It is time again for a bi-coastal blog post. Friends Susan and Towny, who rent their home in Provence and write the blog entitled “The Modern Trobadors,” have suggested a theme for this week - sweet and savory crêpes. I am all for it and am happy to be bringing you a rolled savory crêpe filled with chicken, mushrooms and cheese sauce based on a Julia Child recipe. They will be posting on dessert crêpes.
We are both using the same basic recipe for the batter, with slight tweaks depending on whether your crêpes will hold sweet or savory fillings. But the thing that makes this bi-coastal posting extra special is that they had the opportunity to be given a lesson in crêpe-making from their friend and French teacher Madame Janine Kolb, who hails from Saint-Gaultier, France. They videotaped the lesson (en français with subtitles) and have posted it on their site. Click here to see how easy it is to make the batter and flip the crêpes!
Crêpes have always been one of my favorite foods. Rich, yet somehow light, they have a real sense of Old World elegance about them. My mother used to make them when I was young, probably after watching The French Chef with Julia Child.
My first real memory of eating them as an adult was when I was at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, in the late 1970s, before there was really a "food scene" to speak of. Just around the corner from school was an oddly-shaped restaurant called Café la Crêpe which was frequented by many of us musicians.
I mention its odd shape because I always had the feeling that it was like being inside Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. It stood on a corner where the two intersecting streets did not create 90-degree angles. Its front door was at the thin wedge of the corner, giving the interior an octagonal feel when you walked in. There was a large, sunken center area with café tables and bentwood chairs. The center area was surrounded by a "stage" level - one step up with a railing - that had booths around the perimeter which looked down into the central arena.
The floors and walls were dark wood and the drapes were, as I recall, emerald green velvet. The curtains play into my favorite - and the most romantic part - of the story. They weren't found on the windows looking out to Main Street. Instead, each booth along the wall could be made into an intimate, personal dining room for you and your companion simply by closing a pair of curtains. Each booth had a buzzer inside for you to call your server; once the food arrived they only approached your booth/table when beckoned, lest they disturb your romantic evening.
I loved the crêpes I ate there for the romance they added to my life, but it wasn't until I ate them in Paris and Grenoble - either in crêperies or from street vendors - that I really began to appreciate them. There is nothing like wandering the streets of the Marais while enjoying a crêpe jambon fromage, or getting out of Grenoble's bitter winter winds, into a warm and dimly lit crêperie, for one filled with crème de marrons (chestnut purée) and topped with crème Chantilly!
The nice thing about crêpes is that are really pretty simple to make and, once you have made a batch, any that you do not use may be stored (with nothing between them) in stacks in the refrigerator or the freezer. As easy as they are, though, I have not yet been brave enough to flip them à la Madame Kolb. Maybe I will try that tomorrow.
Adapted from Janine Kolb’s “French Recipes for Young Gourmets”
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups whole milk
Oil or butter for coating the pan
Put the flour in a large bowl. Make a well in the flour and drop eggs in the center.
Add the oil and salt to the eggs. Beat the eggs, oil, and salt with a whisk or a fork. Continue whisking while adding the milk, a little at a time, into the flour.
Add extract, if preparing dessert crêpes, or herbs if using when preparing savory crêpes. (See Notes on Crêpes below.) Whisk until mixed together.
Let batter stand in refrigerator for at least one hour. The batter should be fairly liquid, like a thick cream; if it thickens too much, add a little milk.
In a small (non-stick, ideally) frying pan - or crêpe pan if you are fortunate enough to have one - put in about a 1/4 tsp oil (or butter) and coat the pan. Heat the pan on medium-high to high (depending on your stove) and, when hot, pour in just enough batter (about 3-4 tablespoons for a 7-inch crêpe) to very lightly cover the surface of the pan. Tilt and turn the pan quickly to swirl the batter around and cover the surface. Lower heat to medium or medium-high.
Let crêpe cook on first side for about 30 seconds, until it is no longer liquid and is lightly browned around the perimeter. Loosen the edges with a table knife or narrow spatula. Then flip the crêpe - by tossing it in the air and holding the pan beneath to catch it - and cook the other side for about 20 seconds. (You can use the spatula to flip it, too.)
Place the crêpe on a plate and keep in a warm oven until ready to prepare or, in the case of a dessert crêpe, put it on a plate, line it with your favorite filling, roll it up, and eat it right away! Crêpes can be stacked and stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for three days or kept frozen for one month.
Makes 16 7-inch crêpes or 12 10-inch crêpes.
If making dessert crêpes you should add extract (vanilla, lemon, almond) or liquor (rum, cognac, Calvados, Cointreau) to the batter. For savory crêpes, the addition of minced herbs (parsley, basil, chives) to the batter is a pleasant variation. One other way to vary the batter is to substitute the 2/3 cups all-purpose flour with a slightly smaller amount of buckwheat flour, whole wheat flour, chickpea flour or other type of flour.
Fillings for dessert crêpes include sugar, butter and sugar, jam or jelly, melted chocolate, Nutella, crème de marrons, berries, sautéed apples or pears and ice cream and sauce. Savory fillings typically require more preparation and run the gamut from simple (scrambled eggs) to complicated (spinach, seafood, chicken and mushrooms). Savory crêpes maybe be filled, rolled and then simply sautéed in butter prior to serving. Or, they can be coated with a velouté, Béchamel or Mornay sauce, topped with some extra cheese and then baked till golden brown.
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 cups milk, plus extra
pinch freshly ground nutmeg
pinch freshly ground nutmeg
1 large egg plus two egg yolks, whisked to blend with a pinch salt
5 ounces grated Gruyère cheese, divided
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons butter
5 shallots, thinly sliced
1/2 cup dry French vermouth, such as Noilly Pratt
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 1/2 ounces thinly sliced fresh crimini mushrooms, about 1 cup
8 ounces skinless, boneless chicken breast, diced
8 7-inch crépes
Start by making the cheese sauce. Melt butter over medium heat in a saucepan and, when bubbling, whisk in flour and a pinch of nutmeg. Slowly add 1 1/2 cups milk, continuing to whisk all the while until it is smooth and thick with no lumps. Remove from heat.
Vigorously beat in the eggs until fully incorporated, then season well with salt and pepper. Allow sauce to cool a few minutes, then add 4 ounces grated cheese. Set aside while you prepare the chicken and mushroom filling.
Melt butter over medium heat in a saucepan. And add shallots and cook 5 minutes to soften. Add vermouth and broth, increase heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, or until shallots are very tender and clear. Stir in the mushrooms, cover and let cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the diced chicken and season with salt and pepper; cover once again and let simmer 1 minute. Uncover the pan and bring to a boil, cooking uncovered until almost all the liquid has evaporated - about 3 minutes. Fold in 2/3 cup cheese sauce - just enough to coat the chicken and mushrooms. Taste for seasoning.
Preheat oven to 400ºF. Generously butter an 8-inch by 12-inch baking dish, or 4 individual gratin dishes. Place 3 tablespoons filling on the lower third of a crêpe (placed brown side down) and roll. Place seam side down in a baking dish and continue with remaining crêpes. Bring remaining cheese sauce to a simmer, adding 1/4 cup of milk to thin until it is like thick cream. Spoon sauce over the crêpes and sprinkle with remaining grated Gruyère cheese. Bake for 20-25 minutes until bubbling and golden brown on top.