I learned to make real French crepes long before I went to chefs’ school. Some years after Julia Child’s first book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, (published in 1961) had taken the country by storm, I bought my own copy, and took it into the kitchen, prepared to teach myself French cooking. I thought I would start with something simple: crepes. What could be easier than a pancake?
But a crepe is not a pancake. A pancake, (aka griddlecake, flapjack, hotcake) is a thick, fluffy disk that starts with a dense batter, either mixed from a box or from scratch with eggs, flour, milk and some form of liquid fat. Pancakes are easy to fry and flip and almost impossible to wreck. Not so a crepe.
A crepe is a paper-thin French creation made from a batter with the consistency of cream, best mixed in a large-capacity blender. The batter is poured into a crepe pan, which is tilted to spread the batter and cover the bottom. The tender disk takes (in a properly heated, oiled pan) less than a minute to brown on one side, at which point it is flipped (ha, ha!) on the other side (Julia calls this the “non-public” side), transferred to a plate, and the whole process begins again like a well-choreographed ballet (triple ha!). It took me about 100 crepes (many of which finished life as misshapen clumps) to finally master the art of making crepes. But master it I did and I could probably make them in my sleep. And that was back in the day when I was using a heavy cast iron crepe pan that had to be well-seasoned and repeatedly brushed with oil, and when nonstick cooking spray was not a standard household pantry item.
The skill paid off a hundredfold. Crepes are not only good for dessert—plain, buttered and sugared, or rolled and filled with fruit, jelly, ice cream, pudding, and let’s not forget the famous Crêpes Suzette—but they are also good as entrees for brunch, lunch or dinner. Depending on the filling (numerous) they can be elegant, delicate or hearty and satisfying. Some of the entrée fillings, which are folded into a compatible sauce, include spinach, spinach and cheese, spinach and ham, asparagus, chicken, shellfish, you name it. I have often made breakfast crepes filled with bacon and scrambled eggs. Crepes also make great sandwich wraps and, spread with savory fillings, rolled and sliced they make terrific canapés.
Julia’s crepes, of course, are made with wheat flour and were not made in our home until recently. I developed a sudden appetite for French crepes, and armed with a lightweight nonstick crepe pan and a can of nonstick cooking spray, I created a gluten-free real French crepe.
One of the best things about crepes is that you can make a dozen, use a couple, then wrap and freeze the rest for future use. So this week, I made strawberry and banana dessert crepes using fresh fruit and fruit spread (rather than preserves or jam which is too thick). In weeks to come look for entrée crepes with chicken, spinach and an Italian version.
- 1 cup milk or nondairy alternative such as rice milk
- 1 cup cold water
- 4 eggs
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup plus 2 level tablespoons of 1,2,3, Gluten-Free Flour , or GF flour of choice with xanthan in the mix
- 4 tablespoons melted butter or solid nondairy alternative such as Earth Balance
- Place milk, water, eggs and salt in the jar of a large-capacity blender. Cover and blend to mix well.
- Add flour and melted butter. Blend, covered, at high speed, until batter is smooth and lump-free.
- Transfer batter to a pitcher. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Stir well before using.
- Spray a nonstick crepe pan with a 7-inch diameter measured across the bottom, with nonstick cooking spray. Heat on medium until a drop of water sizzles and evaporates.
- Pour ¼ cup (filled to the rim) of batter into pan. Tilt pan to cover bottom with batter.
- Cook until edges begin to brown and crepe is well browned on one side, less than a minute.
- Using a nonstick spatula, carefully insert under edge of crepe, and move spatula to center of crepe. Flip crepe on opposite side. Cook until crepe is cooked through, about 10 seconds, then flip, (using pan) browned side down, on a plate that has been lightly sprayed with nonstick spray. Cover crepe with parchment paper. Repeat until all batter is used, being sure to spray the pan with nonstick spray before making each crepe.
- Fill and roll crepes or wrap in parchment paper, plastic wrap and place in a self-sealing plastic bag. Label and freeze. Before using, defrost completely at room temperature.
Strawberry Dessert Crepes
Yield: 8 crepes
1 quart strawberries
8 Real French Crepes, Gluten Free
Strawberry fruit spread (not jam or preserves), as needed
Powdered sugar, as needed
Hull strawberries, reserve 8 whole, slice remaining berries 1/8-inch thick. Reserve.
Place 1 crepe, browned side down, on a plate, spread with 1 tablespoon of fruit spread or as needed. Spread 1/8 of the sliced strawberries horizontally on the bottom third of the crepe. Roll crepe and place, seam side down, on plate. Sprinkle liberally with powdered sugar and garnish with 1 whole strawberry, halved. Repeat with remaining crepes.
Variations: Substitute finely diced ripe nectarines for strawberries and garnish with nectarine slices.
Banana Dessert Crepes
Yield: 8 crepes
4 ripe bananas
8 Real French Crepes, Gluten Free
Apricot fruit spread (not jam or preserves) as needed
Slice bananas 1/8-inch thick, transfer to a bowl and reserve.
Place 1 crepe, browned side down, on a plate, spread with 1 tablespoon of fruit spread or as needed.
Place 1/8 of the reserved bananas on the bottom third of the crepe. Roll up and place on plate seam side down.
Drizzle generously with chocolate syrup. Repeat with remaining crepes.
Variations: Top rolled crepe with whipped cream or nondairy whipped topping before drizzling with chocolate syrup.
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