Classic French Recipe: crepes {day twenty-three}

{day twenty-three} Classic French Recipe- Crepes

I am very excited to share this recipe with you not only because Crèpes are delicious but also because I know, from bitter experience, how difficult it can be to make a lump-free batter. I grew up watching my mother make crèpes; they never failed and so I now use the same technique she did. I fell pretty confident about it, and can guarantee a 90% chance of success at getting the batter right if you use it (I won’t say 100% because there’s always one, isn’t there?). There is definitely a knack to it but it is a simple thing when you know how, and with a bit of practice there is no reason why anyone, even people who consistently produce lumpy batter, can enjoy light and thin crèpes just like the French make them. I have taken a lot of pictures to show you what the batter should look like throughout the process.

I make crèpes every couple of weeks at home, either as a full meal or at breakfast. It’s cheap and festive and everyone loves them. Little Girl has been known to eat as many as 6 crèpes all by herself; she is an addict, just like her mum.

Ingredients

For approximately 20 pancakes
For our family of four, I count 2 savoury crèpe per adult, 1 savoury crèpe per child, and the rest goes towards making sweet crèpes.

  • 250g plain flour
  • 500 mls semi-skimmed milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp of vegetable oil
  • a pinch of salt
  • optional flavourings for sweet crèpes (not all at the same time, obviously, just pick one!): 1 tbsp dark rum, 1 tbsp orange flower water (very popular in France), 1/4 spoon vanilla extract

Utensils: a whisk, a very flat frying pan, as wide as possible, a ladle, a palette knife or flat plastic/wooden spatula

20151004_crepes

Method

A. Mixing the ingredients:

1. Put the flour and the pinch of salt in a large bowl.

2. Make a well in the middle of the flour: literally, with your fingers, dig a hole in the middle.

20151004_the well 1

3. Break the two eggs into the well.

4. Pour the oil into the well.

5. Now is the important part for making lump-free batter: you must pour the milk into the well very gradually, starting with the equivalent of half a small glass, whisking it well before adding the same amount, again and again. First, gently break the egg yolks with your whisk. Instead of mixing all the flour in straight away, start mixing from the well out so that everything in the middle is relatively whisked together. There will be lumps at this point. Then add a little more milk, and whisk in slightly larger concentric circles, incorporating a little more of the flour. You can be quite forceful in your whisking, just keep it to small circles to start with. Eventually, you will have added all the milk and whisked all the flour in, and it should be lump-free!

mixing1-3 Collage

mixing 4-6 Collage

6. If you’re going to flavour the batter, whisk your chosen poison in now. If you are making savoury crèpes first, wait until you’ve cooked those before adding the flavouring. I’m not sure ham and vanilla go that well together.

7. Cover the batter with cling film and let it rest in the fridge for an hour (you can make the crèpes straight away, but they will be so much better after a little rest).

B. Making the crèpes:

8. After an hour, take the batter out of the fridge. It is normal for the mixture to have separated a little bit and for it to be thicker. Just mix it all in together and add a little more milk if needed to loosen it a bit. The batter should not be so thin as to be completely liquid but it should coat the ladle a bit and should not be so thick that it can’t flow around the pan without help.

Batter Collage

9. Add a very small amount of oil in your frying pan (about half a teaspoon), using kitchen roll to evenly coat the pan. You won’t need to add any more oil after each crèpe, just this once to start. Now turn the heating on as high as you can. The pan must be very hot before you start pouring the batter in. You can adjust it later when you have cooked a couple if it is too high but keep it fairly hot anyway.

10. Tip the frying pan and using a ladle, pour the batter at the top of the pan, using your wrist to rotate the pan and distribute the batter thinly and evenly.

C. How to know your crèpe is cooked:

11. Keep a close eye on the crèpe in the pan. When the edges start to visibly brown and/or curl a little (after approximately a minute), the crèpe is ready to be turned. Release the edges slightly all the way around and slide your spatula underneath, then turn (yes most people only do the whole crèpe-flinging thing to show off or entertain the kids) The other side will take about 10-15 seconds to cook max. You can see from the right-hand picture below that a cooked crèpe should actually have some colour to it. I’ve seen a lot of pictures of crèpes on the internet that look suspiciously anaemic to me, but one side of the pancake should look cooked.

cooked crepe Collage

This is how thin a crèpe should be:

20151004_thickness 15

D. How to keep your crèpes warm:

12. You need a pan of boiling water, set on low so it doesn’t actively ‘boil’ anymore, with a plate on top. Gradually add your crèpes as you make them and keep them covered with foil. Sure, you can separate them with baking paper if you want, but that’s a lot of faff for something that’s going to be eaten in the next fifteen minutes. If they have been done well, they are not actually going to stick to each other and turn to mush when you try to separate them. Just put the plate on the table when you’re ready and peel them off as you go.

Fillings

You can put whatever you want in your crèpes. I am a big fan of filling them with just a spoonful of caster sugar and freshly squeezed lemon juice, but I only started doing that in England. It’s not a filling French people use. Instead, we tend to have Nutella (with or without fresh banana slices) or jam in it. There’s always whipped cream, maple syrup, plain fresh fruit, honey, whatever.

