It’s All in the Wrist
About 2 weeks ago on February 2nd, crêpe pans were sizzling the world over in celebration of La Chandeleur – crêpe day in France! How can you not love a country that has a holiday when everyone makes crêpes?! It’s been a tradition in my home since I met my French husband, and no matter where we have found ourselves on this day, we had our crêpe pan in hand, ready to flip. Nowadays, most people only make the association with crêpes, yet La Chandeleur is a Catholic holiday (Candlemas), 40 days after Christmas that commemorates the purification of the Virgin Mary and the presentation of baby Jesus.
Crêpes bring with them romantic images of Paris – grabbing a warm crêpe on the street, filled with butter and sugar (or Nutella and banana, a popular choice of Americans) and walking along the Seine. Watching the men behind the crêpe stands pour the batter on to the hot, large round grill, spread it around with the mini wooden tool, effortlessly turning their wrist in a circle, so smooth and fast. Then they slide the long metal spatula underneath and in one fell swoop, flip it over with even more agility. Voilà, a perfect crêpe every time.
Granted, making crêpes at home might not be as romantic. (That said, it was just Valentine’s Day yesterday!) But it can certainly be more fun. Try to flip it as high in the air as you can – while catching it in the pan of course. A few things to keep in mind to assure a successful flip: Make sure the pan is extremely hot before you pour the batter. Then, cautiously rub the surface with oil, using a paper towel or cloth; this will stop it from sticking. We use oil because at such high temperatures, butter would burn and turn black. Run a spatula around the edge to loosen it a bit from the pan. Give it a little shake, and go. And remember, it’s all in the wrist! If you really get the hang of it, you may want to try a French tradition to determine your fortune for the year ahead – while holding the pan in one hand, hold a gold coin in the other (most especially the French Louis d’or – a gold coin with a portrait of King Louis XIII on one side). If you catch the crêpe in the pan, your family will be prosperous for the rest of the year. I recommend practicing first!
The most fun of all is when you have a pile of crêpes before you, and it’s time to eat! Mix and match your fillings as you please. Sugar, sugar and butter, sugar and lemon, Nutella, slices of banana, honey, maple syrup, confiture de lait (dulce de leche), any fruit jam, even a scoop of ice cream. My husband and I are quite predictable. For me, it’s always the classic: sugar and butter – salted butter of course. I fold it twice and pick it up with my hands. For him, it’s one scoop of Nutella, folded in to a small triangle, and also eaten out of hand. My mother-in-law rolls her crêpe up like a sleeping bag and cuts it in half. You may like to leave it flat or even eat it with a fork and knife. Everyone has their favorite. It’s your crêperie, and with some French music in the background, you may even believe you are in France after all.
2 cups (250 grams) flour
2 cups (1/2 liter) whole milk
1 pinch of salt
1 Tablespoon vanilla sugar
1/4 cup (50 grams) butter, melted
Oil for pan
Whisk together the first five ingredients in a big bowl. Try to get rid of any lumps. Incorporate the melted butter. Cover the bowl with a kitchen cloth and let the batter rest at room temperature for at least 2 hours.
When you are ready to cook your crêpes, add a little bit of water to thin the batter. Using a paper towel with oil on it, cautiously rub the surface of your crêpe pan or skillet. Make sure it is very hot. As you ladle the batter, rotate the pan in a circular motion to spread the batter evenly. Wait until the edges start to turn golden brown, and little air pockets start to form on top. Use a spatula to loosen the edges from the pan. Then slide the spatula underneath, and in one swift gesture, lift and flip the crêpe over back into the pan on its uncooked side. Or hold the handle of the pan and using your wrist, flip the crêpe up in the air and catch it in the pan.
Cook for 1 more minute, and then slide the crêpe out of the pan onto a plate.
Have fun with the different fillings, and bon appétit!