I completely forgot about crêpes. Like, for years.
Then, my friend, the fab artist Lisa, served crêpes to our family for a weekend brunch in Portland. We were travel weary, craving the comforts of home and nourishment. The coffee was hot and bottomless. There was bacon and sausage. But the crêpes stole our hearts.
Especially the girls’. So enthralled they unanimously declared that crêpes would now alternate with pancakes in a new Sunday breakfast rotation.
This was big! Molly had printed up an honest-to-goodness breakfast schedule in the fall of 2015. And Benjamin, the resident a.m. cook, has dutifully followed it ever since. (As for me, I’m content with coffee until about 10 a.m.)
Now, sweet crêpes. But he took the bait, and after years spent mastering the phenomenally light whole wheat pancakes from the Tassajara Bread Book, Benjamin amenably dug into crêpe research for the coming weekend.
What are crêpes?
At the breakfast table on Sunday Cece said, “Crêpes are the ancestors of pancakes,” parroting her father’s interpretation from his reading in the Joy of Cooking. “What does that mean?”
“Like their grandparents,” I said.
“Oh,” and then she tucked into her first crêpe hot from the pan. “Where do they come from?”
“France,” said Molly as she sprinkled her crêpe with confectioner’s sugar and squeezed a wedge of lemon over it.
“Yup,” I said, remembering street crêpes on the boulevard Montparnasse in Paris and others in Saint-Malo, Brittany.
I had their attention. And it seemed just then that we flew across the country and the Atlantic into foreign lands as I told them about my trips to Europe. We were tabletop travelers just then, going new places with new sights, sounds, smells and flavors. New languages, too.
They both asked for seconds and thirds. “When can we go to France?”asked Molly.
“Hmmm,” I hedged, thinking that I am not quite ready for them to discover Nutella crêpes. “Maybe when you’re 12.”
Crêpes are even quicker to whip up than pancakes–believe it or not–so long as you have a 7 or 8-inch nonstick pan or other well-seasoned pan with sloped sides. Benjamin has been using our black steel omelet pan with great success.
You can make the batter by hand or in a blender and let it sit for at least one hour. Or even better, make the batter the night before. It can sit in your fridge for up to 5 days for whenever the crêpe craving hits. And it will.
If you are a serious fan, or become one, I recommend my friend Martha Holmberg’s definitive guide Crêpes: 50 Savory and Sweet Recipes.
Toppings for sweet crêpes
I think sweet crêpes are best when the toppings are restrained–a shmear of fruit preserves or sliced fresh fruit, the aforementioned confectioner’s sugar and lemon juice, or a drizzle of melted chocolate.
When it comes to sweet crêpes, the simpler the toppings the better.
Frankly, I prefer sweet over savory crêpes, but their limitless variability is the second best reason to wrap crêpes into your regular cooking repertoire.The first reason is that once you start making them, oh, the places you’ll go!
After a few taste tests, we determined that the Joy of Cooking recipe was a bit on the eggy side. This version, adapted from renowned chef Michel Roux's cookbook Eggs, has become our family standard. Make the batter at least 1 hour in advance for best results, or for convenience sake, the night before. Serve with berries, chocolate sauce, jam or my family's favorite, lemon wedges and confectioner's sugar.
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon sugar omit if making savory crêpes
- pinch of salt
- 2 large eggs
- 1 1/4 cups milk
- 1/3 cup water
- 1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
- unsalted butter or canola oil for cooking
Combine the flour, sugar and salt in a medium mixing bowl. Add the eggs and whisk, mixing well. Add the milk and water and whisk to make a very smooth batter. Alternatively, combine all of the ingredients except for the vanilla and butter in a blender and blend until very smooth. Let rest at room temperature for 1 hour or in the refrigerator overnight.
When you are ready to cook the crêpes, whisk the batter and add the vanilla.
Heat an 8-inch pan (non-stick or well-seasoned with sloping sides) over medium-low heat. Melt a teaspoon of butter or coat the pan very lightly with oil.
When the butter is bubbling, add just enough batter to thinly coat the bottom of the pan. Advanced technique: For the thinnest crêpes, tilt the pan in a circular motion to spread the batter evenly.
Cook for about 2 minutes until the batter bubbles, then use a rubber spatula to flip the crêpe and cook for about 1 minute more. Transfer the crêpes to a plate and continue with the remaining batter.