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The crepe: flat-out versatility

Like a disconcerting percentage of French women, crepes are thin, they're elegant and they look haute no matter what they're wearing. Truth is, these skinny pancakes are easy to make, economical, and cover the gamut of sweet to savory, vegetarian to meaty, weeknight family meal to pull-out-the-stops-company's-coming. • In the Tampa Bay area, dozens of restaurants are adding them as menu options and a handful of creperies are setting up shop. This Mother's Day you could take Mom out for crepes, or you could whip up a batch at home. She'll appreciate the effort, and she never has to know how little sweat was involved. • In fact, crepes are easier than pancakes, because they can be made ahead of time and filled just before brunch. Roll half of them around a savory filling like ham, eggs and cheese, and save half for decadent, chocolate-drizzled dessert crepes. All you need is a green salad and brunch is in the bag. Just another reason Mom always did love you best.

Batter

It's a simple combination of flour, milk, eggs, water and sometimes butter and seasonings, assembled quickly in a mixing bowl, 2-quart measuring cup or even in the blender. The key is the consistency: Batter should be about the thickness of heavy cream, heavy enough to coat the bottom of a pan but not so thick that it yields fat, gummy pancakes. After assembly, batter needs to rest in the refrigerator for an hour before using so that the gluten in the flour relaxes. If the batter has separated, mix very gently with a spoon.

Equipment

Unlike fondue and some of France's other culinary imports, crepes require few specialized kitchen tools — only a heavy, preferably nonstick, skillet with a cooking surface diameter of 5 1/2 inches or more, a rubber spatula, a wooden spoon or whisk, and wire baking rack and you're fully equipped.

Pouring the batter

Pan temperature is crucial. For most cooks, the first few tries are "test crepes" (read: total wipeouts). The pan should get hot over medium-high heat. Brush pan with a little clarified butter, if desired, then pour approximately ¼ cup batter into the center of the hot pan. Begin to swirl, tilting the pan in a circular motion until the batter reaches the edges where the pan's side begins to curve. If you have holes in the crepe, go ahead and add more batter to the pan to cover them. Put the pan back on the burner and cook for 40 seconds, until the batter loses its shine and edges just begin to color.

Use a rubber spatula and your fingers to flip, or take the plunge and experiment with flipping with a flick of the wrist. No one has to know if a couple are sacrificed in the name of practice. It will only take about 20 seconds for the second side to cook.

Make ahead

Lay each finished crepe on a wire rack to cool. Once cooled, stack them (some cooks prefer to place between layers of waxed paper, but it's not necessary) and store them in sealable plastic bags. When using frozen crepes, thaw in the bag entirely before peeling individual crepes apart.

Laura Reiley can be reached at lreiley@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2293. Her blog, the Mouth of Tampa Bay, can be found at www.blogs.tampabay.com/dining.

Expert advice on crepes

• Because eggs differ in size and thus the moisture in the batter is different each time, allow yourself a testing period with the batter to get the right consistency. When you lift a ladle or wooden spoon out of the batter, it should take a little while for the batter to run off the back. And the reason some people put clarified butter in the batter is so you don't need to oil the pan. — Peter Leonavicius, owner of Toasted Pheasant, Tampa

• Experiment with different flours. The traditional flour for crepes in Brittany, France, is buckwheat, which is tough and dark and tangy. I use two parts white flour to one part buckwheat in my savory crepes. Be careful when using buckwheat flour, because it has natural yeasts that will make the batter begin to ferment more quickly.
— Glenn David Cryer, owner of Crepe d'Or, mobile crepes truck

• For dessert crepes, use white flour and don't add too much sugar. Some people use liquids like liqueurs or lemon or orange juice. Experiment with a few and pick your favorite.
— Olivier Cuevas, owner of L'Olivier, St. Petersburg

• A crepe behaves a little like pasta, absorbing the flavor of the filling. Choose a filling that's conducive — softly cooked fruit, chicken poached in white wine, or something like boeuf bourguignon cooked a long time so it breaks down a little. — Peter Leonavicius

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>>entree

Ratatouille Crepes
1 small eggplant

1 small zucchini

1 small yellow squash

1/2 red bell pepper

1/2 green bell pepper

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided use

1/2 red onion, chopped fine

2 cloves minced garlic

1 fat Ugly Ripe tomato, seeded and pureed (or 1/2 cup tomato puree)

3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley

3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme

Salt and pepper

8 crepes, 5 ½ inches across

1 small log plain goat cheese at room temperature

Prepared pesto thinned with water or olive oil

• Make ratatouille: Peel and cut eggplant into small dice, toss with salt and drain in colander. Dice zucchini, yellow squash and peppers. In large skillet cook eggplant in 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes until tender. Transfer to a bowl. In same skillet cook zucchini, yellow squash, onion and garlic with salt and pepper in 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat, until they begin to color, 5 minutes. Transfer to bowl. Cook bell peppers in remaining oil in same manner and transfer to bowl. Stir in tomato puree, herbs and salt and pepper to taste. (Can be made ahead to this point and reheated before assembly.)

• Place 4 tablespoons filling on bottom third of each crepe. Top with crumbles of goat cheese. Roll crepe, drizzling with pesto.

Makes 4 servings (2 crepes each).

