Crêpes

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I’ve had a love affair with crêpes since I was a little girl, which is when I learned how to make them. I would make a “stack,” sprinkle a little white sugar on them, and eat them just like that for breakfast.

My first introduction to crêpes was when my mother made Crêpes Suzette. My French friend Stéphane from My French Heaven gave me some interesting factoids about this fabulous, flaming dessert and crêpes in general!

♥ Crèpes Suzette is a recent thing: In the early 1900’s, Edward VI was having crêpes in a restaurant on the riviera. The chef had flambéed Grand Marnier with them. Edward asked the waitress what it was but she didn’t have a name for the dish. So the king asked what her name was, which was Suzette. They have been called crêpes Suzette ever since.

♥ As for savory crêpes, they are an ancient specialty from Bretagne. They are made with black wheat and are called galettes. Only the sweet ones can be called crêpes.

A galette with ham and egg

A galette with ham and egg

♥ You eat crêpes with apple cider always as they produce a lot of apples there (Bretagne is close to Normandy).

♥ The restaurants where they serve crêpes only are called crêperies. The best ones have a chef who is a Maître Crêpier.

Photo from retagne by Stephane Gabart

Photo from Bretagne by Stephane Gabart

After seeing the above photo, I put Bretagne on my travel bucket list. Besides, I want to one day try the real deal in a crêperie.

There are many different recipes for crêpe batter, and I’m sure they’re all good. The only rule in making the batter for crêpes, to me, is the consistency. Once you have that, you get proper crêpes. If the batter is too thick, you get pancakes, if it’s too thin, you get mush.

Here is a basic recipe for crêpes, whether you’re going to use them in a sweet or savory manner:

Crêpes
makes about 20

3 large eggs
1 1/2 cup milk
6 tablespoons oil*
Couple pinches of salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour

Whisk together the egg, milk, and salt together well in a medium bowl. Gradually add the flour, whisking gently but not over-whisking, until it is all incorporated and there are no flour lumps.


Set the bowl aside for at least 5 minutes to make sure it doesn’t thicken. If it does, add a tiny bit of milk or even water to get the consistency back to where it should be.

To prepare to make the crêpes, have a well-seasoned crêpe pan on hand. Mine has angled sides and an 8″ flat bottom, made from steel. I’ve had it for 42 years. I know this, because my mother sent me off to college with the same pan!

Also have on hand some butter, the batter and large spoon (about 1/4 cup capacity is perfect), a spatula, and a plate on which to place the cooked crêpes. I always use a very sturdy but thin, flat spatula to help lift the thin pancakes.

Heat a little dab of butter over medium-high heat in the crêpe pan. I personally prefer butter because of the flavor. You might have to start with about a teaspoon of butter, and subsequently use about 1/2 teaspoon per crêpe.

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Before starting, give the crêpe batter a whisk. Now is the time to test its thickness. Add a little liquid if necessary.

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When the butter is hot, add a full spoonful, or approximately 1/4 cup of batter, to the pan. With the other hand, turn and tilt the pan until the crêpe batter has covered the whole bottom of the pan. Cook for no more than 30 seconds, then turn over gently with the spatula and cook for no more than 10 seconds. Place immediately on the plate by sliding or flipping over.


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The cooked crêpe should be lightly golden, especially on the first side, but not browned. Adjust your burner setting accordingly, keeping in mind that if the heat is too low, the batter will just sit there and nothing will happen.

The pan has to be hot enough to “grab” the batter. If the pan is too hot, it will cause the batter to become bubbly and you probably won’t be able to spread it around. Sometimes the first crêpe is a dud because you must test the heat of the pan, and the batter.

Continue with the remaining batter.
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These crêpes will hold well for a day or two, covered with plastic wrap, in the refrigerator. Then you can use them as you want. They must be brought to room temperature first, or they will not roll or fold without breaking. Even a little heating in the microwave will help make them more malleable.
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Besides some sugar, crêpes are also good with a little jam and some berries!

* When I make savory or sweet crêpes I use olive oil, but if you prefer, you can use a flavorless oil. Also, if you want a sweeter dessert crêpe, you can add a little sugar to the batter.

