My husband hails from the French region of Brittany where crêpes are thought to have originated. And so it goes without saying that, in this part of the world, it is completely acceptable to have pancakes at breakfast every morning, or even as a goûter, the French equivalent of afternoon tea.
I unashamedly take advantage of this opportunity whenever we are in Brittany (and as do my nieces), although it is a rare occasion that the crêpe pan is actually put to use in the kitchen. The bakeries and pâtisseries in Brittany typically sell freshly-made crêpes, often in packets of 6 or 12, so it is not uncommon to grab a bag or two with the daily baguette. In fact, the bakery-produced crêpes are so delicious that we often bring back quite a few packets for our neighbours whenever we return from Brittany, with an instruction to eat them as quickly as possible because, unlike the supermarket variety, they only taste their best for a few days.
At home, when pancakes are in demand, I tend to make my son’s favourite pikelets. These were the pancakes that I grew up eating in Australia, and it warms my heart to see that my son adores them as much as I do.
But once in a while, I like to make crêpes for something a bit more substantial. My Swedish sister-in-law claims that it is completely normal to eat sweet crêpes in Sweden as a proper meal – a statement which I haven’t investigated but I trust her on this one. On such occasions, I will make a large batch of crêpes and keep them warm in a low oven. Dinner is then all-you-can-eat-crêpes with an assortment of toppings, such as strawberry jam, homemade salted caramel sauce, cinnamon sugar or – my favourite – granulated sugar with a squeeze of lemon juice.
Traditionally, the recipe below is used for sweet or dessert crêpes; savoury crêpes follow the same recipe but have buckwheat flour in place of the plain flour, and use water instead of milk. However, I rather like using this particular recipe also for savoury crêpes – there is very little sugar in the recipe so they are quite bland on their own (it is the toppings which add the sweetness), and they work really well with creamy sauces like this one from my recipe for Zurich-style Veal with Mushroom & Cream Sauce.
Today happens to be Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day, and we are celebrating in the French-Vietnamese fashion by eating Vietnamese sizzling crêpes for main, followed by sweet French crêpes for dessert.
My husband likes to have jam with his crêpes and, unusually, my son prefers his pancakes to be plain. How do you enjoy your crêpes or pancakes?
- 200 g (7 oz) plain flour
- ½ teaspoon caster sugar
- pinch of salt
- 600 ml (20 fl oz) full cream milk
- 2 eggs
- butter, for frying
- Measure the flour, sugar and salt into a bowl.
- Pour the milk into a large measuring jug and gently whisk in the eggs.
- Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and gently whisk until everything is incorporated and there are no lumps. Be careful not to over-whisk the mixture.
- Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave the batter to rest for at least 1 hour, or overnight in the fridge.
- Heat a non-stick frying pan over medium heat with about ½ teaspoon butter. Swirl the pan so that the butter melts and coats the surface of the pan.
- Pour about 60 ml (1/4 cup) of batter into the pan and quickly swirl the pan so that the batter covers the whole surface of the pan.
- Cook the crêpe for a few minutes until it is lightly golden and the edges look firm, before flipping it over to cook the other side for a further few minutes.
- Remove the cooked crêpe to a plate in a warm oven and continue with the remaining batter. Remember to melt about ½ teaspoon of butter each time before adding the batter to the pan - it is the butter which helps the crêpes to cook and brown.
- Serve the crêpes warm with a generous sprinkle of granulated sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice, or with whatever topping you prefer.
It is important to let the batter rest so that the gluten in the flour has time to swell, leading to softer and less chewy crêpes. If you have left the batter to rest overnight, you might need to thin the batter a little with a dash of milk.
You can make crêpes or pancakes in any non-stick pan, but a special crêpe pan has very low sides which makes sliding the crêpe out of the pan easier. I have an old and trusty crêpe pan from T-Fal similar to this one. I also own a wide pancake spatula which makes flipping crêpes and pancakes a breeze.
As with any pancake recipe, the first pancake usually doesn’t always turn out or look right, often because the pan hasn’t come to the right temperature and/or because there is too much butter in the pan. In my husband’s family, they actually fight over the first pancake because they claim it to be the tastiest from all of the butter it has absorbed! If there is too much butter in the pan, this might actually prevent the pancake from browning nicely. Depending on the dimensions of your pan, you will have to play around with quantities of butter and batter to find the right balance for the perfect pancakes.
Any leftover crêpes can be kept in the fridge, covered in clingfilm, and gently reheated in a non-stick pan before serving. My sister-in-law freezes her crêpes and thaws them in the microwave for a quick snack or meal for her kids.
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