Crepes, Strawberries, Balsamic Something Or Other, etc.

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I love really thin pancakes, and as much as Alton Brown made them seem difficult to make in that one episode of Good Eats (where I assume he had a lot of time to fill), they're actually super simple.  In contrast to their thicker American counterparts, crepes are as delicious in savory applications as they are when sweet, and thus make an excellent foundation for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or dessert.  This versatility combined with their simplicity is reason enough to commit the very basic crepe recipe to memory.   

Below is what I ate for breakfast today.  It took about an hour to make, photograph, and eat.  Not bad.   

If making these for a significant other, I'd definitely recommend the new Defeater record as a wonderful, very romantic soundtrack to your brunch.

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Crepe batter is best built in a blender, where you're allowed to dump the whole of the ingredients in all at once.  Those ingredients are as follow: 

  • 1 cup (140g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup (225g) whole milk
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3T (1oz) melted butter
  • 2 eggs
  • pinch of salt

That's it.  In this particular instance I knew I'd be adding some orange balsamic on top with some strawberries, so I added about a tablespoon of microplaned orange zest and a half teaspoon of vanilla extract.  You can also add sugar to the batter when you know you're going sweet, or herbs/spices when savory.  Hell, I bet you could even sub some of the milk for stock.  Haven't tried it, but you know, probably.  Point is, learn the basic recipe, then get creative with it.

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From here all you have to do is blend everything together quickly.  Start low if you can and quickly bring it up to a higher speed for no longer than 10 seconds.  We're working with flour and liquid here, meaning that all mixing leads down the road to gluten development.  You want to travel down that road as little as possible, lest you have dense, rubbery crepes.  If you didn't leave your medium mesh strainer at a friend's house last night, now would be a great time to strain the batter just to make sure there are no lumps.  Or not.  

No blender?  No problem.  Watch this video (starting at 12:40) of Eric Ripert both making and pronouncing crepes perfectly (And note that while his recipe is different, it's built on the same foundation.  The point isn't that there's only one recipe, just a general understanding of the end goal and a ton of different ways to get there.)

Ok, now that the batter is blended and strained, it's a really good idea to let the it rest in the fridge anywhere from 1 to 24 hours.  Mixing it up, especially in the blender, incorporates a ton of little bubbles that will ultimately interfere with the final texture of the very thin pancakes.  Also, you want to let the starches in the flour fully hydrate.  You can make them immediately in a hurry, I've done it before, but if you have the time, take it.

Hey, and since you're going to be waiting around for a bit, maybe you could prepare some macerated maple strawberries, orange balsamic reduction, cultured whipped cream, and basil chiffonade.  You know, for putting on top of the crepes.  

Here's how to do that. 

 

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These are macerated strawberries.  What is macerating exactly?  Well, it's a fancy way of saying, I put some sugar on some fruit and then forgot about it.  Sugar likes moisture, and so when added to fruit it pulls the moisture out of the cells.  This collapses the cells and makes the fruit softer, and the whole thing much juicier and, well, delicious.  Sugar really only needs about a half hour to do a thorough job macerating, but you can, like I did, throw some sugar on fruit the night before, mix it all together, put that in the fridge, and then use it the next morning.  You don't really need measurements here.  Just eyeball it.  I probably put a quarter cup of sugar on about 3 cups of strawberries.  That worked just fine.   

When it came time to use these strawberries for a crepe topping, I added about a cup of berries to a sauté pan, tasted them, decided they could still handle some more sugar, and then added a tablespoon of maple syrup.  I brought that to a boil, lowered it to a light simmer, and gave it time to release even more liquid and then for that liquid to evaporate, leaving behind a thick sauce.   

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For smaller, personal sized whipped cream applications, there's no better tool than a cocktail shaker and the miniature slinky from a hawthorne strainer.  Add a splash of simple syrup then shake it up for twenty seconds and you have a nice soft whipped cream.  

I've recently got on this kick of adding a bit of plain, unsweetened yogurt to whipped cream when it will be used on crepes/waffles/pancakes.  It adds a great depth and complexity to something that is otherwise just fat and sweet and pairs with the sour element often found in the batter of these foods.  For lack of a better term, I call this cultured whipped cream.  To make it, whisk in yogurt at a ratio of roughly 1 part yogurt for every 5 parts whipped cream.  It will thicken the whole thing up a bit, so make sure you don't originally whip the cream beyond soft peaks.  

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It's common when making cooked fruit toppings to add citrus zest as a way to brighten up the whole thing.  Having already added zest to the crepe batter, I thought it'd be interesting to change up the acid component of the dish and instead go with balsamic vinegar.  Though this is by no means a crazy idea, balsamic and strawberries classically go really well together, I didn't want the balsamic to play too strong a role.  So I juiced a half an orange, took that 1.5 ounces of juice, added an ounce of cheap balsamic, and reduced that in a small sauté pan.  It's easy to over-reduce balsamic because when super hot it still appears very thin but once taken off the heat you're soon left with an unworkably thick sludge.  To avoid this it's better to pay attention to the change in the size of the bubbles in the reduction rather than its apparent viscosity.  Bigger bubbles imply a thicker, reduced sauce.  

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When the reduction is finished, immediately transfer it to a little bottle like this.  It makes it both easier to apply later and, if the reduction does thicken up too much as it cools, you can just plop the whole thing in some hot water to thin it out.  

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For a more in depth explanation of crepe making, I suggest watching that Eric Ripert video I linked to above.  But the general idea is, warm up a non-stick pan over medium heat, add a little bit of butter and spread it over the whole thing, pour batter into the center of the pan, then tilt the pan in a slow circle so the batter spreads out thinly over the whole of the pan.  If your crepe is too thick, add less batter next time.  If the batter thickened up too much as it rested, add a few tablespoons of water and quickly whisk that in.  

You want to cook it for about 30 seconds on each side, or until the edges pull up from the pan.  The crepe should release from a non-stick pan at this point with a little shake, allowing you to toss and flip it without a spatula.  Or, if you don't like picking crepes out of your burner, use a rubber spatula to help.  Either way, stack them up on top of each other, and if you're making a bunch, cover them in a clean towel placed in a warm oven.  

 

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Fold the crepes up, top with a generous portion of strawberries, some scattered drops of balsamic, a spoonful of the whipped cream, and a smattering of thinly sliced basil. 

Note: In the future I'd smatter a little less basil on here.  I was in a race against whipped cream melting to take this picture so things got a little out of control with the basil chiffonade.  But you know how that is.

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Make some crepes, take a picture, and send that all to me at brett@fourchordkitchen and I'll post it on the site here.   

Oh, and share this stuff with your friends here.  Maybe they'll get inspired and make you crepes.  It's worth a shot.