When my oldest was young, toddler-young, we attended a magnificent preschool. I loved pretty much everything about it, from the paint-smudged windowed art nook, to the perpetually buzzy sensory table, to the teachers who singled out every last child for undivided delicious attention. But every so often, during the parent ed portion, talk would turn to traditions, and I was stumped.
Were we supposed to have traditions? I knew about onesies and nappies and car seats, and how to coax sleep from a tired baby's eyes, and where the white mouse was on each Goodnight Moon page, and to only ever use the back two burners to boil things. But traditions? Where WAS I that day? What kind? How many? And by when?
And where do you get them, anyway? Target?
At the time, I felt like I'd missed an assignment, showed up with my worksheet shiny-white blank. Unprepared. Empty-handed. More than a little daft.
I wasn't any of the above, of course. Today, looking back, I see we were only just very young, just beginning. Family 1.0. We hadn't skipped deadlines, or ignored protocal. We were still getting started, still sorting out which paths our new three-headed self could-should-would take. Today, those paths are well-trodden. Today, from afar, I can see what stuck. Like Iowa cornfields from 30,000 feet, the elegant patchwork is visible, from here.
*Snort* Okay, I've never been elegant. But I know, now, that we are people who walk after dinner whenever we can. We clean, Saturdays. We read. We draw. We play games. Card, board, video. We're not picky. We take off our shoes when we come in the door. We drink water, a lot, every day. We don't set out glasses when setting the table. This is a tradition that could stand to change. We play soccer very little, and basketball even less, and on both accounts, there is room for improvement. In Spring, we make Henry's Amazing Radish Soup, and at Thanksgiving, chocolate pie. In recent years, we pick strawberries. And every year, we make crêpes.
Every month, actually.
Every week, usually.
It is hard to overstate the quantity of crêpes we consume in this house. Let's see: 12 crêpes/batch * 3 meals/month * 12 months/year = 432 crêpes. Now triple that. (Because we triple every batch. Because otherwise, fisticuffs.) Let's call it north of 1,200 crêpes. Well, now. I'd never done the math. But I have spent much of the past week wondering how it is we've never talked crêpes, here. How, in something like four years, I've made no real record of them. How something so obvious, so basic and essential to our diet, has somehow escaped mention.
For the record, my face includes a nose. And we like gravity. Also, air.
Indeed, it was crêpes that first made me understand we'd finally (inadvertently) found ourselves a tradition. When that same oldest reached first grade, he was asked to write up a family tradition. My throat immediately did its familiar clench-choke thing, while I waited for my child to beseech me for answers. He didn't. Hadn't dawned on him to. He knew the answer, he told me matter-of-factly. "Crêpes. We make crêpes. It's what we do." Doh.
At least someone was paying attention.
Crêpes are our edible North Star, the one fixed meal in our malleable dinner firmament. Five out of five in our family love them, a feat which, well, almost nothing achieves. They're ecumenical, economical, easygoing, and endlessly adaptable. They're our comfort food when the chips are down, our go-to supper when a celebration's in order. Crêpes lift drooping spirits, and honor achievements, and check the dinner box when we're in Mother Hubbard mode. There are always milk, eggs, butter and flour. And if there aren't? Sound the alarms.
We eat crêpes for breakfast, brunch, dinner, with a strong bias toward the latter. We eat them in Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall, with a strong bias toward right-this-second. We eat them simply, with a smudge of yogurt, and less-so, with ham, greens, mushrooms, cheese. We picked strawberries recently (obviously), and our haul met many fates: jam, chocolate, pounds pounded straight-up. But there was never any question that some would wind up tucked, ruby-red, into a crêpe. Most things do. Watch out.
Because that is the nature of crêpes, fussy French rep, notwithstanding. Yes, they sport an arch accent, can be stacked in towering swanky cakes, or doused and flambéed, but seriously? Who sets their food on fire? And anyway, that's just folderol. Crêpes are, at heart, pantry fare, the cook's age-old trick of adding extra to ordinary. I think Richard Olney said it best: "the utility of crêpes—the simplicity and rapidity of their preparations, their usefulness as an elegant means of disposing of leftovers or of tossing off a hastily improvised dessert—thrusts them often into the category of last-minute-decision preparations." Utility, simplicity, haste, improvisation, leftover-disposal-delivery-system. These are the crêpes we know and love.