Ham and cheese crèpe topped with fried egg:

This is what we do at home when we have crèpes as a main meal. You need: ham slices, grated cheese and eggs. I get all my ingredients ready before I start, because it requires to be a bit quick, seeing as each crèpe only takes a minute to cook and you can’t leave the room/try to do it all at once.

20151004_ham egg cheese crepe

– Before I start cooking the crèpes, I set a separate pan on low/medium heat and start frying the eggs.
– Once one side of the crèpe is cooked, I turn it over and quickly put grated cheese all over it, topped with a slice of ham.
– Then I slide the cooked crèpe onto a plate, top with the fried egg, and fold the four sides over the egg.
– Grind a little black pepper on top, and eat!

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Boursin-stuffed chicken wrapped in Bacon

Boursin-stuffed chicken wrapped in bacon - blog header 150915

We eat a lot of chicken in our house and sometimes I get a little bored with my regular recipes.

The recipe I’m going to share below was cooked up by my good friend Lozza and it has been mentioned so many times in my circle of friends that it has turned into a bit of a mystical beast. A few had tasted it during a round of postpartum meal rotas and raved about it. Others, like me, had only heard just how tasty and easy to cook it was, and I thought it a bit unfair to have to listen to the tones of near reverence of those who had been lucky enough to try the dish.

Anyway, I had all the ingredients at home last week, so I thought I would give it a go. I reached out to the author herself and she confirmed there’s really nothing to it. Despite the presence of Boursin, it’s not a strictly a French or British recipe, instead, we are making a foray into European cuisine, darlin’.

Ingredients

Boursin chicken ingredients

  • Four chicken breasts (or boneless thighs)
  • One garlic & herbs Boursin
  • smoked streaky bacon, enough to wrap around each piece of chicken
  • 150 mls chicken stock

Method

  • Pre-heat the oven to 190°C.
  • Slice a side of the chicken breasts into a pocket and put a generous spoonful of Boursin (or just open the thigh and roll it in).

Step 2

    • Wrap bacon around the chicken tightly to keep it closed.

Step 3

    • Place the chicken in a casserole dish.
    • Pour the chicken stock over the meat.
    • Close the lid tightly over the dish and bake for an hour.

Step 4

  • Serve with Dauphinoise potatoes, new potatoes or rice and some green vegetables of your choice.

I wasn’t sure how the girls would respond to a garlic-flavoured cheese but they both devoured it and asked for extra sauce. It’s fair to say this recipe was a complete success and I am adding it to my regulars. Thank you Lozza!

Even better, there is still half of the Boursin left…

Boursin stuffed chicken wrapped in bacon

Yes, I like my potatoes. Two whole dinners you say? Naaah

 

Inside a Franglish Pantry: dry pasta shapes

Inside a franglish pantry

I am sure some of you are at least a bit confused by this post title. Why on earth am I writing about dry pasta shapes? What could possibly be French or English about pasta? After all, it’s been a long time since English people believed spaghetti grows on trees, and pasta dry and fresh is a staple dish in most British households.

This is not a post about bog standard every day pasta. Today, I am talking to you about a very special type of pasta that has its own category in France: ‘pâtes à potages’. These are basically teeny tiny pasta that you add to your soups and broths to give them more body.

For some reason, I cannot find these in England in dry form at all, and if I can, I know not where. But if I tell you broth pasta can come in the shape of letters and numbers, you will know exactly what I’m talking about. That’s because they only exist in the one form in the UK, as part of one of these guilty food secrets no one talks about that you’re only buying ‘for the kids’: Heinz alphabetti and numberetti in tomato sauce.

Alphabet and numbers pasta is very popular everywhere because it’s fun, but in England the fun is restricted to the tin cans of questionable cooked tomato pasta. Whereas in France, you can have fun whenever you want. In fact, if you wanted you could just eat tiny pasta for the rest of your life without the nasty tomato sauce. You could eat them with just butter and cheese, or with vegetables, or whichever way you like to eat your pasta. Alphabet pasta need not be a guilty pleasure, it could even be part of a healthy dinner!

dry alphabet pasta

 

The French make Panzani has created a whole range of broth pasta in various shapes, all tiny and perfect for adding to soup. The most classic is vermicelli and the alphabet and numbers ones, but there are also ‘cheveux d’anges’ (angel hair – even more fine and delicate than vermicelli), stars, pearls, and finally Pescadines, which the blurb tells me are a bit bigger, a cross between vermicelli and macaroni.

Last time I was in France, I couldn’t resist buying them for Little Girl, and then we hit a problem. I don’t like soup. Badgerman doesn’t like soup. Little Girl is not wildly excited about soup either. I have had a lot of boring soup, and it’s fiddly and well, where’s the meat? But then I had this pasta, so I had to find a way to make soup fun aside from the pasta.

