July 25, 2012

A craving for crepes

When we were on vacation in Paris back in April (my first visit there), we bought a couple of small watercolors of city scenes from a street vendor.  It was on the Ile St. Louis, one of my favorite areas in that amazing city - in part, because you'll find Berthillon and their incredible ice cream there.  My husband recently hung those watercolors up and now I gaze at it once in a while and think back on that amazing trip - the beautiful sights and the amazing food we sampled.  I've got a craving for plenty of things we ate on that trip.  I can't begin to replicate most of them at home but I thought I could tackle crepes.
I think of crepes as the street food in Paris.  Being first time tourists there, we were constantly on-the-go and took advantage of crepe stands for a quick snack.  We didn't visit any special creperie; instead, we were regulars at a snack stand near our hotel in the 9th arrondissement.  Those crepes were so simple and so good, filled with nutella or, my personal filling of choice, "creme de marrons" or chestnut cream.  I love chestnuts.  It's a shame they aren't more common/popular here in the States but to make up for it, I loaded up on jars of chestnut cream and brought them back home.  They were everywhere and inexpensive.
I wish we'd had the chance to sample some savory crepes while we were in Paris.  I would've loved to try a buckwheat crepe (made with buckwheat flour, traditionally used for savory fillings).  For now, I'll just add it to my mental list of things to eat next time we visit the city and settle for my own version, which I filled simply with ham and gruyere cheese.
Needless to say, I've been craving crepes!  It's one of those things I've always wanted to try making since my husband and I love them.  Trying to keep it simple at home, I wanted a versatile and easy recipe I could use for both savory and sweet fillings.

I won't bore you with the details on my deliberations for a basic crepe recipe but just tell you that in the end, I settled on a simple one from Cooking Light, which I adapted slightly.
I liked that this recipe uses low-fat milk and just a smidgen (2 teaspoons) of sugar because to my way of thinking, the fillings provide plenty of richness and flavor.  I had some worries about the texture of these crepes using 1% milk but wanted to give it a try.  They turned out soft and tender, a good blank canvas for the filling.  If I were only making sweet crepes next time, I might use a bit more sugar and maybe add a dash of vanilla to bump up the flavor and crispness of the crepes themselves.
I have no technique when it comes to crepe-making, having never done it before, but I learned a lot in this test run and I'm happy to say it was pretty easy!  None of them ripped and I ended up with 13 small crepes to fill with whatever I wanted.  The good news is that leftover crepes can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days, or frozen for longer.  When we were in Paris, many of the crepes at the stands were pre-made and just re-warmed and filled to order with your choice of fillings (sugar, jam, nutella, and chestnut cream were common).  I found this worked just as well at home.
Now all the different crepe fillings were tasty (love that chestnut cream) but I have to say I particularly favored one that I filled with ice cream.  I guess it's not a fair fight whenever you bring ice cream into the picture.  It's just a knockout.
It must be the contrast of warm crepe against cold ice cream that does the trick.  I filled a warm crepe with vanilla ice cream and drizzled it with a quick Nutella chocolate "sauce" I improvised by thinning some warmed nutella (a staple in my house) with a bit of low fat milk.  My little guy and I really enjoyed sharing this as a mid-afternoon snack, hiding out from the blazing 100 degree heat outside.  And my husband loved it as an after dinner dessert after a (very long) day at work.  It was so satisfying, we repeated it again the next day.

I enjoyed my first crepe-making endeavor.  Though the crepes on their own were not as flavorful as the ones I've had at restaurants and crepe stands, I like keeping things a bit lighter and simpler at home when it makes sense.  Also, I suspect crepes are bound to taste better while you're standing on a street in Paris, even when they're simply wrapped in a piece of parchment or paper towel and casually handed to you from a street vendor.

You can make crepe batter by hand (using a large bowl and with thorough whisking) or by using a blender or food processor.  A blender is generally preferred but it can be done using the other methods.  I made the batter using my food processor since I have one and figure I should put it to use. 


There are two tips I picked up about making crepe batter.  1) Strain the batter through a fine mesh sieve to remove any lumps for the smoothest possible batter.  2) Let the batter rest for at least an hour so the flour has a chance to absorb the liquids (much like similar batters for things like Dutch baby pancakes).

