Work is one of the things that can really make you feel alive (eating and sex being the other two that immediately come to mind). There seems to be something primordial about putting hand to object that defines us as human. Indeed, one early species of homo is called H. habilis, or “handy man.” Handy, of course, refers to the hands of these folks, which were able to rub and pound well enough to invent primitive stone tools.
And what did they do with them, you ask? They used their stone cutting implements to hack meat off dead animals. In other words, they used them for cooking. Thus man invented the butcher knife, and with it, what would later be called by the French “la cuisine.” Although the smelly meat of a rotting saber-toothed cat sawed into manageable chunks may not be your idea of a date-meal, it probably tasted better than starvation.
But at that time (two million years ago), man had still not yet invented milk, flour, butter, frying pans or fire, making the execution of good crepes nearly impossible. With these ingredients available today in the supermarket (saber-toothed cat is, sadly, no longer available due to extinction), nothing stands between us and the crepes that our ancestors fought so hard for but failed to achieve.
We owe it to them to make crepes as often as possible, if for no other reason than to prove to Nature that we won: we discovered fire, invented metal pots and pans and developed the processing of the ingredients. Two million years later, we are finally ready to eat.
Crepes can range from the simple to the most elegant. Crepes Suzette — a dish of crepes smothered in a flaming sauce of butter, orange and lemon peel, orange blossom water, kirsch, white curacao, orange juice, lemon juice, rum and maraschino — is perhaps a bit on the fussy side of elegant.
Its creator, Henri Charpentier, describes the moment of their discovery: “My wide pan was alive once more with blue and orange flame and as the colors died from the pan I looked up to see the Prince of Wales watching me. That day he was dressed all in gray with a cravat in light blue. There was a carnation in his button hole. His gray beard was faultless. His chin went up and his nostrils inhaled. I thought then, and I think now, he was the world’s most perfect gentleman. … And so this confection was born and named, one taste of which, I really believe, would reform a cannibal into a civilized gentleman. The next day I received a present from the Prince, a jeweled ring, a panama hat and a cane.”
Although the dish may be fussy, the way Charpentier describes the moment is so endearing that I want to gather him and all the crepes in the world together in my arms and hug them to my breast, and tuck a silk napkin into my collar before eating them.
There are two main branches of the crepe family: the sweets and the savories. This batter serves equally well for both of them. I suggest making a double recipe of the batter and cooking an entire meal of crepes from start to finish. The crepes themselves can be made ahead of time, and the fillings added at the last minute. You can add really whatever you like to the inside of these little fellows — they won’t mind.
One cup flour, sifted
Three dL milk (three-tenths of
Pinch of salt
One, two, three. Beat the eggs together with the salt. Stir in the flour. Slowly add the milk, stirring as you do so, so that lumps do not form. Let the batter rest for at least an hour, and you are ready to cook them.
To cook, heat a 10-inch skillet with butter until it has finished foaming, and pour a thin stream of batter into the middle of the pan. Lift the pan and swirl it around to spread the batter into a proper circle.
As soon as the top of the crepe has changed from wet to dry, flip it onto its other side and cook for about a minute until it is colored with large golden spots. Now you can make any sort of filling and add it later. One classic example is the “Complete,” which consists of ham, grated Emmenthal cheese, an egg, salt and pepper.