Crepes come from France, as we all know, but crespelle (same thing, same root word) come from Italy aha!
But WHO started them first? Who, who, who, who? I want to know. There is always a bit of rivalry between these two countries over the origin of certain dishes and ingredients because it was Florence’s Caterina dei Medici who brought some civilization (including the use of a fork at table) and haute cuisine to France’s royal court when she was handed over in marriage to King Henri II in 1533. If you go to www.annamariavolpi.com, this is what you can read about Caterina and her Italian influence on France:
“When she moved to France, a crowd of friends, servants, and waiters accompanied her. The Florentine cooks who went with her brought the secrets of Italian cooking to France, including peas and beans, artichokes, duck in orange (canard a l’orange), and carabaccia (onion soup). But especially the pastry makers, as Jean Orieux (a biographer of Caterina) wrote, demonstrated their innovative genius with sorbets and ice creams, marmalades, fruits in syrup, pastry making, and pasta. A certain Sir Frangipani gave his name to the custard and the tart known in France as Frangipane.
Caterina also brought with her to the French table new protocol, such as the separation of salty and sweet dishes, at a time when all over Europe sweets were still consumed together with meat and fish in the style of the medieval times. Everyone in France was amazed by the Florentine elegance Caterina introduced: gracious table setting and dining, embroidery and handkerchiefs, light perfumes and fine lingerie, as well as luxurious silverware and glasses.
At that time, French cooking already was a rich, evolving discipline, and the presence of the new style profoundly influenced French cuisine for the next centuries. Jean Orieux wrote: “It was exactly a Florentine who reformed the antique French cooking of medieval tradition; and was reborn as the modern French cooking.” The French cooks improved and magnified the Florentine contribution, and while in Italy many dishes and techniques were being forgotten, the French made them into an international cuisine.”
Whether it was Caterina who brought crespelle over to France or not, the fact remains that they are gorgeous and have a wide appeal. For some time now, the very Italian Nutella chocolate spread has made huge inroads into the way a crepe is served even in France. and younger people simply can’t resist a crespella with Nutella slathered all over it.
So much for a general history and background of the homely pancake/crepe/crespella.
On a more personal history note … the ‘peerless’ in the title turned out to be a little ‘parlous’ for me during my first attempts at the making and cooking of a crepe. I was nineteen and it was under the guidance of drop-dead handsome French boy called Paul Petit whom I obviously fancied. This charming froggie tombeur de femmes, however, had his eyes set on my flatmate instead and devised a dastardly scheme to keep me busy so that he could woo her with me out of the way. Convincing me that I simply had to learn how to cook crepes suzettes and telling me he would love to teach me (how could I resist such an offer!), his culinary ruse did indeed keep me in the kitchen where he left me after a while so that he could direct his amatory skills at the aforementioned flatmate. He had me tied to the stove making dozens of these crepes (“to get the hang of it”), while he went off to smooch her up in the other room. The blow to my self esteem meant that crepes did not return to my list of priorities for many many years to come.
When I first ventured to make crepes again it was the love of a Mamma that prompted me, it was for the benefit of my children. I turned to a Delia Smith recipe for the batter recipe and since it was so easy and so good I never bothered to seek other variations. I have become a crepe fanatic ever since because they are just so versatile, easy to make and loved by all. It turned out, for instance, that crepes were just the thing for breakfast on a camping trip with a group of girl scouts … because the beauty of a crepe batter is that one can make it ahead of time and freeze it.
My son got to learn how to make crepes too and can flip them most acrobatically and sometimes made some to sell at his school to raise money for the Student Council or for charity. His now “old” school (he started uni in September) was holding a fundraising dinner last Friday and seeing this as an occasion to meet up with some friends, I offered to make some crepes that evening. The kids (and not just the kids) loved them … and I was not surprised. A crepe never lets you down.
Here is the Delia recipe with a slight modification or little “trick” of my own invention … When I somewhat masochistically analysed the very harsh circumstances under which I learned how to make crepes, I decided that the worst part was greasing the crepe pan before cooking each crepe and risk burning my fingers every time. Well … my “solution” is to add a good dollop of melted butter to the crepe batter and thus do away with that nasty greasing the pan nonsense… and it works, try it.
Recipe for 1 dose:
2 eggs, 250ml milk, 110g sifted flour, 15 g melted butter, tiny pinch of salt,
Recipe for double dose:
500 ml milk, 30g melted butter, small pinch of salt,4 eggs, 220g flour.
4 doses: i.e. 1 lt of milk, 8 eggs, 440g flour, 50g butter, two pinches of salt
Melt butter and set aside (or use clarified butter).
In one bowl, beat the eggs and then add the milk until you obtain a smooth batter.
Sieve the flour into another mixing bowl, add the salt, and arrange the flour so that it looks like a ring with an empty ‘well’ in the middle; pour in some of the eggy milk mixture beating well with a whisk. Keep adding the mixture and whisking until you get a smooth batter. You could use an electric beater if you like.
Allow to rest preferably in the fridge, for at least 20 minutes, better yet a couple of hours, to “set”. (repeat: you can freeze the batter to use at a later date). In case you end up with “lumps” in the batter (i.e. if the flour hasn’t mixed properly with the eggy mixture) do not panic: just pour this lumpy batter through a sieve, once or even twice, and get rid of the lumps with a wooden spoon.
Use a small, round frying pan, preferably a cast iron one specifically made for cooking crepes. Put it over a high flame at first then draw it AWAY from the heat before you pour any batter onto it.
Use a ladle to spoon some of the mixture onto the frying pan, enough to cover it entirely, using a flicking, wrist movement to do so. If you by chance pour too much of the mixture into the pan, you can tilt the pan and slide some of it back into the mixing bowl. If not enough, you can add a little. Once this is done (a question of a few seconds), put the pan back onto the heat.
When the edges start to “curl”, flip the crepe onto the other side and allow to cook for about another minute or so and slide off onto a serving plate. If you dare not “flip” the crepe, use a large spatula to help you turn it over.
It has almost cooked on the one side …
Slide onto the serving plate.