Saturday, February 1, 2014

Crêpes Ménagère -- Country Style Pancakes

This month's country:  France!  It occurred to me that I have never made crêpes despite having enjoyed them once in Carcassonne, France, a lovely medieval city near the Mediterranean:
So I dusted off my French cookbook, Gourmet's Basic French Cookbook by Louis Diat, published in 1968, and read in detail about them. 
See page 428
Mssr. Diat points out that "Carnaval -- the period between January 6, Epiphany, and Ash Wednesday -- is the season in France for eating crêpes and beignets."  Since this year's Ash Wednesday falls in March, I realized this is the perfect time for me to give it a go.

He also mentions that 

     Making crêpes over the open fire was part of the fun at the party honoring the  
     unmarried girls -- a party always held on the second Thursday preceding Ash
     Wednesday.  Each girl had to make a cr
êpe and toss it successfully to brown the other
     side -- not an easy thing to do without practice.  But according to the superstition,
     unless a girl could pass the test, she would never get a husband.  After all, what man
     would be so foolish as to marry a girl who couldn't make perfect cr

Oh dear, how could my upbringing have been so deficient?  Now I truly have to make this happen.

Crêpes Ménagère  -- Country Style Pancakes

Sift together 1 cup flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.  Beat in gradually with a wire whip 3 beaten eggs.  Add 1 1/4 cups milk and a little vanilla, rum, or brandy.  Mix the batter until it is smooth, strain it through a fine sieve, and let it stand for 2 hours.  Brown the crêpes on both sides, arrange them on a hot serving dish, and sprinkle them with powdered sugar, or serve them with maple syrup or honey or spread them with jelly or marmalade and roll them.

The salt is incognito
Mssr. Diat gives us his words of wisdom and experience, too. 

"Whatever the recipe you use, I caution you not to beat the batter too eagerly; overbeating results in toughness."

"... be sure to use a skillet with a bottom heavy enough to hold the heat well and distribute it evenly. ... Use a pan just the size of the cr
êpe you wish to make."

"Butter the hot pan lightly; brush melted butter on the pan with a pastry brush, or if you like, run the end of a stick of butter over the pan."

"The amount of better determines the thickness of the crêpe; ... Generally, 1 1/2 tablespoons of batter will be enough for a 5-inch crêpe."

"When the butter is very hot, pour in the batter all at once and quickly lift the pan from the heat and tilt it with a circular motion so that the batter coats the pan evenly and forms a perfect round crêpe. ... the batter should spread before it begins to set."

"The crêpe browns quickly; the top side will begin to look dry in less than 2 minutes.  Lift the edge of the crêpe with a spatula to make sure that the bottom is browned, and quickly flip it over.  Never turn the crêpe more than once." 

My Notes

I thought I had mixed the batter until smooth -- it looked smooth and felt smooth.  But when I poured it through the sieve, it was astonishing how many little lumps were there.  I was grateful for the straining advice.

My daughter and I worked on cooking the crêpes as a team and that was wonderful.  We used a cast iron fry pan whose bottom was about 6 inches across.

At first we were experimenting to find the right amounts of butter and batter, so the first few crêpes were less than interesting.  Here's what we learned:

This was too much butter because the batter didn't stick to the pan well during the swirling part.  We were rubbing the pan with a stick of butter and next time we will use a pastry brush dipped into melted butter.  We didn't have to butter the pan each time.

It was helpful to have a little plastic scoop that allowed us to pour the batter in all at once after we got skilled at the right amount.

This is us swirling the batter.  We lifted the pan off the heat, poured in the batter, and started swirling immediately, trying to cover the entire bottom:

This is just the right amount of batter, about 3 to 4 tablespoons.  The crêpe is nearly ready to flip.  It looks dry all over when it is ready:

And here is a flipped crêpe:

 Most of what was made.  Except for the ones we taste-tested!

The Verdict

Success!  This was A LOT simpler to make than either one of us thought it would be.  We didn't need any special equipment and the recipe was simple to make and with easy-to-obtain ingredients.  They cooked quickly and were easy to handle.  They didn't even stick to each other in the cloth!

On top of it all, they were very tasty -- a little eggy, a little sweet, and particularly good with either a sprinkling of cinnamon sugar or about a teaspoon of Nutella.  We are discussing making a savory filling of cooked beef and onions with a little cheesy white sauce to moisten it.  

We are proud to say we both managed to flip a crêpe in the pan and catch it!  We learned that to do this, the crêpe had to be well-cooked so it didn't stick when we tried to flip it.  So now we think that is a great technique to test if it is truly cooked enough.

P.S.  I was curious about the history of crêpes (this type is 20th century) and found a little note on this website:

     On February 2 crêpes are offered in France on the  holiday known as Fête de la
     Chandeleur, Fête de la Lumière, or “jour des crêpes”.  Not only do the French eat a lot
     of crêpes on this day, but they also do a bit of fortune telling while making them.  It is
     traditional to hold a coin in your writing hand and a crêpe pan in the other, and flip the
     crêpe into the air.  If you manage to catch the crêpe in the pan, your family will be
     prosperous for the rest of the year.

So I wish you a happy Fête de la Chandeleur and many caught crêpes!

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