Plan B

Well, that was nice, if completely unexpected. Our plans to spend New Year’s Eve in rural New Hampshire may have been foiled by a snow storm that, in the end, turned out to be not-so-stormy, but it’s hard to complain when Plan B involves a last-minute dinner reservation, smoked Swiss chard ravioli with caramelized onions and pine nut cream, homemade almond ice cream and, the next morning, billowy vanilla crêpes with jam, sliced apples, and toasted walnuts.

They look like little blankets, don’t they? We Bostonians have many tricks up our flannel sleeves for keeping warm on cold winter mornings: mulled ciders, glowing fireplaces, down comforters, and wool socks, like the ones on my feet there, by the stove. But I’ll gladly leave all of these things aside for a couple of crêpe blankets to pull over my knees, and up beneath my chin. Drifting off to sleep between covers so airy and warm sounds just about perfect to me. If you wake up hungry, you can nibble on the crisp, golden edges with the slightest turn of the head.

I’ve tried a couple of different crêpe recipes in the past, with moderate success. The first was a bit too eggy, and both recipes baffled me with little lumps of flour that, no matter how much I whisked, refused to mix with the rest of the batter. This new-to-me recipe, originally published in Gourmet magazine in 1958, was much better on both counts. It calls for only two eggs, and makes use of that stellar piece of lump-busting equipment, The Blender. The blender! In a minute flat, your batter is lump-free, and ready to pour. It’s a beautiful thing.

While I whirred and poured and flipped, Eli set the table. Civilized creature that he is, he placed a knife and a fork beside each plate. But once the crêpes were served, he abandoned said utensils and demonstrated a much better way to feast.

I promptly followed suit; had my fingers not been smeared with butter and jam, I would have the pictures to prove it.

Piled loosely on a warmed dinner plate, Plan B never looked so pretty. Maybe because these crêpes are really more Plan A material.

Vanilla Crêpes with Jam
Adapted from Gourmet, January 2006; originally published in 1958

You can find all kinds of special crêpe-making paraphernalia out there: crêpe pans, batter spreaders, turning spoons, mini-ladles. But I find that a 10-inch non-stick pan, a spatula, a ¼ c. measuring cup, and an agile wrist yield excellent results. It takes a little practice, but once you get the hang of it, crêpe-making is quite simple, and much faster than making thicker pancakes that need more time to cook through.

I added a teaspoon of vanilla to the original recipe, and used less butter for greasing the pan. A single greasing with ½ teaspoon of butter lasted the entire batch. Any more butter would have left the crêpes too greasy for my taste. The original recipe calls for spreading the crêpes with 10-12 oz. of jam mixed with 1 T. brandy, rolling them up jelly-roll style, and dusting them with sugar. I prefer a less formal, do-it-yourself-at-the table approach, but if you’re looking for a more polished presentation, filling, rolling, and dusting the crêpes sounds lovely.

On New Year’s Day, I served them with strawberry jam (we didn’t have any apricot jam, which is my favorite), toasted walnuts, and sliced green apples. Here are some other ideas for how you might serve them. If you have favorite fillings, I’d love to hear.

With Nutella and sliced bananas
With Greek yogurt, honey, toasted walnuts, and a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg
With fresh berries and powdered sugar
With sautéed apples and warm caramel sauce
With vanilla sugar and lemon juice

Savory (I’d leave out the vanilla, and cut back to 1 T. sugar for these.)
With sautéed wild mushrooms and fresh thyme
With sliced pears, feta, toasted walnuts, and arugula
With steamed spinach, feta, and toasted pine nuts
With smoked salmon, crème fraîche, red onions, and capers

Now, the recipe:

1 c. plus 2 T. whole milk
2 large eggs
1 c. flour
2 T. sugar
¼ t. salt
1 t. vanilla
2 T. unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly + 1/2 t. butter for greasing the pan

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees, and place an oven-safe dinner plate or platter inside to warm.

