Creative Cooking: Crepes

“Sorry we tried to kill you and your students. Do you want a job with us?”

Several weeks ago I had a terrible experience at a banquet I helped to host for the music students of our high school. Several conversations and in-person meetings with the chef and the functions manager of the facility to ensure that the students from our high school would have no worries regarding their food allergies didn’t yield the expected results . Despite having put together a completely allergy friendly menu ahead of time, on the day of the banquet, the chef cooked the food with all the ingredients he was supposed to leave out which caused no end of stress as we learned that fact literally minutes before several students put the food into their mouths! Fortunately, we did get to the students before their forks touched their lips, and new meals were made, but as you can imagine, I was not at all pleased.

Laughably, all my mother’s etiquette training must have worked, because at the end of the event, the onsite coordinator actually took the time to thank me for being the most polite angry person he’d ever had the pleasure of working with to deal with an issue. More incredibly, he also told me that he and the chef had taken a liberty in having a piece of the gluten, dairy, soy, nut free chocolate mousse cake I had brought for the students with allergies and that it was the best cake either of them had ever eaten. Most unbelievable, though, was the next day when the manager, who had called to see what she could do to keep our school’s business after the unfortunate event, asked me if I wanted to work for them, making cakes for their weddings!

As a writing facilitator, I always tell the folks who attend my writing groups that truth is stranger than fiction and that they only have to look at life for creative writing ideas. My experience above bears out the truth of what I’ve been telling them!

The fact is that while there’s more recognition around gluten and nut sensitivities, there’s still a long way to go for the world to think proactively about accommodating people with food allergies in general. Our allergy friendly menu fell off the radar for the chef and the manager because they simply don’t think about it regularly. Fortunately, now the manager has revamped all of their forms so that allergies are actually the first item on the form — and in bright red now! So, hopefully no other folks will have to deal with the issues we went through on that day.

As for the job offer, the chef was surprised that my cake was actually good! The site coordinator went on and on about how the chef couldn’t believe how much the texture and the taste was like a “real” cake. As he spoke, I kept thinking that my cake WAS a REAL cake. It wasn’t “fake”. It wasn’t made of air. All the ingredients were ingredients you can buy at the store, made from real, natural foods like tofu and garbanzo beans and oats and flaxseed.

I was thinking about all this the other day as I made crepes….

Like the cake I made, crepes are misunderstood to be something they are not. Most folks I’ve spoken to seem to believe crepes are complicated to make. Crepes are actually wonderfully easy to make and are very versatile. They are basically just flour, eggs, and milk — all of which people can be allergic to. This, however, isn’t a problem, because it’s so easy to substitute ingredients for crepes. And it’s worth doing, because you can make crepes for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert in just a matter of minutes. And if you have guests, they’ll be highly impressed because they’ll think you did a lot of work when you didn’t!

What you need to know about crepes:

  1. Ratios: Google crepes recipes, and you’ll discover that the only consistency lies in the three basic ingredients: eggs, milk, and flour. The ratio of the three to one another varies from recipe to recipe. For every one cup of flour, some will call for 1 cup of milk; others 2 cups. For that same cup of flour, some recipes will call for two eggs; another four. What you need to know is this: crepes are supposed to be thin, so your liquid ingredients combined – the milk and eggs – should be more than the flour, unlike in pancakes where the dry to liquid ingredients are usually one to one. How much milk versus eggs you add is really all about your preferences. More eggs makes slightly thicker, custardy crepes. More milk creates lacier, more delicate crepes. If you are making crepes for the first time, I’d suggest using one cup of flour, one cup of milk and two eggs as a basic recipe and then experiment from there to see which texture you prefer.
  2. The Flour: You are not limited to white flour for crepes. You can use wheat; you can use gluten free; you can even use nut flours. What’s important to know is that because you want your crepes to be light, if you are going to use a heavier flour like garbanzo bean or whole wheat or sorghum, you should opt to use less than you might with typical white flour – more like 1/2 cup. If you want to use the same one cup amount, opt for a lighter flours like rice or tapioca or arrowroot.
  3. The Milk: Once again, your options are unlimited. You can use other types of milk for crepes besides cow milk. Almond milk, coconut milk, rice milk, quinoa milk, etc… they all work! And unlike the flour substitutions, these can all be substituted one to one for the regular milk.
  4. The Eggs: If you are watching your cholesterol, you can opt to use only egg whites. Just remember that you need two whites to replace one whole egg, or if you’re using liquid egg whites, that about 1/4 cup is equivalent to a large egg. If you are allergic to eggs, you can also simply leave the eggs out. You can simply increase the milk amount to replace the liquid you’re losing from the eggs — again about 1/4 cup of milk for each egg you omit. You can also mix one tablespoon of ground golden flaxseed with three tablespoons of water to replace one egg.
  5. The Fat: Crepes usually have one other important ingredient: a fat. Usually one tablespoon of butter or olive oil or melted coconut oil or almond butter or whatever you decide is enough, but it’s good to choose a fat because it helps the crepes to stick less to your pan, as well as adds some flavor.
  6. The Flavor: Crepes are usually made so that you can fill them with savory or sweet fillings so you don’t really need to add anything other than a pinch of salt, but as always, tailor the crepes to your taste. If you want something sweet, add a bit of honey or agave to the batter. If you want something savory, add some herbs. Want something distinctive? Substitute orange juice for part of the milk. Experiment and see what you like.
  7. The Batter: Okay, I promised you that making crepes was easy, and it is. Whatever you’ve decided to use for your crepes, you simply mix all the ingredients together. You can whisk them, blend them, shake them, food process them, and in a matter of minutes you have a nice batter. What’s key is that you want your batter to be very smooth. The smoother, the better. If you are making crepes with flour, you should let the batter rest because this relaxes the gluten in the batter. If you’re making gluten free crepes, then you have no such worries.
  8. The Cooking: People think making crepes is difficult and takes time, but I make enough crepes for a family of five in less than ten minutes. Crepes cook very quickly. You simply grease your pan, pour a scant amount to just cover the bottom, let the crepes begin to solidify (usually only about a minute), flip, let the crepes finish cooking on the other side (usually about thirty seconds), transfer to a plate, and you’re done with a stack in just mere minutes. You simply need to follow a couple of easy steps:
    1. Don’t use a large pan. A pan sized for an omelet is the perfect size. It allows you to easily flip the crepes without worrying about tearing them.
    2. Cook over medium heat. Too low and the crepes won’t cook quickly enough. Too high and the crepes will burn.
    3. Don’t use a large scoop. You only want enough batter to just cover the bottom of your pan. Usually a quarter cup works just fine.
    4. Invest in a wide spatula. A spatula which allows you to get completely under the crepe to flip it quickly is best.
    5. Make sure your crepes won’t stick to your pan. Use your favorite spray or oil in between each crepe if you don’t have a nonstick pan. You don’t need a lot – a quarter tsp will work – but you do need something to make sure the crepes don’t stick because otherwise they’ll tear or burn.
  9. The Filling: Crepes are great because you can fill them however you want. You can keep them simple and spread jam on the crepes and roll or fold them over. You can put fresh fruit on top. You can make a creamy vegetable filling (I like to make a white sauce with spinach and mushrooms which I roll the crepes around). You can fill the crepes with ice cream or a vanilla custard. You can spread cheeses like ricotta or marscarpone and fold the crepes. You can fill them with pureed pumpkin or squash. You can use a lemon curd. You can roll chicken salad inside crepes. The list is endless. Experiment and see what you like!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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