While Fridays are Homemade Pizza Day at our house, Sunday is JP Makes Crêpes Day, especially on those Sundays when the refrigerator is bare, except for some milk, eggs, maybe some cheese and a package of bresaola. It means a casual, fun, “you get to eat dessert for dinner” dinner. And when JP makes crêpes, these are not those light-as-air, thin-as-paper sissy crêpes that just call out to be flambéed, but thicker, more rustic home-style crêpes just like his Maman always made.
Crêpes are traditionally eaten on 2 particular days in France : on Mardi Gras and on “la Chandeleur” (February 2, 40 days after Christmas). Mardi Gras, of course, leads into the 40 days of Lent. Now, why eat crêpes? Because traditionally Catholics were forbidden to eat eggs during Lent, and the French took advantage of this last day before Lent, Mardi Gras, to eat eggs in the form of Crêpes.
La Chandeleur, or Candlemas, is February 2 and the religious celebrations are in honor of the infant Jesus in the Temple 40 days after his birth. Again, why crêpes? Originally this day was a Roman celebration in honor of Pan. Later, the Christians “Christianized” this day rather than banning it completely. There are processions of “chandelles”, or candles, through the church and through the town and strangely enough, I find, the townfolk then go home and eat crêpes. But with a little research I discover that this custom began around 492 when the Pope Gélase would hand out crêpes to the pilgrims coming to Rome to celebrate as a reward for their coming, and a tradition was born. This religious fête was timed with the return to the fields after winter by the rather superstitious country folk, so candles were lit and crêpes were eaten as a way to protect the wheat harvested throughout the coming year.
Crêpes are also a specialty of Brittany, the region in France that we call our own, so there is a Crêperie on practically every block where we can eat savory sarrasin, or buckwheat crêpes filled with local scallops or smoked haddock or goat cheese, or sweet crêpes brushed with local salted butter and sprinkled with sugar, a squeeze of lemon juice or cooked apples.
But we eat crêpes simply because we love them. I pull out the jars of jelly, the maple syrup and the sugar shaker while he pulls out ingredients; milk, eggs, flour, baking powder, salt, vanilla and sugar. I grab my pen and start asking questions; “How much? How many? How long? But that, as we have seen, is not his style. He cooks by “feel” and would be hard put to give me precise measurements. I followed as best I could, tagging his every movement and scribbling furiously in my notebook. He explains that he has never measured ingredients when making this recipe, in fact, there is no recipe, just what he remembers his mom doing. Not quite a liter of milk, almost a kilo sack of flour, adjusting as he goes. Well, I did my best, but you get the idea. You can find exact measurements somewhere in your own cookbooks or on-line, JP shows us his method.
JP’S CREPES for Sunday Night Dinner
2 ½ cups (1/2 liter) milk + 1 cup (@ 250 ml) milk
2 to 4 Tbs (30 to 60 g) unsalted butter, depending on how buttery you like your crêpes
@ 5 cups / 1 lb or a little more (600 g) flour and more as needed
Large pinch salt
2 rounded tsps (11 g / 1 sachet) baking powder
1 Tbs vanilla
¼ cup (50 g) sugar
4 egg yolks (from large eggs)
In a medium-sized saucepan, heat 2 ½ cups (1/2 liter) milk with the butter until the butter is melted and the milk is heated through but not boiling. Remove from the heat and add the rest of the milk, which will cool it down. Add the vanilla to the milk and butter.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, a large pinch of salt, the baking powder and the sugar. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients.
Put the 4 egg yolks into the well in the flour. Pour a ladleful of the milk/butter/vanilla into the well with the yolks. With a whisk or a wooden spoon, combine just enough of the flour into the liquid and stir vigorously to make a thick, smooth paste. Gradually add the liquid into the center well, a ladle or two at a time, blending and stirring vigorously each time until the liquid is turned into a thick smooth paste. Eventually pull in all of the flour mixture and continue stirring until, again, it is thick and smooth. At this point you can gently blend in the rest of the liquid. This is the best way to and up with a smooth batter with no lumps!
Add a bit more flour if you find the batter too thin or add water if you find it too thick. Experience only can tell!
Cover the bowl with a clean dishtowel and let the batter sit for 30 minutes. The batter will thicken, but, again, add a little water if you want a thinner batter.
Now, heat up your crêpes pan or a skillet until hot over medium-high heat. Rub a corner of a paper towel in butter or margarine and quickly rub it all over the surface of the skillet to butter it lightly if non-stick, a bit more than lightly if it is a regular skillet.
Now quickly lift up your pan and pour a ladle of batter onto one side and very quickly swirl the pan to spread the batter until it covers the surface in a thin layer, adding a bit more batter if needed to fill holes. You must do this quickly so it doesn’t start to cook on one side before you have it spread around.
Return the pan to the heat and allow to cook until the batter firms up and bubbles start to form.
Carefully lift up an edge of the crêpe with a spatula to make sure that it is lightly browned, then carefully lift and flip it over. Cook a few more minutes until the bottom is lightly browned as well, then slide onto a plate.
If you like, when you flip the crêpe, you can also smear and melt butter on the crêpe followed by sugar until it is all melty, or a squeeze of lemon juice.
Now each person spreads his or her crêpe with whatever they please, savory or sweet. We normally have grated cheese on hand, though more often than not we offer a selection of jellies and jams, maple syrup and sugar.
Simple and sweet!