Making and using crepes

Crepe-making is a wonderfully diverse kitchen skill to have; crepes are easy to make and can be used to improve so many different dishes. I’ve used them as spring roll wrappers, pseudo-tortillas, and even as a reasonable substitute for Ethiopian njera (see below). A batch takes so little time that crepes can be an easy meal for a busy night, simply stuffing them with whatever you might have on hand. We learned to appreciate the diversity of crepes through restaurants in Montreal and western New York state (such as this one), and have yet to run out of uses for them. Here’s a look at several different ways to make them, and some of the uses we’ve put them to here on the farm. Crepe recipes abound online; my favorite comes from the Moosewood on Sundays book, where the crepes are used as wrappers for lumpiang (Filipino spring rolls). It’s so simple I don’t mind sharing it: just 1 egg, 1 cup water, 1 cup flour, touch of salt. I beat the egg in a small bowl, add the water, and gently sift in the flour; you really don’t want lumps. Below left is the resulting batter, which makes 6-8 crepes.

I’ve experimented with using all white flour versus half white and half fresh-ground soft-wheat flour; the two should be obvious in the photo above right. The white flour version is creamier, smoother, easier to handle, and more neutrally-flavored. The partially soft-wheat version has a rougher texture and more complex flavor, but tears and sticks more easily. This is one of the rare cases where I prefer to use all white flour in cooking, though I’ve found one use where the soft-wheat version is preferable (see below).

Crepe-making equipment can, but doesn’t need to be, specific. I use a dedicated cast-iron crepe pan with special wooden spreader (above left) for the best results; its very low sides allow for easy spreading and flipping of the crepe. Our cast-iron omelet pan with just a regular spatula works too, but with its higher sides and no spreader you’ll handle the batter differently. Both should be well-seasoned, as any sticking will shred the crepe.

In the images below, I present a photo essay of crepe-making using both these pans; apologies for any blurriness, as I was holding the camera with my left hand while quickly pouring, spreading, and flipping with my right. The images are effective if not pretty. Crepe pan on the left, regular pan on the right throughout.

I heat the pans on stove setting 3-4 (roughly medium low) and let them get truly warm; you want the same heat over the entire pan surface or the crepe won’t cook evenly. Start the heating before you do anything else; it takes as long as the rest of the process combined. When I think it’s ready, I take a scrap of paper towel or cloth and wipe a little canola oil around pan’s inside, repeating every few crepes (we use our own rendered lard for most cooking, but don’t always want a pork-flavored crepe). Then I scoop the batter using a 1/3 cup measure and quickly pour it into the pan. It helps to have a plate right next to the stove that you can drop this messy, drippy scoop onto immediately because you have to work fast now.

If you have a proper crepe pan and spreader, immediately start twirling the spreader around the surface of the batter, such that the inner end practically stays still and the outer sweeps around like a really fast clock-hand (above, it’s rotating counter-clockwise). This takes a bit of practice to get the unusual wrist motion right, but once you grasp the concept it works beautifully. Practice on a cold pan with some sugar or other small, granular material that mimics fluid dynamics. You should be able to get a very thin, quite evenly spread crepe in just a few seconds. If using regular kitchen equipment, immediately lift the pan and swirl it around at steep angles to force the batter to spread itself thin and wide; I’ve not had success trying to use spatulas or other tools to reproduce the spreading motion of the crepe tool; others stick to the batter and/or make holes. It helps to make the batter a little thinner/waterier if you’re going to do without a tool so it spreads itself more easily; thicker batter works great with the crepe tool. Soft-wheat batter sticks to the spreader, too, and actually works best in the normal pan.

The batter will immediately cook from the outer edges in; you want to flip the crepe when it’s mostly but not entirely cooked. As soon as I’m done spreading or swirling, I grab a spatula and start working around the already-cooked edges, loosening them a bit from the pan. By the time you’ve gone around the edges, just a few seconds, it’s time to slip the spatula under and hopefully lift the whole thing up in one piece and flip it over; the center should still be a bit moist. I usually grab the lifted edge with my other hand to help stabilize the flip. It only needs to rest on the flipped side a couple more seconds and it’s done. You don’t want it cooked hard and dry.

I can get thinner crepes from the dedicated pan than from regular pans; the spreader makes a big difference. Thus the cooking time is slightly longer for the latter, and the edges are sometimes more ragged because it takes a bit more work to get the thick, heavier center up. In either case, swoop up the finished crepe with spatula/fingers and spread it on a plate to be stacked with the rest; place a towel over them if you want them warm. It took me longer to write this text than the actual operation.

UPDATE: I timed myself this morning making a batch, and it took a total of 15 minutes from turning the pan on. That’s longer than it needed to be, as I got distracted cutting up herbs for the scrambled eggs, and let the pan heat longer than needed. Actual total time around 10-12 minutes, actual cooking time just a couple minutes.

A crepe wrapped around almost anything makes it better. Fresh or preserved fruit, yogurt, and/or jam make easy desserts. Above are two more creatives uses; on-farm ingredients in italics.

