Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Making Crêpes, and Making Do

I ate many crêpes in Paris. They are delicious, satisfying, affordable, and fast, whether you're buying from a street vendor or sitting in a tiny crêperie. We like them with mushrooms and Gruyère, and we like them complèt — ham and cheese inside, topped with a fried egg. Savory crêpes are called galettes. Made with buckwheat flour, they taste hearty and substantial. 

We like our sweet crêpes filled with Nutella. Nutella with bananas, Nutella with jam, Nutella with Nutella. Truth is, if you put enough Nutella on anything (even a small child), I'll probably eat it.

Crêpes are properly made on a round, cast-iron hot plate, with a neat little tool to spread the batter perfectly, like grooming the Fenway grass before a Sox game. Many home cooks have special crêpe pans, designed to be lightweight so you can easily spread the batter, with low sides for easy turning. 

Knowing we'd be yearning for crêpes here at home, I almost bought such a pan at Dehillerin. I found lots of them, lying in dusty piles that appeared to have been undisturbed since the days of Madame DeFarge. But I was incapable of completing the transaction in French and I doubted anyone spoke English. I was dead wrong; they even have a web site in English, damn it. (My punishment for being intimidated is missing out on a copper-and-steel oval gratin pan, too — at about half the price we'd pay in the US, even with the rotten exchange rate. I've coveted one for decades. I really have to go back to Paris.)

So, last night, we were hungry for crêpes, and we had some nice imported ham and cheddar, so I tried out our old Calphalon nonstick 10" skillet. It worked like a charm, turning out perfect, round, crispy-edged crêpes using almost no oil. Then we had Nutella crêpes for dessert, and again tonight. 

While crêpes are supposed to be cooked in a very hot pan, you have to use less heat with any nonstick pan (high heat can ruin them — and you). But lower heat can work perfectly well; just cook them a bit longer. 

I've always been skeptical about 90% of the stuff in the Williams-Sonoma catalogs. Many of the best cooks I know have fairly basic kitchen equipment, and typical French and Italian households turn out delicious meals daily without any amazing batterie de cuisine

My kitchen is tiny (we were once featured in a Boston Globe article about small kitchens). I can't fit a KitchenAid mixer or even a Waring blender in there, let alone all the specialized pans and utensils in the cookware catalogs. So it's heartening to discover that the old pan in the drawer does the job. 

Plus, it saves money for other things, like that gratin pan in my future. And more jars of Nutella.

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