~ How to: Make 'French' Crepes (Sweet or Savory) ~
I'm pretty certain everyone knows what a crepe is, but, I'm not so sure everyone knows how simple they are to make. I say this because almost every time I serve them, someone inevitably remarks how intimidated they are at the thought of "tackling" them. While I can't say crepes are a staple in my kitchen, I don't hesitate to get out my crepe pan and make a few for breakfast, lunch, dinner or dessert. That is how easy they are. Crepes are to a chef what an empty canvas is to a creative artist: they are the perfect foil for almost any sweet or savory filling you can think of!
Like fine linen, the crepe has a place at every occasion:
A bit about crepes: The word "crepe" is French in origin, deriving from the Latin word "crispus", meaning "rolled or curled". While "crepe" is the French word for "pancake" and crepes are mostly associated with Brittany, a region in NW France, people all over the world consume them. Almost every country and culture has their own version of crepes, name for their crepes and favorite style of eating them. Two examples: In my Russian family, we make sweet crepes, spread them with a thin layer of jam, roll them into a cigarette shape and call them "blintzes" (not to be confused with "blini", which are pancakes containing a leavening agent). In Joe's Italian family, they make savoury crepes, fill them with meats and/or cheeses, call them "crespelle", and, fearlessly interject that it was the Italians (not the French) who invented them -- this crepe debate is just one of many culinary tugs-of-war between France and Italy over the centuries!
These delicate, paper-thin creations are made from milk, water, eggs, butter, flour, salt and sometimes sugar. They can be flavored with liqueurs, extracts, herbs, spices, and/or, playfully colored with natural food dyes or additives like beets, chocolate or pumpkin. They can be round or square, and, they can be stacked on top of each other or filled and rolled.
Crepes are made by pouring a thin batter onto a specially-designed crepe pan or a hot skillet with a trace of butter or oil on the pan's surface. The batter is spread thinly and evenly over the surface of the pan, by tilting the pan (sometimes with an offset spatula), and, they cook quickly, with each side of the crepe taking 30-45 seconds!
Here is my Foolproof Recipe for Making Basic Crepes:
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup club soda, water may be substituted
4 large eggs, at room temperature
4 tablespoons salted butter, melted and cooled about 5 minutes
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon sugar (for sweet crepes only)
no-stick cooking spray, for preparing crepe pan or skillet
~ Step 1. Place all ingredients, as listed in a 1-quart measuring container. Using a hand-held stick blender, process until smooth, about 1 full minute. Cover container with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. You will have 3 cups of crepe batter.
Note: Refrigerating the batter for a minimum of 1 hour is an important step, so, don't be inclined to skip it or rush it. Refrigeration relaxes the gluten in the flour, which produces light, airy crepes. It is perfectly acceptable to make your crepe batter up to a day in advance.
~ Step 2. Before starting to make the crepes, you have to decide what size and shape you want, meaning, you'll need to choose a pan to cook them in. In the event you don't have an offensively-expensive, specially-designed French-made crepe pan, relax. A nonstick skillet or stovetop griddle work great. But: the pan's size affects the amount of batter you need to add to it, and, the number of crepes you will end up with!
Note: I'm using the inexpensive, 6" square stovetop griddle that I bought at the grocery store to demonstrate for two reasons: A $6.00 pan works as well as a $106.00 pan, and, if you've never made crepes, start small. Once you perfect your technique you can graduate to a larger pan.
~ Step 3. Remove batter from refrigerator and stir. "Spritz" griddle w/no-stick spray and place over medium-high heat. Ladle 4 tablespoons of batter onto griddle. Lift and tilt pan to distribute batter evenly. Place on heat and cook about 30 seconds. Batter will be bubbled and surface will look dry.
Note: My stove is gas and I set my heat to just above medium. Use the first crepe or two find a setting that is neither too high or too low. You should hear a low sizzle when the batter is added to the pan. Once the heat is "right" you won't have to adjust it for the remainder of the process.
~ Step 4. Slide a long, thin, spatula under the crepe and carefully lift it up. Be brave. This is easier than you think. If the spatula doesn't slide underneath easily, let the crepe cook another few seconds.
Place it back in the pan, second side down and cook for another 30 or so seconds, or, until, without the aid of the spatula, crepe will slide with ease onto a large plate or platter. Once on the platter, flip crepe over (first side down and second side up). Repeat this process, for as long as batter lasts, "spritzing" the griddle with a bit of cooking spray and restirring the batter each time you make a crepe.
Note: Crepes can be prepared several hours and up to 3-4-5 days in advance of serving. Once cooled, just cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. I have not had good results freezing them, so, there is no need to waste your time with that experiment. When serving, if crepes are stacked, the first side (the smoother, slightly darker side) is referred to as the "top". If crepes are filled and rolled, the first side (the smoother, slightly darker side) is referred to as the "outside".
Special Equipment List: 1-quart measuring container; hand-held electric stick blender or blender; plastic wrap; 6" nonstick stovetop griddle, or, round nonstick skillet, or, crepe pan of choice; 1/4 cup ladle or measure; long, thin spatula, preferably nonstick
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013)