So, a few years back I got this amazing awesome electric ‘Crepe Griddle’ machine thingy as a Christmas present, and have been needing to use it bad. With this little goal of going through all these French dishes, however, I’ve finally found myself an excuse to have a ‘crepe night’ event with family and cover two of my recipe requirements in one go: both the savory Buckwheat Crepes, as follows, and the dessert of Suzette, of which I should be writing up a report soon.
My experience with crepes isn’t exactly few; in fact, I’ve discussed their preparation and use as street food in my other blog Here, and will soon have yet another post on Dessert Crepes for my Suzette. In my original, however, I lament on my depressing inability to truly replicate that which I have discovered on the streets of Paris and other French cities (was lucky enough to travel there for high school once). One of the things I have yet to try, though, is the use of Buckwheat flour; and seeing as it’s a common ingredient in certain European ‘pancakes,’ and a common style seen in this particular country, it might just be what I need.
Crepes themselves supposedly popped up in the NW corner of France, Brittany, originally being called ‘galettes’ (flat cake), the name crepe being developed later after the food spread throughout France as a derivation of ‘crispus,’ Latin for ‘curled,’ alluding to the tendency for their edges to bend up in the pan to signal its readiness to flip. Whether its origins are truly pure French can be debated though, as there are records of various nation’s pancakes being developed after a Dutch ‘tour’ that started them in Austria (and what a long and fluffy pancake history they’ve had), around Germany and into France and back to Austria again (or however it went, I can’t recall exactly but I do know they supposedly stopped in France and influenced their galettes while there). But it was in Brittany that the tools and techniques for French-style crepes were officially refined and mastered before popularity spread to Paris and beyond.
However, it was in the 1100’s that buckwheat was introduced to the Brittany region via Middle Eastern traders, thus the very first crepes made were in fact purely 100%, the use of White Wheat Flour not coming into play until the 1900’s when it became affordable. Combined with milk, butter, and eggs, the flour-based crepes became softer, developing them into that classic texture we now know and love from the folded wonder.
A Word On…
Buckwheat Flour: luckily this isn’t too difficult to find in stores, but you still have to go to a Whole Foods, Co-op, or similar store to get it. As for proportions of use, I have yet to do much in-depth recipe testing with this, or even try any buckwheat batters out besides this one, so I say just pick this or another recipe that looks good and have fun with it. The great thing about crepes is that, spread so thin and browned a bit crispy, they all come out delicious.
As for why it’s used, one of the most important aspects to Crepe Batter Making is that you want little to no actual gluten development. That’s why most recipes just combine everything together at the same time, with the massive amounts of liquid, often in a blender. Also partly why we let it rest for an hour or so, thus any stray carbohydrate strands that were formed may relax in their suspension. But, unlike regular flour, buckwheat is completely gluten-free, thus the risk of any development is lessened even further, giving us a fully soft batter to crisp up on our own. (and, you know, traditional ingredient used in galettes and whatnot, that probably influences it too)
Cooking Equipment: Now here’s where things get interesting; for when it comes down to it, Crepe batter is an extremely easy and simple recipe to put together, with very low margins of error. It’s COOKING the crepes where the issues come into play for people. Ideally what we need is to turn this batter into a very wide, thinly spread pool of batter in as perfectly circular shape as possible. Oh, and did I mention over a really hot surface? So it has to be made into this form very fast; easy access and the right tools are ideal.
Traditionally, this is accomplished on very big, thick heated stone rounds with no edges, the batter ladled and then spread with circular strokes using what seems to be the ‘bladed’ end of a squeegee/window wiper. Most of us don’t have access to this though, and even if we did probably not the years of practice and casual skill to sweep it into perfect circles every time, so we have to find other means. There are specially made ‘classic’ French Crepe Pans (supposedly what they’d use at home), really wide and flat circles with sharply upturned, short rims to allow for making a bigger crepe with easy access to grip the edge. They can be pricey though, and mayhaps have very little use outside of similar items.
