat of melting cheese at the heart of your crêpe is: pre-sliced! Buy a pack of neatly, thinly sliced Swiss cheese and cut the little squares in half and carefully place them in a long strip in the middle of your crêpe for the last minute in the pan, just to let it get warm and melty. Top with asparagus, mushrooms, ham, etc.

Unless you own a huge crêpe pan, keeping the crêpes perfectly folded for a fancy presentation can be tricky, as they tend to slip. A naked toothpick is a bit unsightly, so I suggest camouflaging it. A whole strawberry upside down is always cute, but anything you stuff your crêpe with can work: a mushroom cap, a chunk of banana... or go tropical with a cocktail umbrella!

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