May 01, 2017

Let’s Talk About Crepes

By MaryAnn Miano

A fancy way to say “pancakes,” crepes are the French word for a delicate, thin pancake that can be served as a tempting breakfast, an interesting appetizer, a tasty entrée, a vegetable-filled side dish, or sweetened as a luscious dessert. The word comes from the Latin crispus, meaning curly or wavy. These impressive pancakes fool everyone into believing they are difficult to make or require special equipment (a French crepe pan is nice but not necessary; any small frying pan can be used), or are only for special occasions, a la flaming Crepes Suzette. Actually, they are easy to make. By preparing them in advance, crepes can reduce meal preparation time. They freeze beautifully and defrost in minutes.

You can let your imagination explore all the ways this versatile and delicate little pancake can be used to enhance and display even the most ordinary foods. The crepe is made by cooking a thin batter sparingly in a very thin layer in a frying or special crepe pan. Crepe batter is prepared in advance and allowed to stand so that the flour swells and any air beaten in during preparation has time to dissipate. After standing, a little extra liquid may be added to the batter to ensure that the crepes are fine and even. Milk or water is used to mix, and the batter must always have a pouring consistency. It is fried in oil or butter.

Traditionally, crepes are served filled with a fairly thick mixture, based on béchamel or veloute sauce. More often, crepes are prepared as sweet dishes. They may be served plain and dusted with sugar or filled with jam, cream (sometimes with fruits), honey, or melted chocolate. They may be served warm, flamed, or layered on top of one another to form a cake.

The average crepe has only 20 calories, and if you choose low calorie fillings, you’ve got a diet-friendly meal. Try one in place of rice, noodles, crackers, biscuits, or bread. Stretch leftovers as filling in crepes to feed your family.  As an entrée, crepes make an exotic meal out of leftovers or can be the basis of an elegant party dish for hors d’oeuvres.

Cooking with crepes isn’t new. Every nationality has its own variation. Russians make blinis with caviar. Jewish blintzes with fruit and sour cream are popular. Mexicans have tortillas with frijoles, Scandinavians make fyllda pannkakor, Hungarians love walnut palacsinta, the Italian version is the manicotti crepe, and egg rolls belong to the Orient. These are just a few examples of the versatility of this delicate pancake.

Crepes are convenient, accommodating, chic, and versatile.  There are about 24 different batters to use and over 200 different fillings.  Crepes can be made lighter or heavier by the egg amount used in the batter or by using water or milk for the liquid.  May 6 is National Crepe Suzette Day, so it is fitting to give a brief history about Crepe Suzette and supply a recipe.

In the 19th century, the chef at the Monte Carlo, Henri Charpentier, accidentally discovered a new way to prepare a crepe.  He planned a crepe dessert for a dinner ordered by the Prince of Wales (who later became Edward VII), whose guests included a young girl named Suzette. The chef had prepared a special orange and liqueur flavored sauce in advance. When he heated the sauce, it accidentally flamed. Worried, Charpentier tasted the sauce after the flames died and found it needed no salvaging, but in fact was improved, so he served it. Asked for the name, he dubbed his triumph “Crepes Princess,” but the prince renamed the dish in honor of Suzette, and so it has been called ever since. The Crepes Suzette is a delectable mixture of flavors and textures: tart and sweet, orange flavored and with robust brandy, and it gives a fiery presentation:

 

CREPES SUZETTE

2 eggs

¼ cup sugar

1 teaspoon grated lemon rind

¾ cup flour

2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or orange liqueur

1 cup half milk and half cream

2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled

 

Beat eggs with sugar and grated rind, mix in flour, then add Grand Marnier or orange liqueur, milk and cream, and melted and cooled butter. Let stand 2 hours.

Butter a 5-inch crepe pan and when the butter bubbles up, pour in about a tablespoon and a half of batter. Tilt the pan so that batter swirls over the whole surface. Cook less than a minute on the first side. Then turn and cook for a few seconds on the other side, but make sure you see a little brown on the edges before turning.

You will need 12 crepes, made from above, and a chafing dish or electric fry pan.

 

1/3 cup butter

1/3 cup sugar

Grated rind of 1 orange

Juice of two oranges

4 ounces of Cointreau

2 ounces Grand Marnier

3 ounces Cognac

 

Cream butter and sugar together, adding the orange rind.  Squeeze the orange juice from the orange; place in separate container. Measure various liqueurs and place in their own container.

Melt the creamed butter and sugar mixture in your chafing dish or electric fry pan. Let it bubble up for a minute or two.  When it begins to brown, add the orange juice, little by little, and the Cointreau. Cook and stir until the sauce thickens.  (Have a little orange juice in reserve in case it thickens too fast.) Then take the first crepe, put it into the sauce, turn it over (using a spoon and fork or two spoons, but be careful not to break it), fold it in half, then in half again. Push it to one side and repeat with the remaining crepes. Sprinkle the Grand Marnier over all.

Pour the brandy (Cognac) into a large, long-handled spoon, letting some spill down over the crepes. Ignite the brandy in the spoon with a match, letting it spill over onto the crepes. Swish them around so they will all get the effects of the burning brandy and try to serve the crepes (three to a person) while the flame is still burning.