I myself actually have this amazing plug in ‘griddle’ purely for crepe and other pancake-like-thing makings (it was a present, so I should be forgiven…). I got the spreader and the elongated spatula for flipping/folding and everything! It even has this cool device, for people who are too crappy at using the spreader (raises hand), where you set it into the rim, pour the batter in and move it around like a clockhand, quickly, and wind up making an absolutely perfect and super-thin crepe. If you’re reading this, and are actually attempting to make crepes, I’m guessing at least half of you probably want to beat me with a rolling pin for my boasts right now, I’m sorry! I will say though that if you CAN get something like this, apparently it was manufactured in Europe, it’s easily the best option for making the best crepes somewhat classically (or by cheating, either way). Plus one can still use it as an awesome flat-top griddle for other stuff (cooked an egg on it just this morning).
BUT, for all other intents and purposes that one might not be able to use something like this, we ultimately have to stick with a basic Saute pan. I’m sure you’ve probably heard or seen the ‘technique’ at least a dozen times by now, but it’s always good to re-study. The main annoyance with these is that, despite how big many look, the curved sides end up taking a lot of potential cooking area from the flat bottom, thus making us unable to make the good, really big crepes. Plus it can make it a bit annoying trying to reach in from there to lift and turn it; I mean it’s almost impossible to get a spatula in, except the rubber ones. BUT when you do get used to the technique of pouring, lifting and twirling the pan to let the batter fall and fill the area out, one ends up with an almost perfect circle every single time, WITHOUT needing any special spreader equipment. Just gotta get it around in time before your amount of ‘free batter’ not coating the bottom sets to much from the heat (and no you don’t want to start it out lower, coat, and then heat up; it needs to be hot the whole time to get it browned and crisp properly).
For those intrigued, there is one other option I’ve seen, involving turning your sauté pan upside down to give yourself a completely flat surface to work on, similar to the stones and griddle. There are some issues, namely that 1: it can only be done over gas burners, and 2: it can be tricky having a pan that will sit right, without rocking, completely flat with no slant, etc. Might be best to avoid unless really confident or desperate.
Fillings: Whatever the heck you want! The particular project I’m following requires nothing other than the crepe being buckwheat based; if one wanted something sort of traditional off the streets, they can stick with Ham and Gruyere, Lemon, Fruit Jams, and other things. For my little party, I decided on ham+brie and slow roasted tomatoes+ricotta, along with the dessert crepe of course.
1 cup Buckwheat Flour
1 ¼ cups AP Flour
1 Tb Sugar
1 cup Water
1 1/3 cups low fat Milk
- Sift Flours and combine in bowl with other Dry ingredients, welling the center.
- Whisk Egg and Wet ingredients in separate container, adding half to the well in the dry.
- Whisk until smooth and slowly incorporate the rest of the wet ingredients until a smooth, thin-ish batter is formed.
- Let rest for at least an hour and prepare your crepe-cooking-setup.
- Briefly brush surface of your griddle or sauté pan with oiled paper towel to ‘season’ and turn to a medium-high heat.
- If, ideally, you have some form of flat top griddle, cooking stone, or electric machine equivalent (thank you foreign engineers!), pour a small ladle of batter somewhere between the center and edge of the cooking area.
- Take a classic crepe-spreader, what looks like a wooden window wiper, or anything equivalent (spatulas may work well) and sweep through batter with swift, smooth clockwise motions, spreading it in a circular(ish) shape. Make sure to keep the edge of the device hovering just above the griddle.
- If using a sauté pan, ladle your batter in the outside circle. As fast as one can, lift, tilt, and swirl to coat as much of the bottom of the pan in a thin batter as possible. If one ends up missing a spot, in either cooking scenario, no worries; simply add a bit more batter to fill in the area.
- Once the edges start to curl, or peel up easily with a spatula lift, and the bottom is a nicely even golden brown, carefully lift and flip over to the other side.
- Pile your desired filling into either the center or spread over half.
