Crepes Success: Dreams of a French Sojourn

Crepes can be salty or sweet. But they're always delicious and easy to make. i i

Crepes can be salty or sweet. But they're always delicious and easy to make. Alejandra Garcia for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Alejandra Garcia for NPR
Crepes can be salty or sweet. But they're always delicious and easy to make.

Crepes can be salty or sweet. But they're always delicious and easy to make.

Alejandra Garcia for NPR

About the Author

Born in Lima, Peru, and raised in both Kentucky and North Carolina, Alejandra Garcia has mastered the arts of ceviche, sweet tea and saying "ya'll." She currently lives in Marbella, Spain, and works as an editor for the Spanish lifestyle magazine Absolute Marbella.

All home cooks have good days and bad days. Trying to make duck l'orange — bad day. Trying to make lamb filets with candied onions, fennel and Canadian whiskey — really bad day.

However, when I want to feel like the cuisinier that I could one day become, I go straight to crepes. The recipe for those thin pancakes makes a foolproof entree or dessert.

And while I may not have magical hands, I do have imagination. That, as it turns out, is one of the major ingredients for making both a salty or sweet crepe. Since the batter is so simple — made out of flour, eggs, milk, water and butter — the only thing left to truly worry about is what to fill it with.

I blame my borderline obsession with crepes on a five-day trip to Paris I took as a penniless, second-year college student. As if being in a city rich with architectural wonders and centuries-old art history wasn't enough, the streets were dotted with gourmet sandwich shops and bakeries that tempted me away from my tourist route.

On my first day in Paris, I also noticed a humble crepe stand by the subway stop next to my hotel. With a sweet whisper, the aroma of caramelized fruits and melting chocolate lured me to wait in line, more than happy to spend my precious earnings on dessert.

Every day, I indulged in a different crepe: crepes suzette, filled with Grand Marnier, butter and sugar; a salty crepe with farmer's goat cheese and apricot preserves; the simplicity of a crepe with Nutella hazelnut spread dotted with bananas and a fine sprinkle of cinnamon. From the moment I spent my first Euro on these delicacies, I was tres hooked and ready to incorporate them into my slowly growing recipe book.

I mean, a rolled-up dessert that I could carry with me anywhere and could be filled with anything? Something that I could dress up or down for a Sunday brunch or fancy dinner for two? This was the kind of idea that I wish I had invented.

So last year when I made a big move from a small town in North Carolina to the international luxury mecca of Marbella, Spain, I had to find a way to start reeling in new friends. This, of course, involved lots of food.

I topped off a dinner with my boyfriend's mother with buckwheat crepes filled with candied apples. At a friendly dinner party on a more casual occasion, dessert was more of a spectacle. My guests gathered in the kitchen and watched me flip the pancakes in the air with a flick of the wrist (a skill I had finally acquired after many crepes refused to turn or landed on the floor or hit the ceiling). Then, we covered the table with toppings galore: melted dark chocolate, raspberry jam, pistachios, dulce de leche.

The more I practiced, the better I understood the art of making the ideal crepe. I learned that using buckwheat flour (which is actually not a cereal grain, but rather, a fruit seed) is a great alternative to wheat or all-purpose flour, and is particularly tasty for breakfast crepe recipe. It's also high in fiber and Vitamin B, an extra plus. The light flavor is irreplaceable, although the texture is slightly rougher.

I also found that leaving the batter to cool for a few hours in the fridge before making the crepes allows the bubbles to subside. This, in turn, makes it less likely for crepes to tear during cooking and is what gives the crepe that airy, paper-thin look.

After a few months, I became addicted to crepes — so much so that I decided to honor the official French crepe holiday called Candlemas, or La Chandeleur on February 2. Originally known as Virgin Mary's Blessing Day, it was believed that if you could catch a crepe with a frying pan after tossing it in the air with your left hand and holding a piece of gold in your right, you would become rich that year.

With a golden ring on my right hand and an awkward hold of the pan with my left (I'm right-handed), I successfully flipped the crisp pancake, blowing a sigh of relief. However, I'm still faithfully playing the Spanish Lotto and I've yet to see a penny. I think the ring was fake.

Sweet Crepes with Bananas, Strawberries and Hazelnut Spread

Sweet Crepes with Bananas, Strawberries and Hazelnut Spread i i
Alejandra Garcia for NPR
Sweet Crepes with Bananas, Strawberries and Hazelnut Spread
Alejandra Garcia for NPR

This recipe has all the makings of my perfect dessert: fruit and hazelnut spread. If you prefer other fruits or wheat or buckwheat flour, feel free to substitute.

