project: Marah

project management for the things that really matter

Break all the Rules (or how to make a perfect crepe in less than perfect conditions)

with 2 comments

Over the Holiday, I visited a crepe shop.  I envy the creperie, with its just the right temperature pans, the batter smooth as silk, and a perfect confection every time.  It’s a high craft to cook a crepe, as well as an art. I have tried crepes before, and they are a delicate confection, requiring a high attention to detail, and a certain “je ne sais quoi”, or secret sauce.

With this in mind I, for New Year’s day Brunch, decided to turn the kitchen into a crepe shop.

Armed with The Joy of Cooking  (75th anniversary of the gastronomic bible) , a desire to rise to the next level of finer cooking, and guests arriving for brunch in an hour (nothing like a deadline to inspire new and difficult tasks) I was ready.

The recipe calls for

  • 1 cup of flour
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons of sugar
  • and half a stick of butter

so far so good, except that the half a stick of butter is all I have for toast, plus using that much butter makes me wince.

To make things even more interesting, I’m not in my own kitchen, and I’m missing a key tool crucial to the success of my crepe making project.  I’m missing a crepe pan. Looking at my artillery of options, I have a large double burner griddle, a 12 inch cast iron pan, an array of pots, and a well seasoned wok.

I don’t have the exact required ingredients or the tools. I almost have it, but not quite.  The risk of successfully completing this project has just grown and the clock is ticking. Guests arrive in 45 minutes.

Really, I shouldn’t be trying this at all, I am missing an ingredient (butter) and I am lacking the elusive crepe pan.  None the less, I am determined.  I make it all up in will-power.

Next step  was to create the best batter possible.  My prior experiences were constantly marked by crepes that were a little too thin. They’d tear when flipped.   I’d hide the unsightly errors by rolling the finished product and covering it with strawberries and whipped cream.  This time,  I really wanted crepes that didn’t tear when i flipped them.  But at least I had a way to mitigate the risk of an outright culinary disaster.

More research was required. Behold, as this was the Joy of Cooking after all, next to the crepe recipes was a discussion on blintzes.  Almost identical in core ingredients, crepes had more water and butter than a blintz base.  So… i decided to make the blintz base – with a third the butter content and less water than called for. In Whisking it all together by hand, (as in addition to not having a crepe pan, or enough butter, i was also short an electric mixer) I realized it was way too thick for crepe consistency.  so I added water by the teaspoon until it felt right.

Sometimes recipes are merely inspirational guideposts for culinary adventure.

Let sit for 30 minutes while then I chopped strawberries and whisked heavy cream.  I ended up outsourcing the whisking to my co-host. Bacon was going, mimosas were being prepared…  strawberries, whipped cream… guests were arriving.  All we needed were the crepes. And bacon. Thankfully, we had not forgotten that at the corner store.

It’s 10:45, and brunch is officially starting in 15 minutes.  It’s now or never with the crepes.  The batter has set, the fillings are prepared.  The Wok is ready. Because, why not?

The recipe is very specific in the crepe pouring procedure – it calls for heating the crepe pan (my wok), then removing it from heat, and pouring 3 tablespoons worth of batter in the center, swishing it around, and letting it quickly cook. using a small measuring cup I discover 3 tablespoons is just under a eighth of a cup, and I have gained a considerable time savings in the art of the pour.

I’m so engrossed in the crepe making procedures, I’ve neglected my guests.

Good thing I have a willing and able co-host, mimosas, and bacon.

Here’s the moment of truth – the flip. Here’s this incredibly delicate item, and if it’s too wet, it won’t come off the pan, and if it’s too cooked, it won’t roll, and will be a crepe – cracker.  I reduce the heat and I watch for the tell tale signs, slight bubbles  around the edges. I treat it like a finicky pancake, and armed with a ramshackle spatula and a fork, I gently remove the crepe from the pan, and  flip.  right up onto the side of the Wok.

That’s something you can’t do  with a too-small crepe pan.  I start to pour the next one. By the time I’ve completed that part of the process, the one on the high side of the wok is ready – and whoosh, onto the plate. I look back at the pour, and it’s ready.  flipping it onto the now empty high side, and go back to pour more.

Pour, Whoosh, Flip, Pour, Whoosh, Flip – It’s working so well, I can hardly believe it.

Now I really have a crepe process – take that Joy of Cooking, Epicurious and Julia Child, Martha Stuart — I’m breaking all the rules, using less than recommended ingredients pouring a roughly measured batter into the bottom of a wok,  and they are the best crepes I have ever made.

And Brunch agrees, because, just as soon as I have taken a picture, Click,  Flash, Whoosh, the crowd descends and they are heartily appreciated.

I could have said no, I don’t think crepes will work.  It was far from perfect project conditions, and the risk seemed to jump up at every turn. In the end the crepes were perfect, and a repeatable process – all because I was willing to take a chance on doing it differently.


Written by marahrosenberg

8 January 2009 at 5:24 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with ,

2 Responses

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  1. What would you have done if the first crepe had been a disaster with all the hordes descending on the kitchen?


    12 January 2009 at 12:47 am

  2. Good question! – If there were no other dishes, that is I was having people over for crepes, and the first few were colossal failures, I would have made pancakes instead. Similar ingredients and results.

    However, at the end of the day, I will never make crepes any other way ever again. It’s a wok, or no crepes!

    And, I was able to take the risk and try to make crepes since they were not a critical requirement to the success of brunch overall. We had company, a new year, and bacon. What else could we possibly need?


    12 January 2009 at 11:11 pm

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