The crêpes we make are outlined below, but really, the recipe matters little. Crêpes, like chocolate chip cookies, are a worthy destination with countless good inroads. Ours originated from The New Basics Cookbook, because I began making crêpes back when bangs were big and eyeliner, bigger. We've upped the milk, and altered the mixing method, and tweaked this and that until seamless. Authentic, I don't know. Ours, absolutely. We like the results, very much, though our sample size is still under 15,000. We'll keep you posted if anything changes. We're bound to run another few (hundred) tests. Because, you know, it's what we do.
Our Everyday Crêpes
adapted from The New Basics Cookbook, Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso
yield: 8-12 crêpes, depending on pan size
On technique: Contrary to popular opinion, cooking crêpes is the easy part; it's the mixing that's tricky. Eggs, milk and flour don't play together well, the flour clumping in bubbles of milk. The technique below—whisking first flour, then milk, in alternating batches, into the eggs—is the most foolproof route I've found yet to ensure a smooth, pourable batter. After years with the blender, stick-blender, and mixer, I've found this method and a whisk the best tools for the job. We never sieve our batter or let it rest.
On ingredients: We use whole wheat flour as often as white; both are wonderful. There is an important scratch of salt and sugar below, which I find rounds out the flavor in big ways. They don't tilt these toward sweet or savory, but without them, the crêpes fall oddly flat. We eat these both ways, every time, and they work as well with stewed blueberries as garlicky greens. Also, from Olney, again, the best bit of advice I know on how your batter should behave: "The precise proportioning of ingredients is of little importance, but the consistency of the batter is of the greatest—its body should be approximately that of American fresh heavy cream (that is to say, very thin)."
On equipment: Any low-sided, non-stick skillet will do, in the 6"-10" range.
Finally, we triple this batch, every time. No joke. Go right ahead.
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup flour, unbleached all-purpose or whole wheat
1 1/4 cup milk, ideally 2% or higher
3 tablespoons salted butter
Into a wide medium mixing bowl, crack eggs, and add salt and sugar. Whisk to combine whites and yolks, 30 seconds. Add half of flour, and whisk well to combine, until the consistency of paste and lump-free, 1 minute. Add half of milk, and whisk well to combine. Repeat with remaining flour, then milk, whisking well between additions, until you have a smooth batter the consistency of heavy cream.
Set a 1/3 cup dry measuring cup and a small saucer stoveside; the cup will ferry batter, the saucer will contain the drips. Place 3 tablespoons' butter in a low-sided non-stick skillet or crêpe pan, and melt over hottish-medium flame. Pour off two tablespoons' butter into the batter, and whisk to combine. Return skillet, with 1 tablespoon melted butter remaining, to the heat, and pour in 1/4-1/3 cup batter, depending on pan size (eyeball it). Lift pan by the handle, give it a slow steady twirl to distribute the batter to the edges, and return to a hottish medium. Batter should comfortably but not thickly coat the bottom of the pan (note coverage, and add more or less next time, as needed). Let crêpe cook 2-3 minutes, until edges are dry and lifting slightly, and no shiny damp batter remains visible. With a silicone spatula or careful fingers, lift crêpe by one edge, and flip, returning to pan to cook on the reverse side. Cook another 1-2 minutes, until the bottom is just cooked through. A bit of color is fine on either/both sides, but unnecessary.
Remove finished crêpe to a large plate, and repeat, until batter is used up.
Fill with whatever your little heart desires—butter+lemon juice+powdered sugar; berries+vanilla yogurt; thin good ham+mushrooms+cheese; roast asparagus+cheese; garlicky greens; roasted sweet potato cubes; leftover dal or curry; and of course, nutella—and eat piping hot, as many as you will.
*First crêpes are rumored to be a disaster, but we consider them the cook's treat, extra-rich and excellent from the slick of butter that seasoned the pan. I highly recommend rolling this first one, slicing it, and sharing it amongst all helpers.
*If you find the bottom is browning before the top dries out, turn down heat a nudge. I usually adjust the heat a few times within a crêpe session.
*When we make savory crêpes, I typically prepare the toppings in advance of the crêpes—mince the ham, shred the cheese, sauté the mushrooms—and set them aside, while I make the crêpes. Then, when the crêpes are finished, I return a few to the pan, one by one, with their savory bits, and warm them gently to heat the fillings.
*From melting the butter directly in the crêpe pan, to using a dry measure and saucer to contain drips, these are all tiny tweaks we've added over the years to streamline crêpe-making. Feel free to adjust these details to suit.
*I am told crêpes freeze well, but have never, in twenty years, had occasion to try. I can verify that, well-wrapped, they refrigerate beautifully for two days, and by then are always, always gone.