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Crepes, Mastered

By thaig in Culture
Mon Aug 21, 2006 at 12:00:00 PM EST
Tags: cooking (all tags)

I would like to think that most families have some special day when they are all together and there is a degree of peace and happiness. Have we lost that now?

No life is perfect but luckily memory heals many wounds. Bad things are forgotten and only the good is recalled. In my memory Sundays were particularly happy. Amongst other things they are inextricably linked with making and eating pancakes or what some call crepes. These are my link with a world that is lost.

Tea was at 7am (my chore) and there was always some bit of Handel, Haydn or Vivaldi playing in the background. My brothers and I scounged on the carpet reading the newspaper and drinking our tea in the main bedroom. Peter would be scanning the classifieds for his next money making initiative and Lexy would tell mum for the umpteenth time what an amazing cook Mrs Shelton was or what a fantastic garden Mrs Betts kept. Eventually the music had to be quelled so that we could get the world receiver out, attach the aerial spool to the window and listen for that tune which is etched into my mind followed by the pips and then "this is World Service of the BBC..." Clear voices beamed out over thousands of miles from an island - cold and dark and nevertheless a brilliant beacon of civilisation. We were warmed up just to know that it existed and that not all the world was corrupt. "Letter from America" by Alistair Cook was my favorite.

Stress and a bit of minor shouting ensued in the rush to be off to Nazareth House with all the other Irish expats to listen to the entertaining and clever sermons of Father ?. I think that the real purpose of going, though, was for the 1/2 hour of chatting afterwards in the sun outside. Now that I think about going to church for the first time in years I realise how much I enjoyed having an excuse to sing. Religion has been washed out of me leaving only the tiniest germ of unjustified hope - but the music is still there.

The highest point of the day was returning home for a breakfast of pancakes (crepes). Item number 1 was for my father (who usually hated what he called "noise") to put on the 1812 Overture. This is all about Napoleon being defeated by the Russians. It has a feeling of marvelous happiness at the ending of a great fear particularly when the bells begin to ring at the end. I would sit looking at a print of The Officer of the Imperial Guard by Gericault and imagine being in Napoelon's Grande Armee and how terrible and impressive, proud and bitter it must have been.

Item number 2 was to start cooking what we called pancakes. There is a lot of confusion, internationally, about that term so I'll call them crepes. The batter had been made the night before and all that remained was to whip cream, make coffee, quarter a few lemons, put soft brown sugar into bowls, warm the plates, lay the table outside and cook 30 crepes.

There was simply nothing better in the whole world.

I am going to describe how to make crepes here. They have simple ingredients - flour, sugar, eggs and milk - but it can sometimes be hard to get the desired result. I have never come across a good recipe that explains how to work around all the pitfalls - my occasional successes were very unreproducible.

It took a long time to learn how to get my mother's recipe to work with different equipment and heats and egg sizes and all those things that change when one travels far away.

What I am going to put down are the critical bits of information that took me about 10 years of gradual experimentation. It seems a bit meagre when it's down in words but it took a lot of effort to discover it and it truly will make the difference. I think that I have now surpassed mum in being able to transfer the knowledge. I hope she wouldn't mind my small triumph, and I hope that you, having read thus far, will enjoy the same pleasure that making crepes has given me.


Crepes are thin, soft, discs about the size of a medium plate, made of wheat flour and are usually filled and rolled up before eating. They differ from the pancakes that Americans and others might be familiar with in that they are much thinner and not risen. They can filled with almost anything you can think of (sweet or savory). They are light, soft and good ones are slightly elastic.

They may be eaten like a dessert or used in savory recipes like lasagna sheets to make something similar to canneloni (delicious) or in any way you can think of. I prefer them with dark brown sugar and lemon juice inside and whipped cream on top - somehow this seems unbeatable to me but YMMV and maple syrup, honey or a very sweet orange sauce (crepes suzette) are also good.

What to Aim For
  1. Make the thinnest possible crepes from a thin-cream-like batter in a frying pan.
  2. Concentrate on the consistency and elasticity of the batter and don't be fixated on quantities of ingredients.
    1. It must flow over the pan quickly and easily to make a thin pancake so it must be very liquid.
    2. It must be very strong so that it will not break despite being thin.
    3. It must not stick when it cooks.
    4. If there are lumps (even small ones) the batter will not flow across the pan and spread out evenly.
  3. Achieve a good flavor.

