Crêpes are a great cold weather dish. In Arcata, where a damp chill is the norm, they were a standard at the Brotman table. Impromptu dessert? Fast easy dinner? My father was at the stove, flipping away and turning out a buttery delivery of crispy-edged delights. I know it's hardly a groundbreaking topic, but having made several batches of crêpes this weekend, I have been pondering the subtle but absolutely vital issues that necessitate attention if crêpes are going to be made correctly.
Without attention to details, crêpes are pancakes. Dense, chewy, buttery pancakes. Probably with perverse scorch marks. That's fine; they'll still taste good. Syrup ’em up, add a garnish, the plebes'll scarf them down. But it is worth aspiring to to make them correctly. It takes practice, and, unfortunately, the purchase of an expensive pan, but seriously, a real crêpe, thinner than cardboard -- about cardstock thick -- lacy, buttery, dotted with crispy bits like sequins on a gypsy -- is worth it.
Firstly, it's important to use a good recipe. Despite my roommate's assurances, you cannot make a great crêpe with thinned-out pancake batter. The one I have found to be the most reliable is the one in the first Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas. And Volume 1, not the "new" edition in which she has taken out all the fat and fun out of her book. For shame, Ms. Thomas! Pandering to erstwhile popular tastes! I digress. I present below a slightly modified version of her excellent original recipe.
Next, and most importantly, the pan. Listen, I'm poor. I've tried every last-ditch trick ever to avoid buying a crêpe pan. I tried putting so much fat in a high-edged pan the poor thing basically deep-fried. End result: fritter. I have even resorted (shame!) to putting a plate over the pan, flipping it on the plate, and re-sliding it into the pan (I'm sorry, Pa) but not only does that not result in a good crêpe because it usually tears and the edges aren't thin enough, it really takes the joy out of the process. Stop being so cheap! Buy a good crêpe pan.
Crêpe pans are small -- 8 inches in diameter, about -- slope-sided and heavy-bottomed. Get a one from the brand you trust and admire most, and make sure it's not non-stick. You have to season it, which I did by making a batch of omelets with lots of butter that all came out spotty and a little burny and uneven, as expected. Once it's seasoned, don't wash it for god's sake. Just wipe it out carefully and lovingly. Don't use it for anything but crêpes and omelets.
Get the pan hot. Heat it over a med. high flame for three or four minutes, turn the flame down to medium, and add a tablespoon of butter for the first crêpe. Don't skimp on the butter. Subsequently, add a half tablespoon for every new crêpe. Swish the butter around so all the base and sides get a nice coating. Turn the heat back up slightly to medium-high. Add about a ladle full of batter, just enough so that the whole base of the pan is covered in a very thin layer. Tilt the pan so the batter spreads. There should be no batter puddling unevenly.
Hover anxiously. It should cook roughly a minute so -- if you see the edges browning too early, lower the flame slightly. On my stove there is a subtle slope so I rotate the pan every 15 seconds or so, so it cooks evenly. When the batter looks solid and the edges are browning and crisping every so slightly, take a spatula and carefully, delicately, loosen the edges all the way round. Jostle the pan. Hopefully the crêpe will slide loosely around -- otherwise, carefully slide the spatula under the crêpe to the offending sticking area. Jostle some more. When the crêpe is thoroughly loosened, lift the pan, jostle the crêpe to the pan's edge, and flip. It's a sort of quick shove and jerk motion that simply takes a little practice, but with the right pan and adequate butter it's not hard and can be immensely satisfying.
Cook 45 more seconds on the other side, then slide it out on the plate. Now you can sprinkle it with sugar and cinnamon, or fill with jam, or if you're thinking more long lunch or dinner lines, make a stack and roll them up with cooked veggies, cover with béchamel and Swiss, and bake. They can be cooked and refrigerated as well, just separate with wax paper.
In this recipe, I added flavoring to Anna Thomas' recipe. This makes for a sweeter, delicately pink crêpe. If you want a savory crêpe, omit.
Anna's crêpes a la Jada
2/3 cup white flour
3/4 t. salt
2 cups milk
5 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
1 teaspoon walnut extract
1 teaspoon crème de cassis
Whisk together milk and eggs in a large mixing bowl.
Add walnut extract and crème de cassis.
Whisk in melted butter, pouring in a thin steady stream.
Sift in flour and salt and loosely combine in a few turns, scraping the sides of the bowl to combine all.
Cover and let rest in the fridge for at least 45 minutes to let air bubbles release.
Heat a tablespoon of butter in a crêpe pan over medium high heat, and cook as described above.
Crêpes can be stacked and kept in a warm oven until ready to serve, unless meltable ingredients are used (try Asiago and chives!), in which case they must be filled and served individually and immediately.
I like to serve these crêpes sprinkled with sugar and orange zest, or spread with Nutella for a rich dessert.