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The celebrated crepe

These "flat cakes" are showing up on menus in dozens of varieties, and delighted diners are snapping them up in record numbers.

He checks the heat of the round, gas-fired griddle by holding his palm over it.

"If the pan is too cold, you can ruin the first couple of crepes, but that rarely happens to me anymore," says Christian Le Padellec, chef-owner of Le Petit Cafe in Dania, where 35 different crepes are on the menu.

When the temperature feels "just right," he takes a cloth dipped in oil and rubs the black top with just enough oil to lubricate it, not make it glisten. Then he takes a yellow measuring cup of batter and pours it onto the hot surface.

Reaching for his rosel, a T-shaped wooden tool with a wooden blade, he uses a sweeping motion of his arm and a turn of the wrist to spread the batter _ almost like plaster _ into an even layer covering the 20-inch cook top.

As the edge of the crepe dries and curls away from the hot griddle, or galettiere, he flips the crepe over with a triangular spatula, letting it cook just long enough for the other side to crisp and brown.

This is just one of thousands of crepes Le Padellec has made during his career. And he'll probably be making lots more, given how popular crepes have become.

"We find our younger customers are ordering them more and more," he says.

Many new restaurants are specializing in crepes, and older restaurants that have always featured them are gaining new popularity. Even the trendy South Beach spot the Wave Hotel and Restaurant featured "Crepes at the Wave, Cocktails on the Terrace."

Maybe that's because people think crepes are healthy and light, says Laurent Tasic, chef-owner of Sage French Cafe in Fort Lauderdale. He has 13 crepes on his menu and has seen sales grow in the past year or two.

Proving that people are into savory crepes, the most popular ones at both Sage and Le Petit Cafe are the seafood crepes.

Lori Saliba, owner of Cafe La Bonne Crepe Restaurant in Fort Lauderdale, says she, too, sells more savory than sweet crepes.

"I think crepes are popular because they aren't your average, run-of-the-mill food," she says of the 55 varieties she has on her menu.

In France, where they were originally called galettes crepes, meaning "flat cakes," crepes have long been a part of gastronomic history, according to Lou Seibert Pappas in Crepes (Chronicle Books, 1998).

That's particularly true in Brittany, a region in northwestern France, where crepes originated and Le Padellec and his wife, Marilyse, were born.

"A half-century ago, crepes made with buckwheat flour were the main dish of peasants," Le Padellec explains.

He remembers that every Wednesday his mother would make crepes on a round griddle set on a three-legged stand over an open fire.

"She used to let me help mix the batter, but I seldom got to help cook the crepes because it was difficult and I wasn't very good at it," he says.

The traditional way to eat crepes in Brittany is to break an egg onto the buckwheat crepe, break the yolk and spread the egg over it while the crepe is still on the griddle. Then brush it with butter and add some cheese and a slice of ham before folding it.

Although Tasic of Sage French Cafe grew up in southeastern France, he too has memories of his mother making crepes. However, her crepe day was Sunday, and she filled them with green tomato marmalade or, Tasic's favorite, strawberry compote.

At his restaurant, Tasic serves about 10 dozen crepes a day, so he makes his batter twice: once in the morning and again at 4 p.m so it will be fresh.

Because he makes his crepes in pans (he has six dedicated to this task), they tend to be softer, smaller and thicker than the thin, crisp ones cooked on a griddle. But regardless of the style, people are enjoying them more and more.

Even the Le Padellecs' recently adopted Chinese daughter, Mei, loves them.

"All she eats is crepes and rice," Marilyse says.

Savory Crepes

{ cup flour

{ cup milk

\ cup lukewarm water

2 large eggs

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus butter for greasing the pan

{ teaspoon salt

Combine flour, milk, water, eggs, 2 tablespoons melted butter and salt in a blender or food processor fitted with metal blade. Pour batter into a pitcher or other container with a pouring lip. If there is time, cover with plastic wrap and let stand 30 minutes, or refrigerate up to 2 days.

Place a non-stick or seasoned 7- or 8-inch crepe pan or a 12-inch crepe pan over medium heat. Coat with unsalted butter. Stir the batter and pour about 2 tablespoons of it into the 7-inch pan or \ cup into the 12-inch pan, lifting the pan off the heat and tilting and rotating it so that the batter forms an even, very thin layer. Cook until the top is set and the underside is golden. Turn the crepe over, using a spatula or your fingers, and cook until the second side is lightly browned.

Remove the crepe to a piece of wax paper. Continue cooking the rest of the crepes, buttering the pan and stirring the batter before starting each one. Stack the finished crepes between sheets of wax paper. Use immediately or let cool, wrap airtight and freeze for up to 1 month.

Makes about 14 6-inch crepes or 6 to 7 10-inch crepes.

Note: One side of each crepe will be golden and the other spotted. When filling the crepes, be sure the golden side is on the outside once the crepes are folded.

Nutrition information per 6-inch crepe: 46 calories, 2 gm protein, 4 gm carbohydrates, 0.14gm fiber, 3 gm fat, 36 mg cholesterol, 97 mg sodium, 53 percent calories from fat.

Per 10-inch crepe: 92 calories, 3 gm protein, 8 gm carbohydrates, 0.29 gm fiber, 5 gm fat, 72 mg cholesterol, 193 mg sodium, 53 percent calories from fat.

Source: Adapted from The All New All Purpose Joy of Cooking (Scribner, 1997) by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker.