Combine all ingredients (except for the ½ t. butter for greasing the pan) in a blender, and blend until smooth, about one minute. You may need to scrape down the sides once or twice. The original recipe suggests letting the batter stand at room temperature for one hour, to “prevent tough crêpes.” (Don’t quote me, but I think it has something to do with letting the gluten relax.) We were impatient and hungry, so I skipped this step. The crêpes were maybe a little stiff when they first slipped out of the pan, but in their heap on the warmed plate, they relaxed and softened. They were as tender as can be. Still, if I can stand the wait, I may try letting the batter rest for one-hour next time around.

Add ½ t. butter to the non-stick pan, and heat over a medium-high flame, until the pan is hot and the butter is melted. I used a pastry brush to spread the melted butter evenly over the pan, but a spatula will work in a pinch. Pour ¼ c. batter into the pan, and tilt to coat the bottom. Cook until the underside of the crêpe is pale golden, about 1 ½ minutes. Then, jerk the skillet to loosen the crêpe, and flip it over with a spatula. (I find that a combination of fingertips on the edges, and a spatula underneath works best for flipping.) Cook for about 30 seconds, until the underside of the crêpe is covered in pale brown, lacy swirls. Flip the finished crêpe onto the warmed plate. Repeat, until you have used up all of your batter.

You’ll need to work quickly, as the crêpes are thin, and begin cooking as soon as the batter hits the pan. Don’t be discouraged if the first crêpe or two tear, come out too greasy (from the freshly buttered pan), or cook unevenly. I always think of my first couple of crêpes as sacrifices to the breakfast gods. I use these early sacrifices to play around with the heat and cooking time so that I can find the ideal crêpe-making conditions for the rest of the batch. As you can see, some of my crêpes came out looking a little mottled, due to a too-hot pan, I think. Still, they were delicious, speckles and all.

Yield: 8-10 crêpes.


nicole said...

Mmm... thank you for posting this recipe. They look delicious! For sweet crepes, I like strawberries and kiwi with nutella; or a smear of dulce de leche, toasted walnuts, and whatever stone fruit looked good at the market; or sometimes just a little bit of brown sugar and butter. For savory, I really like chevre, spinach, and sauteed mushrooms; or thinly sliced bosc pears, bleu cheese, and proscuitto.

And, of course, now I'm craving a crepe like crazy :).

Eitan said...

I know pistol packin' patriots aren't supposed to like French things, but I do like crepes. The recipe I use says that if you refrigerate the batter for a couple hours, the clumps go away. And I've found that to work. But a crude electric blending is truly a more American way to do it, so props to you and thanks for the tip. Patience is sooo euro.

Happy New Year from a first-time-ever-blog-commenter.

Beth said...

You've just given me reason to abandon my New Year's resolution Pilates class after work and run home to exercise my wrist and try out these amazing crepes. I've always been intimidated by crepes but am finding hope in your non-stick pan, spatula, wrist recipe. It's blustery here in NYC so this might just be the perfect Monday night activity. Thanks!

Char said...

oh sigh - crepes remind me of my favorite breakfast place - they have a selection of crepes and if you do not get there early, they sell out. my favorite is always the pear with a smear of sweetened ricotta. but the combinations you have here are so enticing. i wonder if my burly roommate/brother would like these or if i need to save them for a girly weekend. can't wait to try them out.

Ashley said...

Mumm... All of these are great crepe fillings. I personally love mushrooms and asparagus for a savory crepe and for dessert, it's a toss-up between crepes suzette and Nutella/bananas.

Jess said...

Nicole - You're very welcome. And thank you for your heavenly recommendations. Did I hear you say "dulce de leche?" Yes, please.

Eitan!? I've just read your note twice, and I'm still getting over the shock of seeing you here. Welcome, my friend! And bravo on your most excellent first-ever comment. You have totally made my day. Thank you for the tip. (Did you catch that, folks? If you don't have a blender, or prefer to whisk by hand, stick the batter in the fridge for a spell to lose the clumps.) I suppose there are stranger things than an all-American cowboy with a flare for crêpe-making. Happy New Year to you and Julia.

