In my last post, Confessions of a (former) picky eater, I mentioned my long-time love of crêpes. As one of the first things I learned to make – at the tender age of 8 – they definitely hold a special place in my heart. I remember sitting on a stool in front of the stove (so that I was tall enough to see), swirling batter in a non-stick pan, patiently waiting for the edges to pull away from the pan, and then gently flipping it. I would repeat this process, crêpe after crêpe, until all of my batter was gone – and then I could finally eat them! Melted butter and a generous dusting of powdered sugar were my toppings of choice back then, and even now you’d be hard pressed to do better. However, as I’ve grown up and finally gotten over some of my picky eating, I’ve embraced other toppings, both sweet and savory. I love a crêpe for breakfast or lunch filled with jambon et fromage (ham and cheese). Spinach, mushrooms, and caramelized onions have all found their way into my crêpes as well. They are an excellent delivery system for all manner of deliciousness.
Still, sweet fillings are my favorite. Here I’ll spell out the basic how-tos of crêpe making and then give you two of my favorite filling options. Both are substantial and not too sweet. They’re also both perfect for breakfast and dessert.
2 large eggs
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1 cup flour
3 tablespoons melted butter
Butter, for coating the pan
In a large bowl combine all of the wet ingredients and whisk to combine. Then slowly add flour, whisking until the batter is smooth. Finally, add the butter. This process is really easy in a blender as well, which also ensures that there are no lumps. When the batter is combined, cover it with plastic wrap and set in the fridge for 30 minutes to 1 hour. This will allow the bubbles to settle. It’s not absolutely necessary, but a good step nonetheless. The batter will be much thinner than pancake batter as it needs to spread in a thin layer on the bottom of the pan.
When the batter is done resting, remove it from the fridge and prepare your crêpe pan. Now, I recently acquired a bonafide steel, French, crêpe pan. It’s beautiful and comes with special instructions for washing. It also gets really hot really, really fast. I definitely have to watch my temperature with it and even lift the pan off the burning during the cooking process to make sure my crêpes don’t burn. I’m sure I’ll get the hang of it soon. If you don’t have such a stupendous piece of crêpe-making equipment, a regular non-stick sauté pan will work just fine. The bigger the pan the bigger the crêpe (and the fewer your batter will make). I try to stick to the 8 or 9-inch variety, which is big enough to hold fillings.
Set the pan on a stove on medium to medium-low heat and let it get hot. When you’re ready to add your batter, take a piece of paper towel, fold it in half twice, and stick a small pad of butter on it. Use that to gently grease the pan right before you add the batter (or else the butter will burn).
Now, onto the swirling method: Take the pan off the burner in one hand and use the other to gently pour a portion of the batter in the middle of the pan (a ladle or ½ cup measuring cup works well, depending on the size of your pan). When the batter hits the pan, immediately start swirling the pan around in circles to evenly distribute the batter thinly over the entire surface of the pan. You want it to be almost see through at the edges and not too thick in the middle. Basically, keep swirling until there is no batter left to move around. Then set the pan back on the burner and let it cook until you see the thin edges start to crisp up and pull away from the side of the pan. You can use a spatula for this part (silicone please), but I find that fingers work best. Gently pull the crêpe away from the pan and flip over, trying not to tear it. This can take a little practice. Luuckily, crêpes are still delicious even when they don’t look perfect.
When it’s finished cooking on the other side (you can sort of lift up the edge and check to see when it’s golden brown), remove it from the pan to a flat surface. Repeat until all of the batter is gone. Then you can gently reheat them in the pan and fill them!
Strawberries, ricotta, honey, lemon zest: This is such a delicious filling and it really shows off the amazing taste of really good ricotta. Don’t bother with this one if you only have the regular grocery store ricotta cheese. It’s bland, grainy, and will not be very tasty. Try to find some good, whole-milk ricotta in the specialty cheese section. My Whole Foods carries a nice brand from Vermont. I’ve also been known to ask restaurants if I can buy a tub out of their stock. Very few chefs have refused if I gush enough about how delicious their ingredient is.
Spoon a generous portion of ricotta – ½ to 1 cup) of ricotta in a small bowl. Drizzle in a tablespoon or so of local/regional honey, then zest about ½ a lemon into the bowl. Stir to combine. Slice up some fresh strawberries. When you’re reheating the crêpe on low heat in the pan, gently fold it in half and then spread ricotta mixture in the middle. Layer the strawberries on top of the ricotta, then flip the outer thirds of the half circle (see photos) on to the middle. Use a spatula to remove from pan to plate, drizzle with honey and grate a little more lemon zest, then serve.
Nutella, banana, and orange zest: Nutella is a chocolate hazelnut spread that is ubiquitous in Europe, but has become popular in the US as well, so you can find it at most grocery stores. Banana and Nutella is a classic French filling option for crêpes and I give it my spin with some orange zest. Drizzling warm orange marmalade over the crepe would also be amazing. Put some Nutella in a small bowl and heat in the microwave for 20 seconds or so. Spread it on your crêpe that is reheating in the pan, pile some sliced bananas on it, the zest about 1/3 of a large orange on top. Fold over the ends and place on a plate. Then drizzle some more Nutella and zest a little more of the orange over it.