Gnudi with Meat Sauce

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The first time I heard about gnudi, I was ecstatic. And I was also shocked that I hadn’t come across them before, in spite of the many Italian cookbooks I own. It was maybe only five years ago I saw them being made on television, and I knew one day I’d make them. I just sadly forgot about them, until today.

Gnudi, simply stated, are the filling of ravioli. Or any filled pasta. No pasta involved. So they’re like the lazy man’s ravioli!

Today, mine are simple, utilizing the richness and unique texture of ricotta. But any ingredients can be included with the ricotta, just as you would to make a spinach-ricotta filling, or a pumpkin-ricotta filling.

They’re similar to gnocchi and spazele, except that there’s much less flour, which makes sense, since they are the filling and not the pasta. Here’s the recipe.
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Gnudi with Meat Sauce

Gnudi:
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon salt
20 ounces whole-milk ricotta, well drained*
3/4 cup loosely-packed, finely grated Parmesan
3/4 cup flour, plus extra

Begin by whisking the eggs, yolks, and salt together in a large bowl.

Add the ricotta and whisk well.

Then add the Parmesan and whisk until smooth.

Add the flour and fold into the ricotta mixture gently. If you feel more flour is needed – add more – but just a little at a time. The gnudi must end up tender.

Sprinkle a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan with a light dusting of flour.
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Typically, gnudi are shaped into quenelles, which are beautiful ovoids. Unfortunately, even if I could make these forms, which requires two spoons, I wouldn’t be fast enough to get through the gnudi batter before the water completely evaporated. So I opted for a little cookie scoop.

Dip the scoop in water, tap, then scoop up the gnudi.

Place them on the floured sheet, and then sprinkle a little more flour over the top of the gnudi, using a fine sieve.

Once you have finished with all the batter, let the gnudi sit for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, get a large pot of water boiling on the stove.

As I do with spazele, I always test one to get the timing right. In this case, my little 1″ round gnudi took 5 minutes to cook. You don’t want them raw in the middle, but you don’t want them to be like rubber.

As with spazele, the gnudi will drop to the bottom of the pot, and about halfway through cooking they will come to the surface. When they’re cooked, remove them with a slotted spoon, and place them on a paper towel-lined platter.

Once you know the timing of the gnudi, make them in batches until the batter is no more.

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I served these with a meat sauce (recipe below), but because I didn’t want the meat sauce to smother the delicate gnudi, I placed the sauce on the bottom of the bowl, topped it with the warm gnudi, and sprinkled on a little Parmesan.

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These ricotta-based gnudi are like soft little pillows of goodness.

I would normally not pair the gnudi with such a heavy sauce, but my husband isn’t fond of meatless red sauce. Just like with gnocchi and spazele, the gnudi could be simply tossed in browned butter.

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* I only buy whole-milk ricotta, and I always let it drain on paper towels overnight or at least for 12 hours. It just makes the ricotta thicker and creamier. It’s amazing how much water comes out.
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Meat Sauce:
Olive oil
Finely chopped onion or shallots
Minced garlic
Ground Italian sausage
Canned tomato puree or crushed tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon oregano leaves

Boxty

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Of all things, my first boxty was not eaten in Ireland. It was, in fact, enjoyed in an Irish pub in, of all places, Tulsa, Oklahoma. It’s called Kilkenny’s, and it’s been an established and popular Irish pub since 2002.

I really enjoyed the boxty, which I’d never heard of before. I only ordered it because I wanted something traditionally Irish since I was in an Irish pub. And of course it was good – it was a giant potato-based crepe filled with creamy goodness. I can’t really remember all of the details now, but because of that experience, I was determined to have one in Ireland… which I did just a few weeks ago.

We had lunch in Dublin at Gallagher’s Boxty House one Sunday. We went there knowing that it was a touristy sort of place, but I had to have my boxty. Gallagher’s Boxty House is an unassuming little joint of a restaurant in the Temple Bar area of Dublin.

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It actually seemed like only locals were eating lunch there – especially families with children. The young man who waited on us was 17, and the son of the restaurant’s owner. It was nice finding out it’s a family business.