Oh, Beth, you made me laugh with this one. I would hate to get between a girl and her Pilates, but a good wrist workout is of course better than nothing. Stay warm!

Char - Ricotta. Yes! That sounds perfect. As for the manly audience you have in mind, just let them chuckle when you suggest the dainty rounds. I have a feeling you'll have the last laugh when they take their first bites.

Ashley - Mushrooms and asparagus. Now that is my kind of crêpe. And crêpe suzette - how could I forget? (For the uninitiated, crêpe suzette is a dessert crêpe served in an orange liqueur sauce. If I'm not mistaken, it's typically served flambé.) Thanks, Ashley!

my spatula said...

nothing beats a perfect crepe. swoooooon. happy new year, jess!

Rogue Unicorn said...

This sounds so cozy. I was recently trying to describe to my (Israeli) boss the serenity of a snow day-when the whole world is blanketed and muffled- and the only logical thing to do is to stay inside and make crepes with the people you love. My boss was to hung up on the cold aspect to really get it.
Happy New Year. I'm so glad you're back to writing on a regular basis.

Jess said...

And to you, my spatula!

Rogue Unicorn - I love the way you put it: "when the whole world is blanketed and muffled." It really is a special kind of quiet, something that's hard to translate to one who has never experienced it. I'm so happy to be back here more regularly. Thank you for noticing. (Really, it means a lot.) I don't think I realized - even while I was doing it - that throwing myself back into full-time studying, research, and teaching while still recovering from that last surgery would be so jarring to my system. I've found my equilibrium again, and it feels great. Happy New Year to you, too.

molly said...

Oh, yes, these are a favorite in our home, standing order Plan A material. The blender IS the best crepe utensil ever, standing or stick. Happy New Year, Molly

Naomi said...

What a great Plan B! I love making crepes on any kind of morning, cold winter or hot summer. These look absolutely lovely

Lo said...

Oh, no! You definitely can't argue with that! I'm so glad that you're back... reading your posts is just the sort of thing I need to wind down after a hard day at the office. Gives me that lovely, cozy, warm feeling.

Happy 2010! Looking forward to spending it with you!

Anna said...

sounds delicious! we had swedish pancakes for christmas breakfast--with jam and cottage cheese inside. yum yum.

Jess said...

Molly - I can understand why. I think I need to make them more often. (And yes, let's hear it for the blender!)

Thanks, Naomi. You're right; they're perfect for any season. They require such a small amount of time at the stovetop, and pair so nicely with cool fillings like yogurt - and who am I kidding, ice cream - that they're every bit as much a summer food, too.

Oh, Lo, thank you. It really makes me smile to imagine someone clicking over to Sweet Amandine at the end of a long day. Especially because I feel like I come here to unwind, too. I'm really looking forward to the time I'll spend with all of you here this year.

Anna - Hello there! I've never thought to try cottage cheese. Perhaps with a bit of cinnamon for me! I hope that your 2010 is off to a lovely start.

Catherine said...

I think your plan B more successful than my plan A! I'm not sure that they look like blankets though, my crêpes look like blankets- thick and heavy, yours on the other hand look more like the lightest silk sheets- so fine and thin, though still perfect for wrapping up in. I'll certainly be giving this recipe a try.
As for fillings, I'm a lemon juice and sugar girl but when I'm feeling particularly in need of a treat I swap the lemon juice for cointreau!

Oliag said...

So surprized to see part of Plan B occurred on Walden St where my daughter recently bought a condo!...I immediately emailed her a link to the restaurant to see if she has been there yet and to suggest a meal there the next time I visit:)

I've always meant to try making crepes one day but somehow never have...maybe 2010 is the year...

Sprouted Kitchen said...

i've been thinking about crepes lately. yours look so thin and perfect. You can do so much with them. Oh, and happy blog anniversary! Cant wait to see what you come up with this year!