Friday, June 26, 2015

Crêpe Factory

It all started simply enough.  A friend who is a baker messaged me “Do you know anyone who can make 600 crêpes?”  Sure, so-and-so in San Diego or the crêpe truck…..”No,” she said, crepes only, no filling.  “I think you should do it.”  This was just after she had been to my French Food Camp Brunch and I showed everyone how to make fancy crêpes filled with lemon curd and topped with blackberry compote.  Soon I was making a sample batch and had a meeting with the best caterer in the area.  He asked for a larger size and the classic “white” crêpe as opposed to the buckwheat “Brittany style” crêpe I make.  I love crêpes in Brittany at the local market, where they are 100% buckwheat and I take them home and fill them for our car ride home.  I also love a Gruyère crêpe for breakfast at the market in Paris 16eme where I used to live.  I used to love the crêpe guy by the Louvre, a butter and sugar crêpe and a coffee was often a great snack.  Oui, me and Real French Crêpes go way back….


After another meeting and tasting the two versions, he called back to say that they loved the original version, crispy and lacy on the edges, soft in the center, not too sweet except at the center, where I had sprinkled the sugar between the crêpes to keep them from sticking.  Soon, I had an order of 800 crêpes.  I had never made 800 crêpes, but it was a deal, and so….I was a one-woman crêpe factory for two days.  Needless to say, my compost pile was happy to receive the shells of hundreds of eggs.


Now, if you want to make a small batch of fancy crêpes, here is the basic recipe, which is adapted from Pierre Hermé (Paris of course):

1 1/2 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons sugar
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons Grand Marnier or rum
2 teaspoons orange juice
Zest of 3/4 of an orange (organic please)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil (I use grapeseed oil)
3 tablespoons browned butter"
3/4 cup sifted flour
2 heaping tablespoons buckwheat flour (Bob’s Red Mill is great)
Extra sugar on hand

Makes about ten eight inch crêpes.

For a large quantity, I use the above proportions, but only use the milk, sugar, eggs, egg yolk, oil, butter, flour and buckwheat flour.  Remember that buckwheat flour is not a grain, so it’s also gluten free and a great addition even though this recipe also uses regular flour; there is something very settling to the stomach and satisfying (it’s very savory so good to use this crepe with sweet fillings).  I added a teaspoon of vanilla extract too to give more flavor but not be “boozy” and not expensive.  I make the batter the night before I will make the crêpes; it’s very important to give the batter time to rest.

Break your eggs and egg yolk in to a bowl and mix them well.  


Brown the butter by melting it over medium heat, then watch it slowly burn a little and turn brown (that was redundant, I know).  After a little while it will start to foam and bubble up.  This is when you need to watch it and be sure it does not bubble over the pan (remove the pan from the heat if you think it will bubble over, but mostly, use a generous sized pan.  Remove from heat and let cool.  Add the milk, sugar and vanilla, (if you are using the classic recipe add the orange zest and juice and the rum or Grand Marnier) then the oil and browned butter, including any burned bits; it’s all great flavor.  Then add the sifted flour and mix with a whisk.  The batter will seem a little lumpy but don’t worry, give the gluten in the flour time to relax.   Set in the refrigerator or a cool location overnight; I use three huge copper faitout or stockpots; stir in the morning and the batter should be smooth; otherwise just stir a little more.  Notice the buckwheat has a tendency to settle, so whisk to the bottom of the pan.  


And now, to the crêpe making!  I use two very large non-stick pans with sloped sides.  Use a paper towel and rub the warm pans with a little oil or butter before the first crepe.  Set your batter out close by, and choose a ladle that will be the right size….the amount of batter you need will vary depending on which pan you use.


Heat the pan on medium-high, and pour the batter in in one quick motion into the center of the pan, then pick the pan up and swirl it so that the batter covers the entire pan.  I prefer to cook crepes on a higher heat, which browns them a little more, but gives a crispy edge.  Can you see the lacy edge here?    Tips: the first crepe is to test: if the batter is too thick you can thin it with a little milk.  The oil will tend to rise to the top of the batter, so stir well for the first few crepes if your first crepe looks oily.  It’s really very straightforward once you have made them, and I hate to add too many explanations, but play a little with the heat and the batter to get the taste and texture that you like.  In Laguna I make smaller crepes on an electric range and I love them; the gas is hotter but easier to control.  You can do it, trust me.


After the edges of the batter start to brown, you are ready to flip the crêpe. I use a large spatula.  Slip it under the crêpe and… over!


The second side is faster to cook, but it’s the first side which is the “pretty” side, the one you will have on the outside once you fill the crêpe (you can roll them or quarter them for filling).  Flip the finished crêpes into a pile, with the pretty side down, and add a tablespoon of sugar on top, between each crêpe.  This way the crêpes are ready to fill.  The sugar will melt in the warm stack.

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The edges will be crispy and delicious; if you refrigerate these now, they will lose the crisp but they can be frozen or refrigerated for several weeks with no problem.

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I made piles of 25, and I counted each one as I flipped it in the pan; note my advanced counting system.


I made 350 crêpes the first day, then more batter late that night, and 450 the next day.  The XXL faitout was looking much like I felt, as I finished the second day at 2am.  Two hours sleep and I delivered the still-warm crêpes on schedule, all 800 of them, perfectly packaged.


Since those two days, I have made several more batches, though smaller.  They have been called “amazing” and other great comments….so a success.  Today I was asked to make 100 so that they had some on hand while I am in France.  I decided crêpes are tough work.  Thank goodness for a big lemon water and green juice.  It’s hot in there!


I’ve now made a total of 1,350 crêpes in the last month for the caterer.  And whenever I doubt myself, I will just say, Girl, you made 800 crêpes in two days; if you can do that, you can do just about anything!  Hope you will try the crêpes.  There is a reason why the French love this sweet or savory treat; it’s delicious~