I’m not sure why I am obsessed with crêpes. I know that I had a children’s cookbook, which included a recipe for “crêpes Suzettes” that was, essentially, pancakes with strawberry jam and powdered sugar.

I loved it.

When I was in, I think, 6th grade, we had a French class project that involved cooking. I found a recipe for potato gratin, probably in the Time-Life “French Provincial Cooking” cookbook, and with my mother’s help, made it to great acclaim.

When I evacuated for Katrina, and finally ended up in a place that had a kitchen, the first thing I cooked was crêpes. I have no idea why it was crêpes, but I will never forget how happy I was to be in a kitchen, and cooking, and I will never forget the kindness that my friend Daniel, his parents, grandparents and their neighbors in Columbia, Tennessee showed us.

Since I started cooking, I have always kept those recipes in mind, though I’ve made a lot more potato gratins than crêpes. I’ve written before that my education in cooking had a lot to do with French recipes and techniques, and that’s remained the case. I’ve gone through phases in which I’ve cooked regional Chinese, Thai, German, Italian, Spanish and any number of other cuisines, but the basic techniques I learned in studying French food have remained a constant.

I don’t speak French, or at least, not well. I can say “I speak a little French, but understand nothing,” and I can, theoretically, order food and wine. I can ask how much something costs and for the location of a bathroom. In extremis, I could ask for help or sing the Marseillaise.  

This is not to suggest that I have some special relationship with France that allows me to comment about the recent attacks. And I’m not going to get political. But what I am going to do is advocate for crêpes. I was always intimidated by making crêpes, even after I’d done it successfully a number of times.

But recently, I decided to make crêpes again on a whim. This time, I just whipped up a couple of eggs, tossed in a little flour, then some milk, and made a thin batter. I didn’t measure anything, but when I poured it into a pan I’d pre-heated and coated with butter, I turned out a half-dozen crêpes.

So then I did the same thing again a couple of days later. No measuring; just mixing stuff until the batter looked about right. I got the same result, which is to say I got very thin and very eggy pancakes.

I put jam in some, rolled them up and dusted them with powdered sugar. I spread Nutella and sliced bananas in a few and then I went savory. Ham and Swiss cheese worked well, with or without the addition of caramelized shallot. Finely diced chicken, herbs and goat cheese was also a success, and so was my take on “Mu Shu,” which involved tofu, sautéed vegetables and a hoisin sauce.

I encourage you to take the same approach I have, which is to say – wing it. When I went back and looked at a recipe, I realized I wasn’t using as much flour as normally called for, but the result was excellent. My point, I guess, is that once you do it a few times, you’ll know about how the batter should look, and you can do without the measuring cups.

The classic ratio for crêpes is 3 eggs to 1.5 cups flour to 1.5 cups milk. The classic recipe also calls for melted butter (a half-stick), and sometimes water (up to a half-cup) to be added.

I’m not going to argue with anyone who wants to follow that recipe, but in my experience, you can cut down on the flour and the milk, and eliminate the melted butter from the batter. With 3 “large” eggs, I use one half to three quarter cup of flour and milk, and I’ve found that batter makes a perfectly good crêpe. The only other ingredients you need are a pinch of salt, and if you know you’re going to be using the crêpes only for a sweet application, a tablespoon or so of sugar.

To actually prepare the crêpes, put a 8-10” (preferably non-stick) skillet over high heat and melt some butter in it. Keep a stick of butter handy, as you’ll need to keep adding some as you cook each crêpe.

When the butter melts and the foam subsides, drop the heat to medium and pour about a quarter-cup of batter into the pan, tilting and rotating it so that the surface of the pan is evenly covered, particularly at the edges.

After about 10 seconds, there shouldn’t be any more batter on the surface of the crêpe as you turn the pan. Put it back on the fire and let it cook for another 30 seconds to a minute. When you shake the pan at this point, the crêpe should move freely, meaning it’s time to flip it.

Don’t be afraid to use your fingers. I generally find I can loosen the edge of the crêpe and flip it by hand, but I usually also have a spatula nearby. Either way, flip the thing over.

I should probably note at this point that you should have your fillings ready if you’re planning on serving the crêpes immediately. Because once you flip the crêpe, the side now in contact with the pan will start to take color and blister fairly soon.

That means, generally, that you have a limited time to fill, fold and remove the crêpes, and as a result you’ll want to fill with ingredients that are either pre-cooked or that will cook rapidly.

If you’re making crêpes to use later, just flip them and cook them for a minute or two before removing and layering the crêpes between parchment paper or something similar. I’m not a food scientist, but I can tell you that crêpes made this way will last at least a few days. I recently used a few pre-made crêpes as an appetizer, filled with minced onion I’d caramelized in bacon fat, grated Gruyere cheese and fresh thyme. I put the folded crepes in a gratin dish, added a little heavy cream and a bit more grated cheese, then browned them under the broiler. I don’t often compliment myself on my own cooking, but that shit was dope.

So, there’s my French recipe, and my expression of solidarity with the people of France.

I know that all of you reading this share my sorrow and anger at what happened in Paris. I have 3 kids, and whenever anything like this happens, I think about how I’d feel if something terrible happened. It’s enough to fill a guy with impotent rage, but that’s not helpful, and so I will pretend that I am not raging, or at least not impotently.

Again, I’m not going to get political in this space, but I thought one of the first things President Obama said following the attacks in Paris was apt: France is our oldest ally. We may be closer in culture and language to England, but France was on our side when we fought for our independence, and one could do worse for a National statement of purpose than “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” as far as I’m concerned.

In Louisiana, we share more than a culinary heritage with France. Our laws are based in large part on the Code Napoléon of 1804, and we are unique among the states in having a “civilian” legal tradition. Whether that matters to you, I don’t know, but I do know that we, particularly, have a connection to La Belle France. I hope it’s one we maintain for a long time to come.


Vive La France!