Spinach and Cheese-Filled Crepes

2 10-ounce bags fresh spinach, washed

1\ cups ricotta cheese (10 ounces)

1 egg, beaten

{ cup crumbled feta cheese

{ teaspoon fresh-grated nutmeg

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

6 to 7 (6- or 7-inch) Savory Crepes (see recipe)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a covered Dutch oven over medium heat, cook the spinach until slightly limp and bright green. Place in strainer and press out excess liquid, then chop finely. In a medium bowl, combine ricotta, egg, feta, nutmeg, spinach, salt and pepper. Spoon cup filling down center of each crepe and fold sides of crepe over filling. Arrange seam side up in a greased 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Brush tops with oil and sprinkle with Parmesan. Bake 10 to 15 minutes or until heated through. Serve at once. Makes 4 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 427 calories, 23 gm protein, 22 gm carbohydrates, 2 gm fiber, 29 gm fat, 228 mg cholesterol, 791 mg sodium, 59 percent calories from fat.

Source: Adapted from Crepes (Chronicle, 1998) by Lou Seibert Pappas.

Sage's Crepe Angelique

Tomato aioli:

1 tablespoon mayonnaise

{ teaspoon lemon juice

\ teaspoon ketchup

Shrimp filling:

3 tablespoons olive oil

{ cup julienned roasted and peeled red peppers

{ cup chopped tomatoes with seeds and interior pulp removed and discarded

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

1 tablespoon chopped basil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

20 peeled, deveined and cooked shrimp (30 to 60 count)

1 (10-inch) Savory Crepe (see recipe)

To make aioli: Whisk together all ingredients until well-combined. Set aside.

To make filling: In a non-reactive skillet over high heat, heat 1 tablespoon oil until very hot, almost smoking. Add peppers, tomatoes, garlic and basil. Saute just until juices have evaporated. Season with salt and pepper. Add shrimp to tomato mixture and heat through.

To assemble: Place crepe, evenly browned side down, on a work surface. Top with tomato mixture and fold sides of crepe in over filling. Lay, seam side up, on serving plate and drizzle with aioli. Makes 1 filled crepe.

Note: Be sure crepe is made before filling is finished. You can make only enough filling for one crepe or multiply the recipe to fill several. The more vegetables you add to the pan, the longer it will take the filling to cook down to a thick sauce.

We used Contessa cooked shrimp, tail on, 41 to 60 count. We thawed the shrimp as instructed on the package and removed the tails before adding to the filling recipe.

How to roast and peel a pepper: Cut the pepper in half. Remove seeds and place cut side down on a baking sheet. Place as close as possible to the element of a preheated broiler. Let broil about 10 minutes or until skin is blistered and charred. Remove from broiler and place pepper halves in a paper bag. Seal and let cool 20 minutes. Use a sharp paring knife to peel away skin. Holding the pepper under running cold water can also help remove the loosened skin.

Nutrition information per crepe: 823 calories, 52 gm protein, 20 gm carbohydrates, 0.97 gm fiber, 60 gm fat, 524 mg cholesterol, 975 mg sodium, 65 percent calories from fat.

Source: Adapted from recipe from Sage French Cafe, Fort Lauderdale.

Pierre's Seafood Crepes

With Roasted Tomato Coulis

2 tablespoons butter

2 shallots, minced

10 medium uncooked shrimp, peeled, deveined and diced

{ cup diced uncooked lobster tail meat

2 tablespoons flour

} cup milk

\ cup half-and-half

1 6-ounce can fancy lump crab meat, drained

} teaspoon curry powder

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

4 10-inch Savory Crepes (see recipe)

About 1 cup Roasted Tomato Coulis (see recipe)

In a saucepan over medium-high heat, melt butter. Add shallots, shrimp and lobster; saute 3 minutes or until seafood is opaque. Reduce heat to low. Add flour and stir to coat. Cook 3 minutes. Stirring, add milk and half-and-half; stir until liquid is smooth. Stir in crab meat and curry powder. Simmer 5 minutes and season with salt and pepper.

Place crepes, evenly browned sides down, on a work surface. Top each with a quarter of seafood mixture and fold sides of crepes in over filling. Lay, seam side up, on plate and drizzle with Roasted Tomato Coulis. Makes 4 filled crepes.

Note: Creator and chef David Leonardi suggests putting the filling in the center of a crepe, pulling the edges of the crepe up around it, pleating the top of the crepe as you go to form a "purse" or "sack" and then tying it shut with the green part of a scallion.

Nutrition information per crepe: 314 calories, 21 gm protein, 18 gm carbohydrates, 2 gm fiber, 18 gm fat, 162 mg cholesterol, 526 mg sodium, 50 percent calories from fat.

Source: Adapted from recipe by David Leonardi of Pierre's, Islamorada.

Roasted Tomato Coulis

1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced

2 plum tomatoes, cut in half

{ red onion, cut into thin wedges

2 cloves garlic

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

5 fresh basil leaves

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place peppers, tomatoes, onions and garlic in roasting pan. Drizzle with oil and toss to coat. Spread into a single layer and roast 10 to 15 minutes or until vegetables are soft. Place in blender with basil. Blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Makes 1 cups.

Nutrition information per tablespoon: 10 calories, 0.20 gm protein, 0.92 gm carbohydrates, 0.29 gm fiber, 0.71 gm fat, no cholesterol, 0.86 mg sodium, 59 percent calories from fat.

Source: Adapted from recipe by David Leonardi of Pierre's, Islamorada.

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