No good cook ever uses a recipe.
No good French cook would debase themselves and use a recipe to make something as basic as a crêpe.
So when you’re invited chez a friend for a soirée des crêpes, you eagerly accept. You think that not only will you get to eat more delicious and hang out with your colleagues, but you might also learn a few things about how to make these light and thin French pancakes.
A French crêpe party involves three things: crêpes salé, crêpe aux sucre, and cidre. That’d be salty crêpes, sweet crêpes, and cider. Crêpes are orignally from the Bretagne region of northwest France (Brittany).
You arrive a little early to learn what exactly is involved. Your mathematical mind forgets you’re in France for a minute, and you start asking- how much flour? how much sugar? Your friends laugh at you. “C’est comme tu veux.” However you want.
A little confused, you start watching your friend make his pâtes (batter) for the crêpes salé. Start with some farine de blé noir de Bretagne. That’d be, dark wheat flour of Brittany – how appropriate that you’re using flour from the origin of this pancake. Add a dash of salt. Then, add in an egg or two, as you like. Grind egg into the flour a bit.
Then add some water. Not too much, not too little, mixing all the while. Pour in a little vegetable oil.
Then, the tricky part. You learn that you have to get the right level of “runniness.” The batter can’t be too runny, but it can’t be too dry. You test it by taking a spoon and watching it fall. You decide there’s currently too much liquid. So you add some more flour, mix. You repeat this a few times until your French friends decide you’ve got the right liquid content. You set your salty batter aside and start to prepare the sweet crêpe batter!
This time, you start with farine blanc – white flour. The trick here is to use not just white sugar, but also something called sucre vanille. You put in a few spoonfuls of sugar, and a splattering of vanilla sugar. Then, you add in between 2-3 eggs, eggs into your flour/sugar mix.
Then, because you’re making a sugary crêpe, you use milk instead of water. Now you mix all the ingredients together and do the same “runniness” test as you did for the salty crêpes. You decide that your batter is entirely too runny, so you go back and keep adding white flour until you’ve achieved a satisfactory level of thickness.
You’ve now finished the preparation of your pâtes.
It’s time to kick back and pop open a bottle (or two or three) of cidre. There are two types of cidre: the brut and the doux. Some in France insist that a crêpe salé must be eaten with a cidre brut while a crêpe au sucre must be eaten with a cidre doux. But you and your friends don’t care, you’re happy to relax with whatever cidre you all have brought.
When you’re ready to eat, you bring out The Machine. One of your friends has an all-in-one raclette, crêpe, and grill machine. You start, of course, with the crêpe salé. Once the machine is hot, pour a ladle of your pâte onto the circular hot plate. Take the wooden tool and quickly spread your pâte around before it starts cooking.
You let the crêpe cook on one side until it starts to slightly brown. Then, you flip it over quickly and start adding your jambon et fromage emmental. After all, you’re eating your salty crêpe, so what better to add on than ham and cheese? You fold the sides of your crepe over and then let it cook until the cheese has melted and is runny. Then, you enjoy your first homemade crêpe with a side of cidre!
Once everyone has made their crêpe salé, you move on to the crêpes aux sucre! You’ve made twice the batter for the sweet crêpes as you did for the salty crêpes, meaning everyone will get to have two desserts (you love living in France). You do the same thing as before, by first pouring a ladle of batter onto the grill. But for the crêpes aux sucre, you don’t add the fillings in until after your crêpe is fully cooked on both sides.
Then you get to indulge in whatever kind spread you want. Your friends have brought nutella and a whole slew of confitures (jams). They’ve brought figues, framboises, myrtilles (figs, rasberries, and blueberries). You could also put a dusting of sucre on your crêpe. But your eyes are drawn to a jar of speculoos. You’ve never heard of this before so you take your spoon and taste it- mm! What a taste sensation. Imagine a not-too-sweet gingersnap Belgian cookie that has been turned into a spread, tasty, bold, with a hint of cinnamon and spices. You spread it over your crêpe. You eat it, and then promptly proceed to make another one, this time with nutella.
You and your friends manage to make your dinner party last until 12:30 am on a Thursday night, forgetting that all of you will be at work in the morning, probably very exhausted. But then you remember that it doesn’t really matter. Because what matters most of this year are the memories you make.