As I have said, the quantities of ingredients are not what one should concentrate on because there are too many ways to get a result that isn't quite right. Eggs vary in size from country to country and flours behave differently. It is still useful to have a rough guide to quantities for the sake of the shopping but get a little extra of everything. I am too lazy to make these things in small quantities so this will make "a lot."
  • 5 large eggs - discard 1 egg yolk otherwise the flavor will be too "eggy"
  • 300g strong flour (roughly 11 oz)
  • 75g sugar (roughly 3 oz)
  • 3 tablespoons of rum. (dark but I don't think it matters) or brandy but rum is best
  • between 900ml and 1 litre of milk (somewhere just over 30 fluid oz)
  • a dessertspoon of oil
The Consistency
  1. Use strong flour - bread flour is best. It is very effective to make the mixture the night before and leave it because it tends to get thinner whilst remaining strong - the effect is quite noticeable.
  2. Put everything but the milk into a bowl and mix with some kind of mixer - a liquidiser would be fine.
  3. Add just enough milk to mix comfortably and add more as you mix till the batter is is nearly right but still a bit thick (like just-pourable cream) - this can be corrected the next day when one actually makes it (the batter thins overnight anyhow). This makes a lot of crepes and cooking them takes about 1 1/2 minutes each so be prepared to spend half an hour to make 20.
  4. Sieve the mixture after making it - it's the best way to get rid of lumps - they interfere with the flow of batter across the pan during cooking.
  5. Warm the mixture before cooking to the point where it does not feel cold to touch. If the mixture has been in the fridge or you have used cold milk and cold eggs then when it hits the pan it will tend to stick to it and trying to cook it will be a miserable experience.
  6. The desired consistency is very similar to runny cream. It's hard to get it right and from one day to the next I use different amounts of milk depending on the eggs, etc. So just start out being a bit conservative and make a couple of crepes and then add a bit more milk and try again. When you start making crepes that stick, wipe out the pan so it's smooth and oil it. Then mix up some flour with a cup of the now-too-thin mixture and then sieve that back in to thicken the batter. Next time you'll not push it too far.
The Setup
  1. Get a pan that you can twist and turn easily with one hand when you are spreading the mixture - speed is important at this stage and you'll get tired with a heavy iron pan.
  2. Make sure that the pan has shallow sloping sides - 90 degree angles make it impossible to get the crepe out.
  3. I like non-stick pans best - with a thick base if possible.
  4. Before you begin to cook, heat up the pan with some oil till it is just about to smoke and then wipe out the oil carelessly (i.e. don't try to scrub it all out) with a paper towel. With metal pans this is essential and I think it's worthwhile with non-stick ones too. Your first 2 crepes will be a bit oily but after that all will be well.
  5. Cook on a fairly high heat - it tends to make nicer crepes.
The Technique

This is hard to explain and I haven't perfected it yet but it is not hard to do. Practice will make you better and you will probably think up a superor method. Try to use the minimum amount of mixture - one will often end up with a few holes but this is more than compensated for by the wonderful texture of a soft thin crepe. It should take about 1 1/2 minutes per crepe.

I do have a video of this and I will put it on YouTube or Google video for anyone who asks.
  1. Put the mixture into top right of the pan, tilt to make it run to the lower left, allow a "wide" puddle to form on the bottom left and then tilt the pan back to make the mixture run back across to the lower right - basically a kind of triangle.
  2. If you think of a better method, please let me know.
  3. The crepe is ready to turn when the surface looks matte (i.e. not glistening with moisture any more) and the edges are brown. Cook briefly on the other side.
  4. Stir the mixture occasionally because flour tends to fall to the bottom of the bowl leaving the top part too thin and causing your last crepes to be too thick.
  1. Brittle crepes: add an egg to the mixture.
  2. Sticking crepes with thin mixture: these never dry out properly and tend to stick to the pan whilst being raw on top. There is not enough flour in the mixture.
  3. Sticking crepes with cold mixture: Naughty! make sure the mixture isn't cold!
  1. Use less yolks than egg whites - otherwise they will taste too "eggy".
  2. A bit of brandy or rum added to the mixture will make the crepes considerably better.
  3. Waste no time with butter - it can add flavor but it's just annoying because it tends to burn and if you keep your mixture overnight it will solidify and come out of the mixture. Just add a small amount of cooking oil to the batter to help prevent it from sticking.

That's it - 10 years of experimentation summed up! Good luck and may you have many happy, lazy Sundays and may your children remember them with love.


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Crepes, Mastered | 29 comments (26 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
-1 (1.20 / 5) (#4)
by A Bore on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 04:46:13 AM EST

Although flambe whisky crepe with cream is probably the best dessert I've ever had, I cannot in all honesty live with the guilt of allowing my vote, however small an increment, to encourage recipe / life articles or the people who write them. All of this information is readily available elsewhere, and it's not offset with enough real life emo. Perhaps if a crepe had caused your third wife to miscarry, or if a crepe stuffed in your shirt pocket had interrupted an arrows flight into your left ventricle, I could get excited by this story.

Real information (none / 1) (#6)
by thaig on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 05:22:02 AM EST

The Crepe recipe truly is the reason for this article and the justification is that the information about how to have a repeatable success isn't available elsewhere.  