Makes 6 to 8 large crepes

For Crepes:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup whole or 2 percent milk (skim is fine, but will make the batter thinner and less flavorful)

3 large eggs

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons sugar

Butter, for coating pan

For Filling:

1 to 3 cups sliced strawberries

1 to 3 cups sliced bananas

Hazelnut or chocolate spread

Slice strawberries and bananas and separate in two bowls. Set aside.

In a blender or food processor, combine all the crepe ingredients and pulse for 10 seconds. Place the crepe batter in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to an hour, allowing the bubbles to subside so the crepes will be less likely to tear during cooking.

Heat a 10- or 12-inch nonstick pan. Add butter to coat. Pour 1/4 cup of batter into the center of the pan and swirl to spread evenly; no batter should be left pooling. Cook for 30 seconds, or until small bubbles begin to appear on the surface. Firmly shake the pan to loosen the crepe. Use a spatula to flip the crepe. Cook for another 10 seconds and remove to a plate or cutting board. Repeat with the remaining batter and stack the crepes to allow them to cool slightly.

To fill, spread a generous layer of hazelnut or chocolate spread on the crepe. Add the strawberries and bananas in the center of the crepe. Roll one of the sides until a cylinder is formed, or fold in half twice to form a small triangle. Add a scoop of vanilla ice cream if desired.

Salty Crepes with Chicken, Mushrooms and Red Peppers in Pesto

Salty Crepes with Chicken, Mushrooms and Red Peppers in Pesto i i
Alejandra Garcia for NPR
Salty Crepes with Chicken, Mushrooms and Red Peppers in Pesto
Alejandra Garcia for NPR

This recipe is great for a light lunch or dinner. I normally serve it with a side spinach or tomato salad to complete the meal. Since crepes are so versatile, you can remove or add any ingredients, as well as prepare the ingredients according to taste.

Makes 6 to 8 large crepes

For Crepes:

1 cup flour

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup milk

3 large eggs

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 tablespoon of salt

Butter, for coating pan

For Filling:

3 to 4 boneless chicken breasts, sliced into strips or diced in cubes

1 large red pepper, diced

1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced

One jar homemade or store-bought pesto

Olive oil, for coating pan

Fresh Parmesan

In a blender or food processor, combine all the crepe ingredients and pulse for 10 seconds. Place the crepe batter in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to an hour, allowing the bubbles to subside so the crepes will be less likely to tear during cooking.

Heat a 10- or 12-inch nonstick pan. Add butter to coat. Pour 1/4 cup of batter into the center of the pan and swirl to spread evenly; no batter should be left pooling. Cook for 30 seconds, or until small bubbles begin to appear on the surface. Firmly shake the pan to loosen the crepe. Use a spatula to flip the crepe. Cook for another 10 seconds and remove to a plate or cutting board. Repeat with the remaining batter and stack the crepes to allow them to cool slightly.

Once the crepes are finished, in a hot, slightly oiled pan, cook the chicken breasts until browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Cut into thin strips for filling. In another small pan, slowly cook the peppers and the mushrooms until soft, adding salt and pepper to taste. Add the chicken strips to the vegetables and cook together for a minute or two. Remove from the heat. In the microwave, heat the pesto.

To fill, alternate layers of hot chicken, peppers and mushrooms. Roll or fold, and with a spoon, pour hot pesto along the top. Garnish with fresh Parmesan cheese.

Sweet Crepes with Raspberries and Blackberries

Sweet Crepes with Raspberries and Blackberries i i
Alejandra Garcia for NPR
Sweet Crepes with Raspberries and Blackberries
Alejandra Garcia for NPR

This simple recipe is a great way to really taste the fresh fruits of your garden or local market. Although my recommendations for fruit serving sizes are on the low side, there is no limit to how "fat" you can make your crepe.

Makes 6 to 8 large crepes

For Crepes:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup milk

3 large eggs

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons sugar

Butter, for coating the pan

For Filling:

1 to 3 cups raspberries

1 to 3 cups blackberries

In a blender or food processor, combine all of crepe ingredients and pulse for 10 seconds. Place the crepe batter in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to an hour, allowing the bubbles to subside so the crepes will be less likely to tear during cooking.

Heat a 10- or 12-inch nonstick pan. Add butter to coat. Pour 1/4 cup of batter into the center of the pan and swirl to spread evenly; no batter should be left pooling. Cook for 30 seconds, or until small bubbles begin to appear on the surface. Firmly shake the pan to loosen the crepe. Use a spatula to flip the crepe. Cook for another 10 seconds and remove to a plate or cutting board. Repeat with the remaining batter and stack the crepes to allow them to cool slightly.

To fill, add the raspberries and blackberries in the center of the crepe. Roll one of the sides until a cylinder is formed, or fold in half twice to form a small triangle. Add a scoop of vanilla ice cream, if desired.

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