As a penniless student in Paris, Alejandra Garcia discovered the allure of crepes — and she has never looked back. The thin pancakes are a foolproof entree or dessert. All you need to add is a little imagination.
Crepes Success: Dreams of a French Sojourn
Alejandra Garcia for NPR
All home cooks have good days and bad days. Trying to make duck l'orange — bad day. Trying to make lamb filets with candied onions, fennel and Canadian whiskey — really bad day.
However, when I want to feel like the cuisinier that I could one day become, I go straight to crepes. The recipe for those thin pancakes makes a foolproof entree or dessert.
And while I may not have magical hands, I do have imagination. That, as it turns out, is one of the major ingredients for making both a salty or sweet crepe. Since the batter is so simple — made out of flour, eggs, milk, water and butter — the only thing left to truly worry about is what to fill it with.
I blame my borderline obsession with crepes on a five-day trip to Paris I took as a penniless, second-year college student. As if being in a city rich with architectural wonders and centuries-old art history wasn't enough, the streets were dotted with gourmet sandwich shops and bakeries that tempted me away from my tourist route.
On my first day in Paris, I also noticed a humble crepe stand by the subway stop next to my hotel. With a sweet whisper, the aroma of caramelized fruits and melting chocolate lured me to wait in line, more than happy to spend my precious earnings on dessert.
Every day, I indulged in a different crepe: crepes suzette, filled with Grand Marnier, butter and sugar; a salty crepe with farmer's goat cheese and apricot preserves; the simplicity of a crepe with Nutella hazelnut spread dotted with bananas and a fine sprinkle of cinnamon. From the moment I spent my first Euro on these delicacies, I was tres hooked and ready to incorporate them into my slowly growing recipe book.
I mean, a rolled-up dessert that I could carry with me anywhere and could be filled with anything? Something that I could dress up or down for a Sunday brunch or fancy dinner for two? This was the kind of idea that I wish I had invented.
So last year when I made a big move from a small town in North Carolina to the international luxury mecca of Marbella, Spain, I had to find a way to start reeling in new friends. This, of course, involved lots of food.
I topped off a dinner with my boyfriend's mother with buckwheat crepes filled with candied apples. At a friendly dinner party on a more casual occasion, dessert was more of a spectacle. My guests gathered in the kitchen and watched me flip the pancakes in the air with a flick of the wrist (a skill I had finally acquired after many crepes refused to turn or landed on the floor or hit the ceiling). Then, we covered the table with toppings galore: melted dark chocolate, raspberry jam, pistachios, dulce de leche.
The more I practiced, the better I understood the art of making the ideal crepe. I learned that using buckwheat flour (which is actually not a cereal grain, but rather, a fruit seed) is a great alternative to wheat or all-purpose flour, and is particularly tasty for breakfast crepe recipe. It's also high in fiber and Vitamin B, an extra plus. The light flavor is irreplaceable, although the texture is slightly rougher.
I also found that leaving the batter to cool for a few hours in the fridge before making the crepes allows the bubbles to subside. This, in turn, makes it less likely for crepes to tear during cooking and is what gives the crepe that airy, paper-thin look.
After a few months, I became addicted to crepes — so much so that I decided to honor the official French crepe holiday called Candlemas, or La Chandeleur on February 2. Originally known as Virgin Mary's Blessing Day, it was believed that if you could catch a crepe with a frying pan after tossing it in the air with your left hand and holding a piece of gold in your right, you would become rich that year.
With a golden ring on my right hand and an awkward hold of the pan with my left (I'm right-handed), I successfully flipped the crisp pancake, blowing a sigh of relief. However, I'm still faithfully playing the Spanish Lotto and I've yet to see a penny. I think the ring was fake.