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Although crêpes are often thought of as the province of the French, similar pancakes abound in countries as diverse as Greece and Iceland. Crêpes were a staple in my household when I was growing up. We knew them as palancinka, the paper think pancake ubiquitous in the countries formerly belonging to the Austro-Hungarian empire. We would have them as a simple dessert on weekends, smothering them with jam or preserves, cinnamon, or cottage cheese and sugar.
Crêpes were the first thing I ever successfully made in the kitchen without a recipe. I would mix together an egg with some milk, throw in some flour and a pinch of salt and voila! the perfect little pancakes. I had no idea how I did it, but they were always delicious. I’d whip up stacks of them for my friends, who would look at me as if I were Julia Child incarnate.
Then somehow I stopped.
Years went by without my making a single crêpe. I cannot now fathom the reason. Perhaps I was busy with school and work and trying to create a life for myself. My twenties are a crêpeless blur.
Then one night, facing an empty fridge and an intense craving for something doughy and sweet, I decided to revisit my old friend.
The results were disastrous. The crêpes were rubbery. They stuck to the pan and tasted plain awful. What had I done wrong? Had I not once been the crêpe master?
I turned to the only person whom I knew could help me out of this mess.
One of her books, aptly named Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom, contained a simple, master recipe that you can use for both sweet and savory crêpes. Although some recipes for sweet crêpes call for sugar, I find that this makes them stick to the pan.
Be sure to allow the batter to refrigerate for at least half an hour, to allow the flour particles to absorb the liquid, which will give you a tender crêpe. Instant-blending or all-purpose flour may be used, although the former will need less time in the fridge. You may have to experiment with the temperature of your range to get the heat right; the crepes must cook through to a golden color without burning,
If you are not using them right away, cool the crêpes thoroughly, stack and refrigerate for two days, or freeze them for several weeks.
This recipe makes about twenty 5-inch crepes or ten 8-inch crepes.
Julia Child’s Master Crêpe Recipe
1 cup flour
2/3 cup cold milk
2/3 cup cold water
3 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons melted butter, plus more for brushing on pan
1) Mix all ingredients until smooth in a blender or with a whisk. Refrigerate.
2) Heat a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Brush with melted butter.
3) Pour in 2 to 3 tablespoons of batter into the center of the pan and then tilt the pan in all directions to cover the bottom evenly. Cook about 1 minute, or until browned on the bottom. Turn and cook briefly on the other side.
4) Cool on a rack or plate as you finish making the rest. Serve as desired.
Crepes and me. We go way back.
The first thing I ever really learned to make properly was crepes. Cakes failed to rise, pie crusts came out tough, custards lumpy. But crepes … crepes were easy. I would dump some flour in a bowl, add a couple of eggs and some milk and voila … a lovely thin pancake I could smother with any number of ingredients, like cinnamon sugar or apricot jam. When I was in junior high school and had sleepover parties, I’d get up early and have a stack of steaming crepes ready for breakfast for my girlfriends, who would ooh and aah appropriately over my prowess in the kitchen.
I grew up eating crepes. They were a simple dessert when we wanted something sweet. Sometimes we would have them for dinner on a weeknight, when my mother was too tired to cook. She set out pots of jam and little bowls of cinnamon or cottage cheese mixed with sugar. As she stood at the stove dropping spoonful after spoonful of batter onto a sizzling frying pan, I would make my way through each of these toppings, eating the crepes faster than she could make them. I much preferred these impromptu dinners to pot roast or beef stew.
Crepes originate in the Brittany region of France but have long been popular in Eastern European countries once belonging to the Austro-Hungarian empire. In France, savoury crepes are made with buckwheat flour, but in countries like Serbia, Bulgaria, and Hungary, both sweet and savoury crepes are made with regular wheat flour. You can find crepes all over the world now. There are a few creperies in my city, but a large crepe with cinnamon sugar can set you back five bucks. Since I have been making crepes for pennies at home all my life, I find this a little too much.
I like to make both sweet and savoury crepes. The possibilities are endless and I’ll be posting some of my favourites here. Whether I make crepes stuffed with seafood and hollandaise sauce, or slather them with Nutella, I always use the same recipe.
I use fewer eggs in my recipe than most. Many recipes call for three eggs to one cup of flour but I find this is one too many. The flavour is too eggy and the texture is almost omelette-like.
I use a crepe pan but you can use a regular non-stick pan. You can blend the ingredients together right in the blender and then pour the batter directly onto the pan. I like this because having a spout makes the job easier. You can also whisk the ingredients by hand in a bowl, or a large measuring cup with a spout. The important thing is that you put the batter in the fridge for half an hour or more to allow the flour particles to absorb the liquid, otherwise you will end up with a tough crepe.
The recipe that follows can be used for any type of crepe. I do not add sugar to the batter even if I’m using a sweet filling as I have found it causes the crepes to stick to the pan.
Lemon Ricotta Crepes
Makes 10 8-inch crepes
For the crepes:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1/2 cup cold water
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
melted butter for brushing the pan (about 1 tablespoon)
Mix all of the ingredients together in a blender, scraping down the side until the batter is smooth. Let the batter stand in the refrigerator for at least half an hour.
When you are ready to cook the crepes, heat a skillet over medium. Brush with melted butter.
To cook the crepe, pour the batter into the center of the pan and tilt the pan in several directions to coat the bottom evenly.
Cook on one side until golden; turn and cook briefly on the other side.
Stack crepes on a plate as you cook them. You may store them in an oven at 200F to keep them warm as you work.
Fill with ricotta filling and serve.
Lemon Ricotta Filling
1 cup ricotta cheese
juice of 1 lemon
zest of 1 lemon
4 tablespoons sugar
Mix all ingredients in a small bowl. You can add more sugar to taste if you prefer a sweeter crepe.
Fill the crepes once they have cooled slightly. You may also serve the crepes in a stack with the filling in the bowl, garnished with more lemon zest.
Sprinkling the crepes with icing sugar also gives a nice appearance.