Photographs by John Burgess Santa Rosa Press Democrat

Crepes as we know them originated in Brittany in France. They are thin pancakes made in dishes both sweet and savory and filled or topped with all kinds of preparations. Thin pancakes also show up in other cuisines especially Asian. What would Mu Shu Pork be without them? Makes sense that such a simple preparation of flour and water would take on universal appeal.

When you visit France creperies are everywhere. In part because they are inexpensive street food and also because they are delicious. They have migrated to America and now successful chain restaurants feature them because of their appeal and simplicity.

In France, the crêpe is celebrated on February 2nd. It is known as le jour des crêpes, literally translated to mean the day of crepe. They have an entire day dedicated to this sophisticated pancake. February 2nd is also known as La Chandeleur, marking the return of daylight and the fall of winter. Families gather around over a large dinner of crêpes to celebrate their culture and the new season.

In France crepes are traditionally made with buckwheat flour, which has a primal, nutty flavor and texture. Despite its name, buckwheat isn’t actually a form of wheat; they’re not even related. Buckwheat is technically a seed, according to the Whole Grains Council, although it’s also called a pseudocereal, not quite a grain but similar to one. Buckwheat is naturally gluten-free and generally safe to eat for people with celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity.

Buckwheat’s advantage is that it grows in areas that that often have harsh, unforgiving climates (that describes Brittany if you’ve been there). Though it can be used in many recipes that call for wheat flour, it doesn’t work so well in bread making where typically the choice is to mix it with wheat flour. Buckwheat does show up in many Asian recipes also that we (read me) love, including soba noodles and porridge. Alan Davidson in the Oxford Companion to Food notes that the simplest way of eating buckwheat is something like Italian polenta. Gently boiled and when softened, seasoned with soy sauce and ginger.

Today most crepes are mostly made with wheat flour, but I’d always suggest the addition of buckwheat flour if you can to honor its French roots. It’s available online and from our friends at Bobs Red Mill among others. It’s somewhat perishable so keep it in your freezer.

Crêpes come in two forms: sweet and savory. The savory crêpes, known as galettes, are made with at least some buckwheat flour (up to 1/2) and traditionally contain egg, cheese and ham.

The sugar crêpe, however, today uses only wheat flower instead of the traditional buckwheat. Staying true to tradition, sugar crêpes are normally filled with sugar, butter, lemon and garnished with fresh fruit

The most famous sweet recipe is Crepes Suzette which follows. Let’s start with Sweet Crepes which are a no brainer for Valentine’s Day. Here is the basic recipe for all crepes. For sweet crepes you can add a couple of teaspoons of sugar. For savory, omit the sugar and add 1/2 teaspoon salt. Letting the batter rest before making the crepe is important because it lets the flour hydrate.

Basic Crepe Recipe
Makes 12 or so
1 cup all-purpose flour or half and half with buckwheat flour
3 large eggs
1 1/4 cups milk
3 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
2 teaspoons sugar or 1/2 teaspoon salt
Neutral oil or oil spray, for the pan

In a blender, combine the milk, eggs, flour, butter, and salt or sugar until smooth. Be sure to scrape sides of blender jar to free up any flour. Cover and store the mixture in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 day.

Lightly grease a medium nonstick skillet and heat over medium heat.
Once heated, add 1/4 cup of crepe batter, swirling the skillet so it spreads evenly across the bottom of the pan.

Cook until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes, then use a spatula and your fingers to flip the crepe, allowing the other side to cook for about 1 to 2 minutes, or until cooked through.
Transfer to a plate and repeat with the remaining batter. If making ahead separate crepes with squares of waxed or parchment paper.

Choosing a Crepe pan

There are steel crepe pans that you can buy but, like cast iron pans, they need to be seasoned so the crepe doesn’t’ stick. Best solution is a good non-stick 8 or 9-inch pan which you can also use for omelets and frico.