- Once heated through and the bottom is browned, which will not be long so move fast, fold as desired. Often this is done either by folding the edges in to make a square or hexagonal package, or folding it in half and once again for a triangular wedge (though thinner fillinged crepes can have this done 3 or more times, and one can always have fun experimenting with rolling).
- Transfer to plate or parchment paper, garnish with any desired sauces, extra filling, or other toppings, and serve.
I was a bit surprised by the color of the batter, even with the browning, not that I mind! The pictures certainly didn’t show it off like that though. Sort of makes me want to try out different buckwheat crepe ratios/recipes even more, especially since I still have yet to achieve what I believe to be that ‘perfect texture’ found in the many street side stalls in France. Though to be fair I’m coming to think that part of that is less the batter recipe and more the creperie workers’ ability to evenly spread it out to a slightly thicker layer. Either way, I can’t quite tell that much of a flavor difference between these and other crepes unless tasted side-by-side with minimal filling and a thicker consistency.
And now I feel silly, as I write this, my very last sentence which I’m putting down after all my other text, and after researching some history on crepes, I find that buckwheat-based ones, unlike my assumptions to their softening properties, are actually seen as resulting in CRISPIER versions than all-flour-based crepes. Ooops. Lesson learned for future purposes. And yes, I am too lazy to go back and rewrite some of my other typings on the concept, haha.
That said, god these made some good savory crepes. Especially when warm, melty cheese was involved. Think I can officially say they made a family ‘crepe night’ definitely worth it.
Primary Pairing – French Cider, sparkling (which is common)
Originally I was thinking of using a nicely light, blond ale or lager for this, which would have worked great for certain reasons (which will follow). However, I’ve used light beers relatively frequently in my malt-based primary pairings, so I thought I’d switch to another option that me and Buzzfeed both agree on: Cider.
When considering a dish that has a wide, WIDE range of different fillings, flavors, and elements that one could experience, such as adventures in crepe-making, versatility becomes a very important thing in one’s pairing. Luckily, crepe fillings rarely if ever exceed a certain body or chew to them, so we can keep our options in a somewhat restrained ‘light bodied/textured’ range.
The great thing about French Cider is they often have ‘just a little bit’ of each of their palate aspects: a little bit of bubbly (which can be used a bit like light red wine tannins), a little bit of apple skin tannins, a little bit of sweetness, a little bit of body… you get the idea. And what they don’t have just a little of, namely their rich apple flavor and crisp acidity, are great aspects for standing up and cutting through the bigger flavors one can run across, while being able to not overwhelm lighter dishes. And that’s really the strongest point of both Ciders and Pale Beers: good ones can stand up to the whole range of crepes, while not overpowering the more delicate ones.
My Bottle: Héritage 1900 Cuvée Tradition Dégorgée á la Valee, Cidre bouché au Pays d’Othe
When I saw this guy on a random wine store visit, I just knew I HAD to get it for one of my dishes, and I’m glad it fit so perfectly into our ‘crepe night.’ It was sparkly and bubbly and celebratory, with a very light sweetness to be able to drink with the various light dishes we made that night. It went particularly delicious with our Ham and Brie, especially considering the very light notes of hay and yeast, giving it a light funkiness that tied it into cheese flavors quite well. And the apple flavor was pure and refreshing; it even had that very slight bit of apple skin ‘tannin’ I’ve found present in many good ciders; a key element allowing it to be drunk with any crepe with a bit of chew(like the ham), but doesn’t affect the fully soft options either.
Perfectly balanced for this night’s needs, and with a delicious freshness and just deep enough flavor to be special while connecting to the simple flavors of this French food, my bottle of Héritage Cuvée was a proper highlight of the evening.
Secondary Pairing – Cremant de Loire
There are some very nice white wines and super-light reds throughout Loire that can be used in a similar way to ciders and pale beers, but the Sparkling wines are just so special in their ability to eat with a wide range of food. Not to mention there seems to be a whole ‘bubbly’ line of thought with my pairing drinks anyway, so why not let it run?