April 4, 2012 in Food

Get Creative with crepes

Wafer-thin pancakes show versatility, shine at Easter with an array of fillings and toppings
By The Spokesman-Review
 

From left: Crepes start with a simple recipe of eggs, flour, milk, water and butter whisked to a liquid consistency, as shown here by Luna sous chef Zach Stone; Stone swirls the crepe batter around in a hot pan in the restaurant’s kitchen; the crepe, still sizzling in the pan, is filled with sweetened ricotta cheese and poached pears before being rolled up by Stone.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

Crepes troubleshooting

Compiled from “The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook” and “Crepes: Sweet and Savory Recipes for the Home Cook.”

Problem: Splotchy browning.

Solution: Preheat pan 10 minutes.

Problem: Batter spreads unevenly.

Solution: Tilt and shake the pan.

Problem: Crepe tears when flipped.

Solution: Try, try again.

Problem: Too many bubbles in the batter.

Solution: Let it stand. Batter was beaten too long in blender or food processor.

Problem: Crepes have a lacy pattern.

Solution: Batter may be too thin. Add 1 or 2 tablespoons flour.

Problem: Edges of crepe are too crisp and crack.

Solution: Decrease heat on the pan.

Problem: Small holes in the crepe.

Solution: Use more batter to cover pan.

Problem: Batter won’t cover bottom of pan.

Solution: Batter is too thick; thin batter with milk or water.

Crepes have an undeserved reputation for being temperamental.

Flipping and folding the wafer-thin pancakes can seem intimidating at first, but once you’ve successfully turned a few of the flimsy French flapjacks the rest is just culinary creativity. Crepes can be the perfect canvas for dishes ranging from savory to sweet – folded and dipped, or filled and topped in any number of ways. They make a nice addition to an Easter brunch.

The versatility of crepes is evident on menus around the area right now, where an array of fillings and toppings are featured.

Crepes on Luna’s brunch menu are filled with sweetened ricotta cheese and poached pears and then topped with regional fruit (recipe follows).

At Madeleine’s Café and Patisserie, diners can pick sweet apple crepes, filled with cream, ricotta and cottage cheese and then topped with cinnamon apples, or ham and asparagus, topped with hollandaise and a poached egg.

The Shop is the latest to offer crepes, including one filled with Nutella, a cocoa and hazelnut spread, and bananas.

Kara Siemens, front of the house manager at Luna, said she has wonderful memories of eating her grandmother’s crepes as a child, which were simply filled with homemade jam.

Crepes have been featured on all courses of Luna’s menu in the restaurant’s 19 years, said owner Marcia Bond. “Every chef essentially puts their own spin on it.”

A recent savory crepe featured a poached egg and chopped ham, topped with Mornay sauce. They’ve also served Nutella crepes and others filled with lemon curd and topped with Chantilly cream. Siemens said she was just looking back at a menu from Luna’s early days which featured crepes Suzette – crepes topped with orange sauce and flambéed for diners when served.

Patience is the key when making crepes for the first time, said Gina Garcia, pastry chef at Cake, the bakery at Chaps. Garcia learned to make crepes in Brittany, the birthplace of the French pancakes. She served them at her popular South Hill eatery, Bittersweet Bakery and Bistro.

Originally called “galettes crepes,” they were initially made with buckwheat flour. Now, crepes made with plain or savory batter are common across France and increasingly popular in the United States. A new creperie in downtown Spokane called Beignets is scheduled to open in early summer.

Garcia said everyone learned to make crepes at Bittersweet, regardless of their culinary expertise.

“I would just let people get in front of the griddle and make mistakes over and over,” she said. “And then pretty soon you kind of have an aha moment where it all comes together and you think, ‘Well, that is easy.’ ”

It’s even easier for home cooks. Garcia said buying a commercial crepe machine for home use is not necessary, nor are the tools that one might see in use at creperies. Crepe pans are sold at most kitchen stores and are smaller than the round commercial griddles.

“Or, you could even use a shallow sauté pan that has a nonstick surface,” she said. “If you’re doing it at home you can just pick up the pan and swirl the batter in the pan until it sets.”

That’s how they make the crepes at Luna, where they skip the flipping step altogether and finish the crepes by transferring the pan into a hot oven.