So I made a basic vegetable broth by simmering the remnants of a chicken stock with a litre of water and some chunky vegetables, added the pasta in the last ten minutes, and chucked in some cubes of cheddar and fresh chives I had kicking about the house just before serving. It was absolutely delicious and confirmed to me that I’m a broth kind of girl. I need to see what’s in my soup so the all mushed-in types are out, whereas I can get excited about this broth (also the cheese was inspired if I say so myself).

veggie alphabet broth

 Am I alone in finding soup boring? If not, how do you make soup fun in your house?

 

Apricot and Marzipan Tart

Apricot and Marzipan Tart recipe

I had to ice my first fruitcake at the weekend after offering to bake his favourite cake to my father-in-law for his birthday. I don’t particularly like fruitcake so I had never made one before, and I had never iced a cake in my life. So a weekend of firsts, and at very short notice!

I ended up cheating a bit by buying a (nice) ready-made fruitcake but I did get some icing. Unfortunately, it’s only on the Saturday morning that I realised that the marzipan hiding in my cupboard was over a year old so I sent Badgerman to the shops about an hour before we were due to leave. It was a bit stressful.

He came back with the most delicious-smelling brandy marzipan, which I clumsily laid out on the cake before doing the same with white icing. It was a very lumpy looking thing in the end but decent enough for a first attempt. You can tell I’m more of a ‘substance over style’ sort of baker.

The fruitcake that started it all

The fruitcake that started it all

However there was a lot of marzipan left, and I was determined not to waste it, hence my never-tried-before made-up-on-the-spot Apricot and Marzipan Tart. I had no idea whether or not it was going to work but my hope was that the marzipan would melt a bit.

I can confirm that it did indeed melt and it was one of the tastiest – and easiest – tarts I have ever made. The smell alone was pure (alcoholic) heaven.

Ingredients

500g ready-to-roll puff pastry

about 200g Marzipan – whatever is left over from other baking projects

6 fresh apricots

1 egg, beaten

1 tsp icing sugar to sprinkle at the end

 Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
  2. Roll out the pastry on a baking sheet.
  3. Roll the marzipan to about 2 mms thin and put on top of the pastry, leaving about 1 cm of pastry clear all the way around.
  4. Cut the apricots into quarters and distribute them over the marzipan.
  5. Paint the egg over the pastry sides.
  6. Bake for 25 minutes.
the raw tart

the raw tart

The final product in all its glory

The final product in all its glory

Perfect BLW tomato sauce: so easy it took me 33 years to learn how to make it

I didn’t learn to make tomato sauce until about four months ago. This is seriously embarrassing but also good, because I learnt a new thing and it is AWESOME!

When I did baby-led weaning the first time around two years ago (blimey, doesn’t time fly), we ate boring pasta for ever and ever. I did nice enough things with Philadelphia cheese but the tomato sauce I put together could never compare to shop-bought, the individual ingredients were nice enough, bacon, onions, courgettes, mushrooms and a tin of tomato all thrown together in a frying pan for 15 minutes or so but the result was really quite bland.

So imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon the easiest tomato sauce recipe in Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall’s Every Day cookbook. I hesitate to even mention where I’ve found it because it is so easy it shouldn’t really belong to anyone.

"What is THAT? It looks like brains!" - Yes, dear.

“What is THAT? It looks like brains!” – Yes, dear.

Before I tell you how to make it, let me put my Baby-Led Weaning (BLW) hat on. Luciole is going to be six months old in 10 days time on 23rd December so down the rabbit hole we go again. She’s already had her first taste of cucumber and it was a great success, she attacked it with gusto, with the added bonus of being nice and cold on her poor teething gums. She’s not quite steady enough on her bottom to sit unaided so we’re going to take it easy but I’m feeling confident about the whole thing.

The key with BLW cooking is to remove the salt from the cooking process altogether, which is really not that complicated to remember. Other than that, between 6 months and 1 year old, babies shouldn’t eat honey (risk of botulism), or shark and marlin such like (risk of bad stuff happening) but who eats shark anyway, right?

As soon as Luciole is 6 months, she will be able to eat the same as us; I just need to make sure that things are cut in a way that she can easily grab a hold of. Fusilli pasta is perfect for this, and so she will be tasting pasta in tomato sauce very soon indeed.

Back to the tomato sauce, as I said, it’s dead easy, and I don’t know why or how I have not known how to do it before.

Ingredients:

  • Vegetable or olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove
  • a tin of chopped tomatoes or two
  • a frying pan

The cooking process in all its glory:

1. Warm the oil in the pan on a medium heat.

2. Chop the garlic clove into small bits and toss in the pan for a couple of minutes. It should start to sizzle and smell garlicky but not go brown, as it spoils the taste. This is as technical as it’s going to get.

3. Empty the tin of chopped tomatoes in the pan.

4. Cook on a medium heat for 15 minutes. The sauce will thicken on its own. Then squash the tomato chunks with a fork to blend them in. It is done, yay!

5. If you want to be clever and hide some vegetables (like cooked courgettes) in the sauce because your toddler is going through a difficult vegetable phase, now is the time to squash them in.

6. Other than pasta, this sauce is ideal to go on pizza.

 

 

FACT: tinned tomatoes taste better when cooked.