I think that you have put it into a mental pigeonhole before reading it.

I suppose that the problem is that you have never tried to make them so you wouldn't know how disappointing it is when the recipes don't work properly.

Finally, I can't understand the "real life emo" thingy - what emo is real - only violent things?



[ Parent ]

pay no attention him (none / 0) (#18)
by jangledjitters on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 10:26:43 PM EST

that is just his thing.

[ Parent ]
7am? (2.50 / 2) (#5)
by nebbish on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 05:07:15 AM EST

Did you ring Childline?

Kicking someone in the head is like punching them in the foot - Bruce Lee

that's nothing . . . (3.00 / 4) (#7)
by thaig on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 05:28:53 AM EST

That's nothing . . . on normal days we lived in a paper bag in t'street, were woken up 5 hours before we went to sleep and beaten without breakfast and had to work 48 hours a day  . . . . and young people nowadays - when you tell them, they don't believe you!

[ Parent ]
You had a paper bag? (2.60 / 5) (#10)
by rusty on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 11:09:33 AM EST

Ooooh. How we longed for a paper bag. We used to make fun of the posh bastards that got to go home to a paper bag in the street every night. All we had was a greasy patch in the gutter where the real estate man told us there was once a paper bag, long ago.

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
Right. (none / 1) (#17)
by thefirelane on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 10:10:59 PM EST

I had to get up in the morning at ten o'clock at night half an hour before I went to bed, drink a cup of sulphuric acid, work twenty-nine hours a day down mill, and pay mill owner for permission to come to work, and when we got home, our Dad and our mother would kill us and dance about on our graves singing Hallelujah.

Prube.com: Like K5, but with less point.
[ Parent ]
Perhaps I'm a stereotype (2.00 / 2) (#8)
by rpresser on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 09:22:15 AM EST

but I have always preferred real, thick, "American" pancakes to crepes, which seem silly.  If you want something with filling, eat a blintz. It's fried and has some real taste to it.
"In terms of both hyperbolic overreaching and eventual wrongness, the Permanent [Republican] Majority has set a new, and truly difficult to beat, standard." --rusty
Drop Scones (none / 0) (#12)
by thaig on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 11:45:19 AM EST

We have the equivalent of an American pancake except that it has a small diameter - say a bit bigger than  that of a teacup - it's called a "drop scone."

You never know, though - I always thought that the idea of putting maple syrup on bacon was appalling but I tried it once on a trip to the states and was converted.  I think you should try bacon with fried banana, though (an African thing).

The reason I like crepes is an addiction to the flavor combination of cream, lemon and "molasses" (dark soft) sugar.  The other fillings appeal to me less.

[ Parent ]

I thought scones were harder and dryer (none / 0) (#13)
by rpresser on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 01:28:31 PM EST

than pancakes, or "flapjacks" as they say in the West.

Maple syrup on bacon still appalls me, though my wife's whole family loves it.  Then again, growing up Jewish I didn't taste bacon until my late teens.

"In terms of both hyperbolic overreaching and eventual wrongness, the Permanent [Republican] Majority has set a new, and truly difficult to beat, standard." --rusty
[ Parent ]

scones (none / 0) (#14)
by thaig on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 03:25:23 PM EST

Even though they sound similar, "scones" are completely different from "drop scones". From what I have read, scones are roughly American "biscuits" with butter and eggs added. The texture is more flakey and drier than a muffin so you'd generally want jam or something like that on it. They are buttery in flavour. It's hard to describe - better to eat one and find out. Preferably with thick or whipped cream and rasperry jam.

[ Parent ]
I Too Am a CrÍpier (3.00 / 3) (#9)
by chrisabraham on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 09:22:36 AM EST

Thank you for that article -- well done.  I love crepe-making as well. I told my crepe story on my blog, "Many men are known for their waffles or their pancakes, and some are known for their Sunday fry ups. Well, let me tell you about the moment I knew I would make crêpes my signature dish."  Thanks for sharing.

Cool blog :-) (none / 0) (#11)
by thaig on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 11:37:41 AM EST

I like steel pans too because they seem to cook quickly without the risk of burning.

They can be tiring for un-muscled people like me to use (all that tilting and turning etc) but it's nothing that can't be solved by regular trips to the gym. :-)

Best of luck with your crepes!

[ Parent ]

"Say you love crepes, Ricky Bobby!" (2.00 / 2) (#15)
by rustv on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 04:37:57 PM EST

"Don't tase me, bro." --Andrew Meyer
Is this story compliant with the K5 recipe format? (none / 0) (#16)
by newb4b0 on Tue Aug 22, 2006 at 08:48:31 PM EST

http://www.netmoneychat.com| NetMoneyChat Forums. No Registration necessary. Ya'll.

