My husband, Nick, grew up in the UK, spent summer holidays in France, moved to London after university and spent his 20s and 30s jetting around the continent (referring, of course, to the landlocked mass of Europe that you stumble upon when leaving the island of Great Britain). He speaks French, has a pretty good handle on Spanish and Italian, and knows things like you need a special sticker to drive on the highway in Switzerland, you have to switch your headlights over if you drive from the UK to France, and that you can go really, really fast in France (I set our family speed record at 135 in 2006. Before we had kids, of course).
But me? My upbringing wasn’t so cosmopolitan. I grew up splitting life between my mom in Mid-City, New Orleans and my dad who lived on a gravel road surrounded by 100 acres of woods in St. Gabriel, Louisiana. I went to Mexico a few times but it was only when I visited Europe for the first time when I was 22 that the travel bug really bit me. Hard.
I am fortunate that Nick, despite his experience with travel, is still keen to pack his bags and pull out his passport. I live in fear of the day he wakes up and exclaims: “Ahhh, sod it. I’ve seen it all. Let’s stay home this year.” Until then we base our lives around travel. We may spend the school year in one place (a legal requirement from 6 to 16 unfortunately) which is currently New Orleans but we spend summers in London and hit the road as frequently as we can. New York. Miami. Italy. France. Switzerland. Vietnam. Thailand. You name it, I’m booking flights and making restaurant reservations.
So last week when Nick had to be in Paris for a business meeting It took me about four seconds to come up with the idea of joining him. “It’s just a quick train ride,” I offered. “We can get coverage for the kids, I can meet you after your meetings and then we can come back together the next morning.” (Already calculating how early Ladurée opened and whether I would have a chance to go to that cool store that sells mismatched silverware before our morning train). Much to my delight he thought it was a great idea! He added a night to his hotel, booked my return train ticket and made dinner reservations. I, meanwhile, went through my entire closet about 20 times and mentally packed at least a dozen. Okay, I’ll wear these jeans on the train with a white blazer, no, no white blazer on a train. Train stations are filthy. I’ll wear those black stretch pants and a dark top instead and just put on a blazer for dinner. Hmmm…and I’ll go shopping…
Unfortunately along with the ability to book and take trips to the continent quickly and easily comes the ability to cancel them quickly and easily. Departure day rolled around and the Eurostar had “issues” and two of his meetings cancelled. There was no need for him to go anymore. So there was no need for me to go either. Cue the sad French song…maybe Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien.
So maybe Paris went away….but mentally I was already there. I was already dodging the steaming dog poops along Avenue des Champs Elysées, stopping in at Colette on Rue St. Honoré and relaxing with un verre de vin rosé. I had already snapped beautiful photographs at Ladurée and picked up matching smocked dresses for Grace and Powers at Jacadi Paris. So it isn’t like I could just un-think those things. I wasn’t exactly going to grab a plate of fish-n-chips for dinner and be happy in my cheery little London flat. Nope. I needed French food. French music. French wine. I needed crêpes.
three four things you need in order to make great crepes: 1. An offset spatula 2. A heavy crepe pan (I like this one) 3. Julia Child’s crêpe recipe and 4. Experience. 1, 2 and 3 you can find substitutions for but number 4, experience, is the important one. It is that alone that will teach you how hot the pan needs to be, when to cool it down, how much batter to spread, when to lift up an edge to turn it and when to leave it all alone. You’ll also learn how much you can handle crepes after they are cooked (which is a surprisingly high amount) so that you can make a batch and serve everyone dinner or dessert at once.
It took me several disastrous tries a few years ago to make crepes but once I got a feel for it it just kind of stuck around. Like I couldn’t REALLY mess them up anymore. They are much heartier than you might think. You can sort of man-handle them if you need to. You can stack them up, fold them, stick them in a low temperature oven to keep them warm for dinner. You can make a sauce for them or just put some meat and cheese in them. You can serve them sweet or savoury. You can make them for brunch, lunch, dinner or dessert. And, the best part? They really, really, always wow.
When it comes time to assemble the crepes that is when you can really get creative. Use them to burn through some random ingredients in the refrigerator. Half of a broccoli head, some spinach leaves and the butt end of some cheese you served last week? Done! That’s dinner. A half bruised pear and a tablespoon of anemic blueberries? Dessert! Knock out some fresh whipped creme and, this might surprise you, but use the magic shell recipe for a really nice bittersweet chocolate sauce. It goes great with the pear and whipped creme crepe!
The best crêpe recipe, unsurprisingly, is Julia Child’s. I’ve included it below. No need to mess with perfection…
And here are some of my favorite savory crêpes with ingredients that don’t need to be cooked in advance. Just wash, slice and add to a crepe.
Ham, mozzerella, mushrooms
Goat cheese, spinach, mushrooms
Broccoli or Broccoli rabe, mozzerella,
Bacon, cheddar, onions
And here are my favorite sweet crêpes — you only need to make fresh whipped creme and a bittersweet chocolate sauce for these.
Pear, whipped creme, chocolate sauce
Peaches, whipped creme, blueberries
Bananas, chocolate sauce
Bananas, nutella, whipped creme
Whipped creme, sugar
Whipped creme, strawberries
Let me know how you get on, I’d love to see what you make!
- 1 cup (125 g) flour
- 2/3 cup (160 ml) cold milk
- 2/3 cup (160 ml) cold water
- 3 large eggs
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons (45 ml) melted butter, plus more for brushing on pan
- Mix all ingredients until smooth in a blender or with a whisk. Refrigerate.
- Heat a crepe pan over medium heat. Brush with melted butter.
- Pour in about 1/3 cup (80 ml) of batter into the center of the pan and then tilt the pan in all directions to cover the bottom evenly. Cook about 1 minute, or until browned on the bottom. Using an offset spatula, flip the crepe and cook briefly on the other side. If you are going to fill it and serve it immediately, do so the second you flip the crepe.
- Cool on a rack or plate as you finish making the rest. Serve as desired.
- Let the batter rest for at least 30 minutes before cooking. This recipe makes about 6 8" crepes. If you are making them for the first time, or the first time in a long time, double the recipe and allow yourself the ability to make some mistakes.