Many of us know crêpes as the “thin pancake” typically filled with sweet jelly and topped with whipped cream. While this familiar retro crêpe is very good, we are beginning to see crêpes take on more modern flavors. The versatile thin, traditionally wheat flour, pancake is considered a national dish in France, where a classic crêpe can be filled with anything from spinach, mushrooms, and fresh ricotta to sweet lemon cream and berries, and often served with cider. The crêpe is so versatile that is transcends almost all flavors (both savory and sweet) and even can take on exotic ethnic foods. We are having lots of fun in our kitchen and at events with the re-emerging crêpe and wanted to take a closer look at the crêpe’s humble origins and see just how creative we can get with it today.
French cuisine is known for being fancy: soft buttery cheeses, full flavored wines, fresh baked breads, rich sauces, and crêpes! All these foods seem quintessentially French. The crêpe was originally made in Brittany, in the Northwest region of France where seafood and shellfish are abundant. In the earliest days, poor fisherman and their wives would make the thin pancake with buckwheat flour as that was the cheapest local type of flour found in Brittany. The crêpes would be filled and rolled with sweetened soft cheese, fruits, or simply topped with sweet sugared spices. Eventually, they were given the name crêpe, derived from the Latin crispus meaning “curled.” It was not long before crêpes were also “curled” with savory fillings like leftover vegetables and cheese served for a light lunch or dinner. Once white flour became less expensive and more plentiful in the 20th century, it became more common to serve the crepe as sweet, with coffee for breakfast, and filled with sweet flavored creams and sugared nuts for desserts, becoming a favorite of the royalty and the general public. In fact, the famous crêpes Suzette was named after a date of the Prince of Whales. When dinning with his date, Suzette, the asked chef Henri Charpentier (An apprentice and nephew to the first world famous Chef, Escoffier) to make him a dessert crepe. He rushed to the kitchen to make something special and came up with the orange sauce flambé, soon to become one of the most treasured French desserts.
While we still look to classic recipes for inspiration, today’s crêpe sees more modern twists and variations. With more worldly palettes and diversifying tastes, chefs are getting more creative than the fisherman in Brittany could have ever imagined. Both crêperies and restaurant/catering chefs are reinventing the humble crepe into anything with spicy vegetarian Indian fillings, to balsamic steak and mushrooms, or using them instead of noodles for lasagnas. We have catered a few make-your-own crepe parties both for breakfast and desserts. Sweet crêpes are being stacked into lemon, Amaretto, or dark chocolate cakes, and yes, even wedding cakes. They are filled with fruit salsas, flavored creams, syrups, and sweetened cheeses. We have also seen them bunched into sweet fruit parcels and layered to look like lovely rose petals (hint: perfect for upcoming Valentine’s Day.)
The crêpe has proven to be one of the longest and most beloved food items of all time, and is constantly being reinvented. Try one of these classic or unique modern crêpe recipes to find your favorite way to roll!