Source: Adapted from Gourmet, 1997

>>sAUCE

All-Purpose Cheese Sauce
½ cup all-purpose flour

1 ¼ cups milk

4 tablespoons butter, optional

1 large egg and 2 egg yolks, whisked to blend in a bowl with ¼ teaspoon salt

Seasonings: Salt, freshly ground white pepper, droplets of Tabasco, a speck of ground nutmeg

2/3 cup grated Swiss cheese

• Measure the flour into a saucepan and whisk in the milk by dribbles; when well-blended and smooth, set over moderately high heat. Add the butter if you are using it, and bring to a simmer, stirring with a wooden spoon. As the sauce thickens, beat vigorously to smooth out lumps. Simmer, stirring for 2 minutes to cook the flour. The sauce will be very thick. Remove from heat and vigorously beat egg mixture into sauce; beat in salt and pepper and seasonings to taste. Let cool several minutes, whisking occasionally, then stir in cheese.

• If not to be used immediately, lay plastic wrap across top of sauce to prevent a skin from forming.

Makes 2 cups.

Source: The Way to Cook by Julia Child (Knopf, 1989; latest edition 1993)

>>entree

Chicken and Mushroom Roulades
1 ½ cups sliced onions

1/3 cup dry white French vermouth

1/3 cup chicken broth

1 cup button mushrooms, washed, dried and sliced

2 raw skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, diced

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 1/3 cups All-Purpose Cheese Sauce (see recipe below)

8 crepes, 5 ½ inches across

A little milk, as needed

3 tablespoons grated Swiss cheese

• Simmer the onions in a frying pan with the vermouth and broth for 8 to 10 minutes, until tender and translucent. Stir in the mushrooms, cover the pan, and let cook 2 minutes while they render their juices. Fold the diced raw chicken into the mushrooms and onions, season lightly with salt and pepper, cover the pan again and let simmer 1 minute.

• Uncover the pan and boil rapidly uncovered until all the liquid has almost evaporated, 1 to 2 minutes. Fold in just enough of the cheese sauce to enrobe the ingredients, ½ to 2/3 cup. Taste and correct seasoning.

• Place 2 to 3 tablespoons of the filling on the bottom third of each crepe (on the under, less attractive side). Roll into fat sausage shape and place seam side down in a buttered baking dish. Bring ½ cup of cream sauce to a simmer, adding droplets of milk to thin as necessary. Spoon sauce over each roulade and sprinkle cheese over each. (May be made ahead entirely to this point.)

• Bake in preheated 400-degree oven until bubbling hot and the cheese has browned lightly on top, about 25 minutes.

Makes 4 servings (2 roulades each).

Source: The Way to Cook by Julia Child (Knopf, 1989; latest edition 1993)

>>dessert

Dessert Crepes
½ cup flour

1 large egg and 1 egg yolk

¼ cup each milk and water

1 ½ tablespoons melted butter

1 tablespoon kirsch, orange liqueur, bourbon or rum

1 tablespoon sugar

A big pinch of salt

Follow directions for All-Purpose Crepes. This recipe produces a lighter and more delicate crepe, designed especially for dessert.

Makes 8 to 10 crepes 5 ½ inches across, or 4 to 5 crepes 8 inches across.

To serve: Dessert crepes can be reheated in a saute pan with a dab of butter, then filled with any of the following:

• Whipped cream and warmed Nutella with a sprinkling of toasted almonds.

• Fresh berries macerated in sugar and orange liqueur, topped with whipped cream.

• Strawberry jam filling with a sprinkling of granulated sugar.

• Sliced bananas caramelized with brown sugar and butter.

Source: The Way to Cook by Julia Child (Knopf, 1989; latest edition 1993)

>>basic building block

All-Purpose Crepes

This is the crepe that goes around, under or on top of almost anything, from entree to dessert.
1 cup all-purpose flour

2/3 cup each milk and cold water

3 large eggs

¼ teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons clear melted butter (skim off the milk solids)

• Measure the flour into the pitcher or a bowl, then whisk in by dribbles the milk and water to make a smooth blend. Whisk in the eggs, salt and 3 tablespoons of melted butter. If lumpy, pour the batter through a fine mesh sieve to remove lumps. Let rest 1 hour or more in the refrigerator.

• Heat the crepe pan until drops of water dance on it, then brush lightly with melted butter. Pour ¼ cup of crepe batter into the center of the hot pan and tilt it in all directions. The batter should cover the pan with a light coating; pour out any excess. After 30 seconds or so, the bottom of the crepe should be lightly browned; lift an edge with a spatula to see.

• Shake and jerk the pan by its handle to dislodge the crepe, then turn it over either with your fingers or a spatula, or flip it over by a toss of the pan. Cook it 15 to 20 seconds — this underside is the unseen side, and is never more than a spotty brown.

• Transfer finished crepes to a wire rack and, when thoroughly cool, you may stack them with no fear of them sticking. Slip them into a plastic bag; store in the refrigerator up to 2 days or freeze for several weeks.

Makes 20 crepes 5 ½ inches across, or 8 to 10 crepes 8 inches across.

Source: The Way to Cook by Julia Child (Knopf, 1989; latest edition 1993)

The crepe: flat-out versatility 05/06/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 14, 2008 2:12pm]

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