I had a great idea about this week’s column. I was going to talk all about home gardening: the hard work of preparation, the delicate task of transplanting and sowing, and the beautiful, delicious bounty reaped later in the season. I was going to take pictures outside on a sunny day, capturing my cute little arugula sprouts, my budding strawberries and my tiny Scotch bonnet plants. And then it rained. And then it rained some more. And then my garden started looking a lot like the Okefenokee Swamp. And then I saw a few trash bins float by. And then I started building an arc. The Easter Flood of 2011 not only drowned my garden, but it drowned my plans for this week’s column. Mother Nature, I’d like a word with you. Alone. Now.
Thwarted columns and natural disasters aside, I found myself on Sunday afternoon confined to the four walls of my house with an empty schedule, an empty to-do list (OK, let me rephrase that – an ignored to-do list) and a hankering for – wait for it – something sweet. I’d sat down with my latest issue of Cook’s Illustrated, a wonderful Christmas gift from bro-n’-sis-‘n-law that I have grown to love. Yes, I said “grown to love” – my initial reaction to the magazine was despondency and chagrin at the lack of glossy, colorful, drool-worthy pictures – and then I, well, read the magazine. The writing style and the recipes are so detail-oriented and labored-over that no matter what you cook from Cook’s, you’ll end up with something delicious. It’s a cooking lesson, a science class and a research project, all wrapped into one. It’s good stuff. Check it out.
I’d settled into an article on crêpes written by Andrea Geary, a test cook for Cook’s. Andrea waxes poetic about her crêpe experience and provides her readers with a foolproof recipe. So this brings me to my huge revelation that may send you reeling, flailing about your living room, and perhaps even making you begin to doubt my worthiness as a foodie: I’ve never made a crêpe. Like, in my life. Like, ever. Like, not until last Sunday afternoon. Of course, that doesn’t mean I’ve never eaten a crêpe; I’ve eaten my fair share (three words: Hugo’s Grasshopper Crêpes). I have a fond memory of ordering a crêpe streetside in Paris – one that was the size of a hubcap, perfectly thin and browned, smeared with Nutella, sprinkled with toasted hazelnuts and expertly folded into an edible shape. My crêpe experience labels me as more of a crêpe eater than a crêpe maker.
So I set out try my hand at these floppy French pancakes. The batter is quite simple: a mixture of flour, sugar and salt, which is whisked together with milk, eggs and melted butter. It’s unlike pancake batter in that it doesn’t have a leavener, like baking soda or baking powder, so the crêpes don’t do a whole lot of puffing. The key to them is twofold: 1) getting your skillet to the proper temperature and keeping it there, and 2) swiftly and effectively swirling the batter around the hot skillet before it has time to set. I remember my crêpe-maker in Paris had a handy spreader he used, with which he expertly smeared the batter around the hot pan at lightening fast speed. I have neither the tool nor the skills, so I’m left with a heavy pan, a spastic hand and pure luck to work with. Luckily, the stars aligned, and I ended up with some mighty fine results. Need a little more instruction? You got it. Watch Andrea make her crêpes, step by step, here.
As far as crêpe fillings go, there are an infinite number of combinations that suit every taste bud. If you want to keep it simple, you can sprinkle them with sugar and squeeze a lemon over top. Want a little more? Chop some strawberries and whip some cream. Want even more? Bring out the ice cream and hot fudge. Even more? Woah, there. Reel it in, Chachi. Reel it in.
What’s also great about crêpes is their store-ability. Fold any uneaten crêpes into quarters and store them in a Ziploc bag in the fridge for up to a week. Reheat them in the microwave for about 10 seconds, et voilà, crêpes magnifiques. Bon appétit!
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(makes about 10)
1 tsp. vegetable oil
1 c. flour
1 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. whole milk
2 Tbs. butter, melted and cooled
toppings of your choice
Heat the oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over low heat for about 10 minutes.
While the skillet is heating, whisk together the flour, sugar and salt in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk and the eggs. Add half of the milk mixture to the dry ingredients and whisk until smooth. Add the melted butter and whisk until smooth. Add the remaining milk mixture and whisk until smooth.
Using a paper towel, wipe the majority of the oil out of the skillet, leaving only a thin film of oil on the bottom and the sides of the skillet. Increase the heat to medium and let the skillet heat for 1 minute. (You can test the skillet there to see if it’s hot enough: place 1 teaspoon of the batter in the center and cook it for 20 seconds. If it’s golden brown on the bottom, you’re good to go.)
Pour 1/4 cup of the batter on one side of the pan, tilting and shaking the pan gently until the batter evenly covers the bottom of the pan. Cook the crêpe without moving it until it begins to brown at the edges and the top surface is dry. Using a rubber spatula, loosen the crêpe from the bottom of the skillet and using your fingertips, delicately grasp the edges of the crêpe with your fingertips and quickly flip it. Cook on the second side about 20 more seconds. Transfer the crêpe to a wire rack, with the spotted side facing up. Return the pan to the burner and heat for 10 seconds before repeating with the remaining batter. As the crêpes are done, stack them on the wire rack. Serve them with your favorite fillings and toppings.
To reheat: transfer the stack of crêpes to a microwave safe plate, with a second plate inverted over the crêpes, and microwave for about 30 seconds.
To store: fold into fourths and stack in a Ziploc for up to a week.
* If the above slideshow doesn’t load, you can view all the photos from this recipe on Flickr.
Laura is a regular contributor for the Fayetteville Flyer. She was born and raised in Fayetteville. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and avid cook. For more of Laura’s contributions, see her Flyer Foodie author page. For more cooking, recipes, and other food-related inspiration, visit Flyer Foodie on Facebook.