But touristy or not, we all have a fabulous lunch. I chose the seafood boxty and it was delicious.

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That day in Dublin was Latvia Day, as we surmised after passing loads of people dressed up in their traditional Latvian garb. (Of course, we had to ask what the hoopla was all about…)

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Aren’t these women beautiful?!!!

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I only mention Latvia day because the presence of the singing and dancing Latvians added to the frivolity of walking around Dublin on a beautiful Sunday when everyone seemed to be outside enjoying themselves. And the parade that ensued went right by the Boxty house while we were enjoying our lunch!
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Okay, little things like that get me excited. But back to the boxty.

After returning from Ireland last week, I wanted to make boxty. I own a book on Irish cooking*, and it revealed that the boxty originated in the north of Ireland, actually. The word boxty came about from the fact that people cut holes in boxes in order to grate the potatoes to make this dish! I now appreciate my metal grater even more than ever.

There are also, not surprisingly, a few different versions of boxty. One is exactly like what I had in Tulsa and in Dublin – an oversized pancake with filling. Another version is a pancake on a smaller scale served simply with butter.

The third version, which I didn’t make today, is from a thicker pancake batter – essentially a dough. Round shapes are cut out of it much like our biscuits, and baked. I think I actually saw these on breakfast menus in Ireland, because they were described as hash brown potato cakes. I’m sure they were delightful but unfortunately I never had one.

Here’s my version of the giant boxty pancake with a creamed ham and cheese filling, and boxty pancakes with butter.

Boxty with Creamy Ham and Cheese Filling

4 medium baking potatoes, peeled
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups milk, I used whole
Butter

Chop up two of the peeled potatoes and boil them until done. If you’re not sure, stick a fork in the pieces to see if they are tender. When they are cooked, drain the potatoes; set aside.
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Grate the remaining two potatoes and place them on paper towels for a few minutes to drain.

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Then place the grated potatoes in a medium bowl. Add the flour and baking powder. Mash the two cooked potatoes and add to the grated potatoes in the bowl.
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Give everything a stir, then slowly stir in the milk. The batter should have some consistency, yet be somewhat thin as well.
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Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Use a generous amount of butter for each pancake. When the skillet is hot, almost completely fill the bottom of the skillet with the batter. Don’t make it too thick, but also fill in any thin spots or holes. Turn down the heat to medium, and cover the skillet with a lid.

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After a few minutes, turn the heat down to low to finish cooking the pancake. I discovered that it was nearly impossible to flip over these “pancakes,” so I just let them cook on the bottom side slowly.

After a few more minutes, slide the pancake onto a large plate, turn up the heat again, and make a second pancake. When the second one is done, slide it onto a separate plate.

Complete as many pancakes as you wish, then proceed with the filling:

Filling

1 recipe for white sauce
About 2 cups of chopped ham
6 ounces Monterey jack cheese

Make a white sauce according to the directions using butter, flour, and milk or cream, whichever you prefer.

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Stir in the ham and the cheese. I also sprinkled in some white pepper, but that is certainly optional.

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Add a generous amount of the filling to each boxty, and fold the other side over. Repeat with the remaining boxties that you made. The filing will generously fill four boxties, approximately 8″ in diameter.

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Serve immediately, or reheat later right before serving.

Boxty Pancakes

Make the same batter for the boxty using the grated and mashed potatoes, the flour, baking powder, and milk.

Add a generous amount of butter before adding the batter to the hot skillet. Make these the size as breakfast pancakes, turning down the heat to cook them through and prevent burning. It should take about 3 minutes on the first side, then flip them over and cook for about another minute.

To serve, add a tab of butter to the hot pancakes. These can be served as a side dish, or eaten as is. Personally I would have to have them with a side salad, or a few wedges of tomatoes.

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verdict: I think this boxty batter recipe pretty well tastes like my Dublin boxty. You could also substitute a crepe, but the potatoes really add something to the “pancakes.” And they’re not much work at all. The smaller boxty pancakes were good, but I prefer my own version of potato pancakes, that have less flour in them, and have much more texture. But both versions of boxty were fun to try!

* It’s called The Scottish-Irish Pub and Hearth Cookbook, by Kay Shaw Nelson.