I love crepes, and Shrove Tuesday, a.k.a. Pancake Day, provides the perfect occasion to indulge.
Pancake Day was originally a way for Christians to use up eggs and other rich ingredients before embarking on 40 days of Lenten fasting, which would commence on the following day, Ash Wednesday. Although the fasting has fallen by the wayside, the tradition of eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday remains, even in our secular society.
Crepes are my favourite pancakes. It isn't just that I enjoy the taste and texture and appreciate the versatility. It's also that having crepes - sometimes just thinking of them - conjures up a lovely image for me. It reminds me of sitting in the shady back yard garden of a bed and breakfast in the Cote des Neiges area of Montreal on a warm summer morning, where our hostess served us plates of incredible crepes. She served them three different ways: with lemon and sugar; with fresh berries and stuffed with cottage cheese, folded into triangular envelopes, and drizzled with maple syrup. That breakfast set the standard, for me, for vacation breakfasts.
Unlike fluffy griddle cakes or flapjacks, crepes are thin and flexible, made with a higher proportion of eggs and with no baking powder or baking soda to leaven them. This makes it relatively easy to roll them or fold them around fillings, either savoury or sweet.
The savoury mixtures used to fill crepes could be diced chicken or pieces of broccoli, or both, in a creamy sauce, or any number of other items including cheese, ham or ratatouille. They are served as an entrée. In France, where crepes originated - although similar flat eggy pancakes appear in the cuisines of many other European countries - savoury crepes were traditionally made with buckwheat flour and sweet ones with wheat flour.
Sweet crepes, served for breakfast or as dessert, may be served with fresh fruit (with or without whipped cream or ice cream), lemon juice, custard, even Nutella.
It is easy to make crepes, and, although there are specialized crepe pans for cooking the batter, you can get by with a regular, heavy frying pan.
However, as is the case for many good things, it is easier to be successful if you plan ahead. That is because you need to let the batter stand long enough for the air bubbles to disappear before cooking the crepes.
Speaking of planning ahead, you can prepare crepes one or two days before serving them if it is more convenient to do so. Stack them, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. To freeze for up to three months, separate with parchment paper and wrap well in plastic wrap; defrost in the refrigerator before using. To refresh crepes that have been stored in the fridge or freezer, warm in a low oven (90 C/200 F) for about 1 minute.
Since Monday is Islander Day, it could be a family project to make a batch of crepes and celebrate Pancake Day 24 hours early. Depending on their age and experience in the kitchen, children can help with the project by measuring and adding ingredients, beating the batter or rolling the filled crepes.
Usually, the first one or two crepes in a batch are messy. As the heat is regulated, the rest of the crepes will come out of the pan intact. The pan should be hot enough to cook the batter quickly.
4 eggs, lightly beaten
250 mL (1 cup) all purpose flour
50 mL (1/4 cup) melted butter
5 mL (1 tsp) pure vanilla extract
2 mL (1/2 tsp) grated orange rind
2 mL (1/2 tsp) grated lemon rind
25 mL (2 tbsp) sugar
250 mL (1 cup) milk
Combine all ingredients except milk. Beat 2-3 minutes until perfectly smooth. Add milk. Mix thoroughly. Let batter stand in refrigerator for at least ½ hour, longer if possible.
Give the batter a quick, gentle stir before cooking.
Heat a 20 to 25 cm (8 to 10 inch) heavy frying pan, or a crepe pan, over medium-high heat until it is hot enough to make a drop of water sizzle.
Melt enough butter to cover the bottom of the pan. Lift the pan off the stove with one hand, and pour in about 50 mL (1/4 cup) batter with the other hand. Tilt and swirl pan so that batter covers the entire bottom of the pan in a smooth layer.
Place the pan on the burner, and cook until the top of the crepe loses its sheen, and appears dry. Turn and cook for a few seconds. Add a little more fat to the pan between crepes to prevent sticking, if necessary.
Adjust the heat if necessary, so that crepes brown quickly without burning. Stack flat, one of top of another, until all are done.
Fill crepes before serving or let everyone fill their own. The easiest filling, one with a delicious and refreshing taste, is made by sprinkling a wee bit of sugar over the crepe and adding a squeeze of lemon. Then, either roll the crepe into a long cylinder, or fold it in half, and then in half again, making a wedge shape like a piece of pie.
Another easy and tasty filling is any fruit jam, spread thinly over the surface before the crepe is rolled or folded.
Now pick up your fork and enjoy your crepes.
Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached by writing her at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at