The best crepes I've ever had... (none / 1) (#19)
by khaustic on Wed Aug 23, 2006 at 08:12:22 AM EST

...were in Tokyo.  Instead of ice cream stands, they have crepe stands.  They pour the mixture onto an enormous, flat griddle, then use a squeegee-type thing to quickly flatten the liquid out into a perfect circle.  Cooked for just over a minute, then covered with your choice of veggies/meats/cheeses or ice cream/red bean paste/fruits and rolled into a large cone shape.  Delicious.

Amen to that! (none / 0) (#28)
by Perditor on Fri Sep 01, 2006 at 07:32:17 PM EST

I've had those same crepes in Tokyo, they roll the crepe into a cone and put it in a paper cup for support. It is seriously better than an ice cream cone and it's awesome to watch them make the crepe on that big skillet.

[ Parent ]
Blini (3.00 / 2) (#20)
by arsa on Wed Aug 23, 2006 at 08:55:51 AM EST

Having just cooked another batch of blini for my wife this morning, here's my usual comments:

  1. Get as many pans as you can, and use more than one burner. Using one pan is painful as far as waiting. Three pans is just right, or even four if you are fast :) That way you can make insane amounts in short time.

  2. Thick pan is a must, for even and fast cooking. Since this  is a constant batter on/ pancake off operation, and heat gets lost. Of course thick pan means it's heavy, so it's a good exercise ;-) I use two big heavy plain iron cast skillets.

  3. Butter, while not required in the batter, is very handy when stacking them on storage plate. You can just put small amount on each one after it's done, or use liquefied butter and pour a little on top.

  4. There's a great blini recipe that uses yeast, but that's a bit complicated (deals with proper temperatures that yeast likes) and long to make. You got to plan this overnight. Those are so light and thin you actually flip them in the air, fun fun :)

  5. Toppings. Of course, in traditional Russian cooking, the toppings are very enticing and tasty - caviar (black and red, those are two basic types here), honey, traditional thick sour cream (25% fat), smoked/salted salmon, salted herring. In daily operations we use honey, sweet condensed milk, sour cream and all types of preserves (today it was home made pear preserve).

My mom would make these... (none / 1) (#21)
by claes on Wed Aug 23, 2006 at 12:31:59 PM EST

and we had thawed frozen strawberries for filling, and powdered sugar. Lots of butter too. Mmm....

She used an electric griddle, and it seemed to work fine, with a good consistant result.

Here's the only similar model I could find: Grille and waffle baker. I don't think the new ones are as hot as the old ones, so the results might not be that good.

We still do pancakes and waffles once in a while. The grille is good for that 'cause you can make 8 at a time.

-- claes

Its a cake, in a pan. (1.50 / 2) (#22)
by daveybaby on Sat Aug 26, 2006 at 05:17:03 AM EST


Well, you've seen the video so now make 'em! (none / 0) (#23)
by thaig on Sat Aug 26, 2006 at 06:22:49 AM EST

Yes - it's quite a cool video. Good on him :-). If you want to make those then this recipe will do it. His are thicker than I prefer but basically similar. Nutella (a chocolate and hazelnut spread) is an interesting idea and worth trying once. :-)

[ Parent ]
Nutella works *really* well. (none / 0) (#27)
by daveybaby on Tue Aug 29, 2006 at 06:24:14 AM EST

It's even better if you add sliced banana, cream and a splash of brandy. Hell of yes.

[ Parent ]
Good idea (none / 1) (#24)
by Cornelius on Sun Aug 27, 2006 at 05:56:55 AM EST

I just bought the 1812 Overture. Never heard it before. Nice.

Thanks for sharing.


"Your suffering will be legendary, even in Hell", Hellraiser
Good (none / 0) (#26)
by adamjaskie on Mon Aug 28, 2006 at 09:48:37 AM EST

Now go see it in concert. Even the best recordings don't do justice to the cannon part.

[ Parent ]
rum? (none / 1) (#25)
by reklaw on Sun Aug 27, 2006 at 09:34:34 AM EST

I eat pancakes all the time, but I've never heard anyone suggest adding rum. Maybe it's worth a try...
No butter?!? (none / 0) (#29)
by kestrel404 on Tue Sep 19, 2006 at 12:53:47 PM EST

Adding oil instead of butter spoils the flavor.  The butter is simple - you add it just before cooking.  Add half a stick (or more, if you're not worried about little things like calories or heart attacks) of melted butter slowly to the rested batter, while stirring gently - to prevent the eggs from cooking.

Also, I usually remove one of the whites from the recipe, rather than a yolk.  
And Vanilla can be added instead of rum to get a more desert-style crepe.

Otherwise, an excellent article.

Crepes, Mastered | 29 comments (26 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
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