Garcia said she uses a thin, flexible silicone spatula to loosen the edges of her crepes for flipping. Then she uses the spatula and her fingers to turn each crepe.

Make sure batter is thick enough to coat the pan, but thin enough to swirl and coat the pan quickly. Garcia said it’s also important to find the right temperature for the pan, so the crepes don’t burn before the batter is set.

Garcia said three popular crepes at Bittersweet included one with fried egg, ham and Swiss cheese; a crepe with poached pears, watercress and grilled chicken; and one with roasted red pepper and chicken sausage.

“You can do anything. It’s kind of like a sandwich, but a little bit lighter,” she said.

Making crepes can be time consuming. If you’re cooking for a crowd on Easter consider making the crepes ahead of time so everyone can eat together. Garcia said cooks can stack the crepes with a piece of parchment or wax paper in between, wrap them in foil and refrigerate for a few days or freeze. “You can heat them right up in the pan before filling,” she said.

Or, recruit your guests to help.

“Kids love crepes. I have two young boys and we make them at home and they can come up with their own kind of fillings, too. It’s a fun family thing to do together,” she said.

If you want to keep the crepes warm so you can serve them all together, use this tip from author Liz Franklin in “Crepes, Wraps and Rolls”: Stack the pancakes between layers of greaseproof paper, cover them loosely with foil and place them on a baking tray in the oven at 325 degrees.

Luna’s Crepes

From Luna Restaurant. Owner Marcia Bond says crepes have been on the menu at Luna – from appetizers to desserts – over the 19 years since the restaurant opened. The fillings and toppings change with the season. Right now, the crepes are served at brunch with poached pears and topped with citrus and berries.

For the poached pears:

1 pear

3 cups water

1 cup sugar

1 cinnamon stick

For the filling:

2 cups ricotta cheese

1/4 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the crepes:

1 cup whole milk

2 large eggs, whole

2 fluid ounces water

1 cup all-purpose flour

4 tablespoons butter, melted

Seasonal fruit and mint leaves, for topping

Vegetable oil for the pan

To poach the pears: Halve and core the pear. Cut into bite-size pieces. Combine pear with water, sugar and cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 1 hour. Set aside.

To make the filling: Combine ricotta, powdered sugar and vanilla extract. Refrigerate until ready to fill crepes.

To make the crepes: Combine eggs, milk and water; mix well. Add flour and mix until just combined. While stirring, pour in melted butter. Mix well until smooth.

Heat 1/2 teaspoon of vegetable oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes. Wipe out skillet with a paper towel, leaving a thin film of oil.

Pour a scant 1/4 cup crepe batter into the skillet and tilt the pan until batter evenly covers the bottom of the pan. Cook crepe without moving until top surface is dry and edges are starting to brown, loosening it from the side of the pan with a spatula. Gently slide spatula under edge of crepe. Grasp with fingertips and flip crepe. Cook until second side is lightly spotted golden brown.

Fill each crepe with sweetened ricotta cheese and poached pear. Roll up and place seam side down on a plate. Top with a dollop of sweetened ricotta cheese, mint leaves and fresh fruit.

Yield: 4 servings

Crepes

From Gina Garcia, pastry chef at Cake, the bakery at Chaps.

2 large eggs

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk

1 cup flour

Pinch kosher salt

2 tablespoons melted butter

Put the eggs, water and 1/2 cup of the milk in a stainless steel bowl. Whisk them together and then add the flour and salt. Stir in the butter.

Refrigerate the batter for at least 1/2 hour to overnight and then strain it.

To make the crepes: Heat a 6-inch nonstick or seasoned crepe pan over medium-high heat. Pour 2 tablespoons of the batter into the pan and quickly rotate the pan, spreading a thin layer of the batter over the entire bottom. Cook the crepe for a couple of minutes until golden brown. Invert the crepe with the edge of a knife or your fingers. 

Cook the other side for about 30 seconds. Invert the crepe from the pan.

Make the rest of the crepes in the same manner.  You can stack them as you make them if you put a piece of wax paper in between each crepe.

If your first few crepes are too thick, thin the batter out with the extra milk.