Making the crepe batter

I adapted this recipe from Cooking Light and you'll see that it is a light, basic recipe you could use for both savory and sweet crepes.
I started by placing flour (4.5 ounces, or about a cup), sugar (2 teaspoons), and salt (1/4 teaspoon) into the food processor, pulsing it a couple of times quickly to combine.  Then I separately whisked 1 cup of 1% low-fat milk, 1/2 cup of water, 1 tablespoon melted butter, and 2 eggs together in a large measuring cup.  Add the combined wet ingredients to the dry and process until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl once.  There shouldn't be any large lumps and the batter will look frothy.
Strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a large bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and chill the batter in the refrigerator for 1 hour or overnight. 

Cooking the crepes

The crepe batter should be about the consistency of heavy cream and if necessary, you could thin it out with a bit of milk.  Using the low-fat milk, I had no issue with my batter being too thick after taking it out of the refrigerator.

To cook the crepes, use the largest non-stick skillet you have (assuming you don't have a crepe pan).  The only size I have is a 10" skillet, which makes fairly small crepes, about 7 1/2 inches in diameter. 

Lightly spray your skillet with cooking spray (you can rub over it with a paper towel to evenly distribute the oil) and heat it over medium heat.  Pick up your skillet and pour batter into the middle using a 1/4 cup measuring cup you've filled nearly to the top.  Immediately swirl the skillet around to distribute the batter as evenly as possible to form a thin round layer (after your first crepe, you'll know how much batter you need to do that).
Cook the crepe for about a minute, or until the edge crisps up.  Test it with an offset or rubber spatula and your fingers to see if it's ready to lift.  Then, carefully and quickly flip it over with your fingers.
Cook the second side for about 30 seconds or so until it sets.  Transfer the crepe to a plate and continue making the rest.  I find it's easier to make all the crepes and then re-warm them with the filling.
I made 13 crepes from this recipe.  As I cooked them, I stacked them on top of each other without anything (i.e., wax paper) in between.  I refrigerated 5 leftover crepes and used them over the course of the next three days.  Again, I didn't use anything in between the crepes and they did not stick together.  If you plan to freeze the crepes, however, I would separate each with a layer of wax paper.

When you're ready to use the crepes and fill them, just pop one onto a warmed skillet (I didn't grease the pan) and heat both sides.  If you want your crepe to look its best, I recommend taking a look to make sure you use the "prettier" side for presentation.  I didn't always do this, as you can tell from my pictures; one side had some not-so-attractive round brown spots.  The people at America's Test Kitchen says the spots are from an improperly heated pan.

To make a triangle/cone shape crepe, put your filling on one side of the crepe, fold the other half over it and fold over again. 
Fill your crepe with whatever your imagination takes you (but don't forget ice cream) and enjoy! 


Basic (lighter) Crepes for savory and sweet fillings
Adapted from Cooking Light 

- Makes 13 crepes made in a 10" skillet -

4.5 ounces all-purpose flour (about 1 cup)
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup 1% low-fat milk
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
2 eggs

Place flour, sugar, and salt into a food processor.  Pulse a few times to combine. 

Whisk milk, water, melted butter, and eggs together in a large measuring cup or bowl.  Add the wet mixture to the food processor and process until batter is smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl once.  (Alternatively, this can be done in a blender or by hand with a whisk).

Strain the batter through a fine mesh sieve into a large bowl.  Cover and let the batter rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour, or overnight.

To cook the crepes, spray a 10-inch skillet with cooking spray and warm it over medium heat.  Pick up the heated skillet and pour roughly 3 tablespoons of batter (use a nearly full 1/4 cup measuring cup to do this) into the middle of the pan, quickly swirling the pan to evenly distribute a thin layer of batter around.  Cook for about 1 minute, or until the edge crisps up.  Use an offset or rubber spatula and your fingers to check if crepe is ready to flip.  Lift the crepe gently with your fingers, flip the crepe over, and cook for about 30 seconds until the second side sets.

Transfer the crepe to a plate and continue making the rest of the crepes. 

When you're ready to fill the crepes, warm both sides of a crepe in a dry skillet.  Add fillings, fold as desired, and heat long enough for the filling to warm through.  Serve immediately.

Unused crepes can be stacked, covered with plastic wrap, and refrigerated for about 3 days.  Separate each crepe with a sheet of wax paper (although I did not layer anything between my leftover crepes and they didn't stick together stacked on a plate in the refrigerator).  You can also freeze leftover crepes, separated with sheets of wax paper and tightly wrapped, for about a month. 

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