Friday, October 1, 2010

Crêpemania I: An Ode to Nutella (and Butter!)

Nutella a.k.a. hazelnut chocolate spread a.k.a. sweet ambrosia of the gods:

Look at the picture above. Is this food porn? Yes. Is this gustatory heaven? Mos def.

But this is a Crêpemania post, so lets talk about crêpes. Some think of a crêpe as nothing more than an extremely thin pancake, but there is more to them than that. Butter is used in their batter and also to coat the pan they’re cooked in. Butter, as we all know, is magical. Taking this into consideration, we can say that crêpes are buttery little vehicles for awesomeness.

Originally, this was supposed to be a Crêpes Suzette post. I was in a French mood and the idea of crêpes soaked in a mixture of orange juice, (more!) butter and Grand Marnier sounded heavenly. The orange liqueur was necessary for the recipe, but, alas, was way beyond my budget. Still, the Suzettes will be featured in a future post (if anybody with a well stocked bar is willing to part with some ounces of Grand Marnier).

Although I couldn’t make the Suzettes, crêpes still sounded like a good idea. The ingredients for the crêpes per se are super cheap. While one can go with somewhat expensive fillings (I was dreaming of goat cheese, spinach, walnuts and honey), there are cheaper options. I had already decided that for the sweet crêpes I would go with Nutella and fresh strawberries, but it took me a while to find a savory crêpe recipe that sounded tasty and cheap.

I finally found a recipe for a spinach, mushroom and bacon filling, armed myself with Alton Brown’s () basic crêpes recipe and got to work.

Alton Brown’s Basic Crêpes [Yes, you can find pre-made crêpes at the supermarket, but come on…]

Ingredients

2 large eggs

¾ cup milk

½ cup water

1 cup flour

3 tbsp. melted butter

Butter for coating the pan

Combine all ingredients in a blender and pulse for ten seconds. Place batter in the refrigerator for an hour (this is to eliminate bubbles and prevent tearing while cooking). It will keep for 48 hours.

Heat a small non-stick pan. Add butter to coat. Pour one ounce of batter into the center of the pan (it’s a good idea to measure an ounce of batter and pour it into a ladle or cooking spoon, that way you get a good idea of how much you’re using for each crêpe without measuring much) and swirl to spread evenly. This part can be a bit tricky. In my case, the crêpes came out best when I made sure to recoat the pan with butter every two crêpes or so. Cook approximately for 30 seconds on one side, then flip and cook for 10 seconds on the other.

Remove to the cutting board or plate and, ideally, lay out flat to cool. (I just stacked them while still warm as I cooked them and it was all groovy, but I was very gentle and cautious when peeling them apart.) Continue until all batter is gone. Once they’re cool they can be stacked and refrigerated if necessary (they keep in the refrigerator for several daysand for up to two months in the freezer). If you’re using frozen crêpes, make sure to thaw them on a rack and then gently peel them apart.

Spinach, Mushroom and Bacon Crêpe Filling [Found here, it yields approximately four servings]

Ingredients

6 slices bacon

1 tbsp. unsalted butter

½ lb. fresh mushrooms, sliced

***

3 tbsp. unsalted butter

¼ cup flour

1 cup milk

10 oz. (approx.) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained (if using fresh, you must sauté to wilt)

1 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

2 tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese

salt and pepper to taste

***

2/3 cup chicken broth

2 eggs

½ cup lemon juice (This amount of lemon will produce a pretty strong lemony flavor that I like, but some find too strong. If desired, use only ¼ cup lemon juice.)

salt and pepper to taste

Place the bacon in a skillet and cook over medium-high heat until it’s evenly browned. Drain, crumble and set aside. If you’re into bacon and want the filling to be a bit heartier, you can double the amount of bacon. Reserve 1 tbsp. of the bacon drippings, add 1 tbsp. butter and sauté mushrooms.

In a separate saucepan, melt 3 tbsp. butter over medium-heat. Whisk in ¼ cup flour, stirring constantly until a paste is formed. Gradually stir in 1 cup milk, stirring constantly until a smooth thick gravy is formed. Add the bacon, mushrooms, spinach, parsley, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper and allow to cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Set aside and keep warm. I tried multitasking and made this at the same time as the egg sauce that follows. To be honest, it gets a bit crazy as the egg sauce process is somewhat intense.

Now for the egg sauce: In a saucepan, bring broth to a boil. In a small bowl, whisk together eggs and lemon juice. Ok, so this is where things get a bit hairy. What we are doing now is temper (adding little by little) the eggs and broth together whisking constantly so as to cook, but NOT scramble the eggs. If at all possible (unless you’re a total expert or feel up to the challenge) get someone to help you pour in the egg and lemon mixture while you whisk like a maniac. If not, make sure that you add the eggs in a way that allows you to constantly whisk the mixture, fast. If you don’t do this, they will start scrambling. Once you have successfully tempered the eggs in without scrambling you’ll see that you’ll have a pretty liquid mix. If you have a food thermometer, you want to reach 170 Fahrenheit, but if not just keep on whisking until the texture changes (in my case it took about 3 min.). You will notice the sauce will become a bit foamy and will thicken considerably and become creamy. Now just salt and pepper to taste.

Fill each crêpe with spinach and meat filling, roll up, top with egg sauce and serve.

Strawberry and Nutella Crêpes

Ingredients [It’s a bit lame to have an Ingredients section for this one, but lets do it anyway for the sake of symmetry.]

Crêpes

Strawberries

Nutella

Confectioner’s sugar

Those who are familiar with crêpes won't find anything new in this section, but just in case lets talk about how to put these ones together. Just wash, drain and slice your strawberries. Spread some Nutella on the crêpe and put the desired amount of strawberries over it. Beware though, Nutella is delicious, but it will easily overpower the strawberries if you go all crazy chocomaniac. I would say that if you’re folding your crêpes in half, just cover half on the flat crêpe surface with Nutella then add enough berries to cover all of the Nutella. Now fold each crêpe after adding the filling, plate as desired and sprinkle confectioner’s sugar on top. Super straightforward and awesome.


Voila, that's Crêpemania I for you. As you can see, the possibilities are endless, both for savory and sweet crêpes. Even if you don't have a lot of time, you can go with simple savory crêpes, filling them with decent quality ham, a good but cheap cheese, such a swiss, and adding veggies like spinach. Same goes for the sweet ones. You can go super simple, just adding butter and sugar, or maybe just jam and ricotta cheese. If you can afford it, a filling made of assorted berries and brandy is delicious. In fact, you can even add sugar and spices to crêpe batter for sweet crêpes or salt and fresh herbs for savory ones. I mentioned before that I was using this Alton Brown basic crêpe recipe; in it you will find his exact suggestions for variations.

So make a whole bunch of crêpes, experiment with all the fillings you can think of and maybe listen to some Edith Piaf or Serge Gainsbourg for the total French experience.

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