Yield: 16 crepes

Filling Variations

Breakfast Crepe:

Once you flip the crepe over in the pan, crack an egg onto it.  Add a slice of ham or a few pieces of bacon and then sprinkle it with a few ounces of grated white cheddar cheese. Cook until the cheese has melted and the egg is to your desired doneness. Fold and top with a few slices of tomato or avocado. Serve.

Hazelnut Banana Crepe: Spread Nutella onto the heated crepe.  Top with sliced bananas and fresh whipped cream. Fold and serve.

Asparagus and Ham Crepes

From “Crepes: Sweet and Savory Recipes for the Home Cook,” by Lou Seibert Pappas. “Fresh asparagus heralds springtime and makes for a delectable entree or first course incased in crepes. Omit the ham for a vegetarian dish or to serve as a vegetable accompaniment to grilled salmon, skewered jumbo shrimp or baked trout. These crepes may be assembled in advance and refrigerated for last-minute baking.”

8 (6- to 7-inch) savory or plain crepes (recipe above)

1 large sweet white or red onion, chopped

1 1/2 pounds asparagus spears, cut into 1-inch diagonal lengths

1 egg

3/4 cup (6 ounces) ricotta cheese or natural cream cheese at room temperature

1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded Gruyere or Emmenthal cheese 

3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

2 teaspoons minced fresh tarragon or dill, or 1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon or dill

2 ounces honey-baked ham or Black Forest ham, julienned

Prepare crepes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Steam the onion and asparagus in a covered container over boiling water until the asparagus is crisp-tender, about 5 to 7 minutes. In a medium bowl, beat the egg and mix in the cheeses, garlic, parsley, tarragon or dill, ham and steamed vegetables.

Spoon 1/2 cup of the filling in a ribbon down the center of each crepe and roll to enclose. Arrange in a greased 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Bake in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until heated through. Serve at once.

Yield: 8 crepes, 4 servings

Crepes with Dulce de Leche and Toasted Pecans

From “The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook.” Crepes will give off steam as they cook, but if at any point the skillet begins to smoke, remove it from the heat immediately and turn down the heat. Stacking the crepes on a wire rack allows excess steam to escape, hence they won’t stick together. To allow for practice, the recipe yields 10 crepes; only eight are needed for the filling. Dulce de leche, a thick, caramel-like sauce, can be found in the international aisle of most supermarkets.

1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil

1 cup (5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon table salt

1 1/2 cups whole milk

3 large eggs

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

8 teaspoons dulce de leche

1/3 cup finely chopped pecans, toasted

Place oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet and heat over low heat for at least 10 minutes.

While skillet is heating, whisk together flour, sugar and salt in medium bowl. In separate bowl whisk together milk and eggs. Add half of milk mixture to dry ingredients and whisk until smooth. Add butter and whisk until incorporated. Whisk in remaining milk mixture until smooth.

Using paper towel, wipe out skillet, leaving thin film of oil on bottom and sides. Increase heat to medium and let skillet heat for 1 minute. After 1 minute, test heat of skillet by placing 1 teaspoon of batter in the center and cooking it for 20 seconds. If cooked batter is golden brown, skillet is properly heated; if it is too light or too dark, adjust heat accordingly and retest.

Pour 1/4 cup batter into far side of pan and tilt and shake gently until batter evenly covers bottom of pan. Cook crepe without moving it until top surface is dry and crepe starts to brown at edges, loosening crepe from side of pan with rubber spatula, about 25 seconds. Gently slide spatula underneath edge of crepe, grasp edge with fingertips, and flip crepe. Cook until second side is lightly spotted, about 20 seconds. Transfer cooked crepe to wire rack, inverting so spotted side is facing up. Return pan to heat and heat for 10 seconds before repeating with remaining batter. As crepes are done, stack on wire rack.

Transfer stack of crepes to large microwave-safe plate and invert second plate over crepes. Microwave on high power until crepes are warm, 30 to 45 seconds (45 to 60 seconds if crepes have cooled completely). Remove top plate and wipe dry with paper towel. Drizzle upper half of top crepe with 1 teaspoon dulce de leche, followed by 2 teaspoons toasted pecans. Fold bottom half over top half, then fold into quarters. Transfer crepe to second plate. Continue with remaining crepes. Serve immediately.

Yield: 3 to 4 servings

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