Above left
Farm-based take on Ethiopian cuisine, using a thick soft-wheat crepe as substitute for njera, the Ethiopian flatbread that is eaten with the hands, using ripped-off pieces to scoop up the variety of other dishes spread on top. In this case, the thicker texture and richer flavor of the soft-wheat recipe feels more authentic, and it doesn’t matter if it has some rips or holes because you’re not wrapping anything in it, just ripping off chunks from the plate. Here, the toppings are: 

sauteed collards/kale/sorrel with red onion, garlic scallions, dried hot peppers;

cowpeas with sauteed spring leeks, garlic scallions, dried hot peppers, spices, ginger;

tomato-apricot chutney preserved from fall;

side of Senegalese peanut stew (onion, garlic scallions, tomato juice, mushroom broth, sweet potatoes, okra, scallions, dried hot peppers, organic peanut butter, ginger).

Above right
Easy pseudo-Mexican crepe, using white flour recipe for full wrappability: shredded aged goat cheddar, preserved roasted tomato/pepper sauce, fresh scrambled eggs, cured & aged ham, fresh cilantro. In this case the crepe is faster to make than a regular tortilla or flatbread, and holds together well for a form of burrito that works great if not entirely authentic.

I’ve found that crepes will keep reasonably well overnight in the refrigerator covered with a towel or in a bag; make them the night before for a fast and/or special breakfast with little work. Spring rolls work great, too, as you can make multiple batches ahead of time then prepare the fillings, allowing yourself and guests to assemble their own at table. And almost anything else can be wrapped in a thin, creamy crepe to add another dimension to the meal. Give it a try…

3 thoughts on “Making and using crepes

  1. After hearing some not-so-stellar reports of your complete lack of kindness/customer service, Eric, as well as seeing your beyond-snotty attitude towards anyone other than restaurant business owners, I have zero love for Chert Hollow Farms after years of being a loyal customer. I hope your decision to isolate yourself from a community who [used to] have much love for you comes back to bite you squarely in the ass. People like you don’t deserve to flourish in a supportive town like Columbia.

    Take a step back and chill out. Lose that ugly bitterness. You’re not the only game in town.

  2. I’m honestly sorry you feel this way, though I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts. I’m a bit confused, though, by the vagueness and context of the critiques. Can you clarify your concerns, and what prompted you to share them now?

    A few things I think I can respond to. If by “isolation” you’re referring to our move to CSA from market, that’s simply a change in business model we think will work better for us, to serve a different set of customers. We weren’t pleased with various aspects of selling at market, and went a different direction with our business. The Saturday market, too, isn’t the only game in town, and joining a CSA allows those who aren’t market-goers for whatever reason to have access to local foods. Do you consider other CSAs, or other non-market farms in the area, to be isolated? Moreover, CSA is a pretty common business model for full-time farms because of the much higher stability and customer connections it builds; we’re hardly unique in choosing that direction.

    If your concern for a snotty attitude refers to our various expressions of opinion on food/ag economics on this and other sites, all I can tell you is that our thoughts and feelings are shared by a lot of farmers/producers, and many consumers. This doesn’t make them correct, but we’re hardly alone in our opinions on these matters; we’re just the rare ones who express them publically. Many different farmers have told me privately they appreciate what we have to say about farms and food. We’ve long debated whether we’re better off with honesty or discretion in the wider world of public debate on these issues. Certainly most businesses choose to keep their mouths shut about their opinions to avoid offending customers. This is a wise choice from a practical point of view, but that kind of self-censorship also silences an important set of voices that others don’t get to hear.

    Our decision thus far has been to take part in the discourse and take the chance that not everyone will like what we have to say, but we do feel that we have an important perspective to add and hope that people will try to understand what’s informed our experiences and opinions. We’ve also chosen (with a few exceptions) to write and comment under our own names for the same reasons of openness and honesty, though this opens us up to more criticism and backlash. Would you prefer that anonymous farmers posted the same thoughts, with no accountability? Or that we not take part in society’s discourse at all?

    Otherwise I’m not sure how to take this. It is interesting that in the years we’ve been writing about various controversial or challenging topics, the harshest and most personal comment we’ve ever received is this one, accusing us of a lack of kindness of all things.

  3. Well the first thing I have to say is, wow. Just… wow.

    Eric, your response to the first comment here was thoughtful and kind; much kinder than Ariah’s post deserved. I always love posts that are all about hearsay. “after hearing about…” In other words, “I haven’t had a bad experience but somebody told somebody who told someone else about something bad, therefore you must be an asshole.” Yeah, that’s a comment I’d take seriously (not.)

    I have informally known Eric through blogs and the market for years before having more contact with him and Johanna this year through the CSA. He has a decided opinion and a voice, and he expresses his views. He can be fairly hard line about his views and I don’t always agree with him, but I do know he has put considerable thought into his beliefs and his work. As a CSA member I can only say that your claims of “bad customer service” are nothing short of ludicrous. I have been welcomed onto the farm on more than one occasion, and have very much enjoyed getting to know both Eric and Johanna (and their chickens!)

    Ariah, if you have something to accuse Eric of, be specific. If it’s based on gossip, you’re doing no more than indulging in possibly libelous hate speak. If it’s not, I’d think he deserves the courtesy of knowing what crimes he has supposedly committed. And seriously. Writing an ugly, bitter post all about how ugly and bitter another person is?