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It’s Crepe Time in America

December 18, 2011

On my last trip to California I stole away from my friends to eat at a rather famous breakfast spot in Berkeley. It’s called Café Fanny, and it is related to Chez Panisse. They make some pretty perfect poached eggs on amazing toast. And it’s always pretty tempting to order those marvelous specimens.

But on that trip, I had been staying with ADS, who keeps his own chickens, and every morning he was making me the best poached egg I had every had in my life.

It’s really unfortunate that once you have had absolutely stunning versions of a food how difficult it is to go back to the “pretty perfect.” I know, “first world problems.” So instead of Café Fanny’s poached eggs, I opted for their buckwheat crepes with their hosemade jam and a giant bowl of their café au lait. Such delicious simplicity.

You will probably not be surprised to learn that I have some strong feelings about crepes. And while I love that you can enjoy these for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert, since today is Sunday, I’m going to focus on breakfast.

Crepes hold a soft spot in my heart.

They are one of the first things that I learned how to cook. They also were the dish that inspired my first purchase of good cookware. I still remember walking into Williams-Sonoma in my early 20s to buy that first piece of Professional Nonstick Calphalon. I don’t think they even make it anymore.

But it was a small pan. Eight inches was perfectly large to make a batch of crepes. It was not a typical frying pan or omelet pan. It had short flared sides that were perfect for sliding a spatula under a thin and delicate crepe.

I finally had to get rid of the pan when its surface scratched. It was the end of an era.

Julia Child was my guide when it came to making crepes. I used her recipe, although I wasn’t entirely fastidious about it. The truth was that the crepes always came out fine even without clarifying my butter or straining my batter through a sieve.

She called for a cup of flour, 2/3 cup of milk, 2/3 cup of cold water, 3 large eggs, ¼ teaspoon of salt and 3 tablespoons of butter. These things got whisked together slowly in the order listed above and then sat in the refrigerator for an hour. The trick isn’t making the batter. The trick is working the batter in the pan to make a crisp and light crepe with a delicate and lacy edge.

Astonishingly enough, growing up I encountered crepe street vendors in Miami. They had these carts with magnificent hot stones. And they would ladle their batter into the center of a stone and push it around with a wooden squeegee to create a perfectly thin specimen. I even loved the long slender spatulas they used to flip and fold the crepe.

But when making one at home in a pan, you have to rely on deft hands to pour the batter, roll it around in the pan, and dump out any excess. It takes time and practice. The first few crepes are always awful and usually need to be discarded. But luckily the batter is inexpensive to make, and produces a ton of product.

Honestly, I don’t think I’ve even attempted to make these at home since I had to walk away from my favorite crepe pan.

My cast iron is probably well seasoned enough to handle the task. However, it’s really heavy and gets pretty darn hot. Those two factors could have a serious negative impact on my ability to work the batter into a thin crepe. If I didn’t think Mrs. Fussy would brain me for bringing another piece of cookware into the house, I would probably consider a black steel crepe pan. But that would be a commitment to eating crepes as part of our daily life. And sadly, that’s unlikely.

These things are versatile, though. Fold one up around a scrambled egg, and you can take it in the car with you on the way to work without worrying about spilling a drop. Or if you can take the time, savor one of these crisp tender buttery morsels with coffee and jam. As much as I love a good piece of toast, it seems like prison food in comparison to a simple crepe. Even just a dusting of cinnamon sugar would be a sweet way to start your day.

Naturally, this requires time. And while Julia Child seems to think it’s okay to freeze and reheat your crepe, I’ll never endorse that kind of shortcut.

But it doesn’t take that long to make a batch of batter. And I’ve let mine rest for much shorter periods than the hour she recommends for all-purpose flour (10 minutes for instant-blending flour). So grab your mixing bowl, your whisk and your best nonstick pan. While your batter is resting, Google some videos of people making crepes for some pointers.

The only way to get good is to practice. And there’s no time like the present. Then when you see your family over the holidays, you can wow them with your new skill.

One Comment leave one →
  1. December 18, 2011 6:55 pm

    I have a Calphalon pan that I think is the perfect replacement for the one you had. I got it at Macy’s for roughly $50.

    I don’t think crepes will ever hold the same meaning for me after February 4th, 2012. One of my dearest friends is getting married that day, and her wedding cake is made entirely of crepes. Swoon.

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