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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Classic French Starters: Vinaigrette & Oeufs Mimosa {day nine}

{day nine} Classic French Starters- oeufs mimosa and vinaigrette
For our first classic French recipes of the month, I wanted to feature traditional French starters that you would be unlikely to eat in a restaurant but would be quite standard fare at home. Today’s recipes are easy and quick to make.
 20151005_oeuf mimosa carottes rapees

Oeufs Mimosa

Ingredients
  • one egg per person
  • mayonnaise
  • lettuce leaves
  • black pepper
  • Fresh parsley
Method
1. Boil the eggs for 10 minutes. Remove the hard-boiled eggs from the water, cool them down in cold water straight away and peel them.
2. Cut eat egg in half length-wise. Remove the yolks carefully from each half and place them in a bowl. Squash the yolks with a fork before mixing them with a generous amount of mayonnaise. the mixture should hold together well, with just enough mayonnaise for the two tastes to blend without overpowering each other.
3. Put a teaspoon of the yolk mixture back in the middle of the egg whites and place each half on a bed of lettuce leaves. Grind a bit of black pepper over each and decorate with parsley.
4. Eat!
 Oeufs Mimosa Collage

Vinaigrette Classique

This is a recipe for the simplest of vinaigrette. You can make it more interesting by adding some or all of the following: 1 tsp of lemon juice, a clove of crushed garlic, some finely chopped shallots. A shallots’ vinaigrette is particularly great with plain green salad.
 
Ingredients
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp Vinegar (white wine, red wine or cider vinegar) – whichever one you choose, do not use malt vinegar!
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • a pinch of salt and pepper
Method
1. Whisk all the ingredients together well.
2. If the vinaigrette is too thick for your liking, add a tbsp of water. If it is too sour, just add a little olive oil.
3. Serve mixed in grated raw carrots for the ultimate French classic!
Vinaigrette Collage
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How to cook like the French {day five}

French food doesn’t have to be complicated, and that’s a promise. If I managed to learn how to cook from scratch having never boiled an egg before my 21st birthday, anyone can do it.

 

My aim today is two-fold: one, to reassure you that you can learn how to cook French food and two, to send you into bookshops and across the internet feeling informed and armed with personal recommendations.

 

{day five} How to cook like the French

 

Cooking French food might feel like a daunting task. You may have dined in a French restaurant and eaten very ‘cheffy’ dishes you couldn’t imagine making at home. Let me just reassure you that French people don’t cook or eat like this every day. Sure, we have all grown up eating many traditional recipes, but it is not the sort of food you would usually be served in a restaurant outside of France. Below are a few links to help you get started.

French Recipes on this Blog

I am by no means a fantastic cook, for one thing, I just don’t have time to spend my life in the kitchen. I do get a bit obsessed about food though, and I occasionally share recipes I have tried at home. I get homesick for French food on a regular basis and so I like to collect French recipe books of all sorts to try to get back to the scents and tastes that remind me of my childhood. Have a look around in the Recipes category, or just go straight to the following:

French Recipes on the Internet

There are many French food websites and blogs you can follow, but it can be difficult to see the wood for the trees in this abundance of plenty. I am not going to overwhelm you with many links, because you don’t need hundreds, you need a couple at best.
  • My go-to food blog has been Franglaise Cooking, they have a lot of brilliant family recipes that are delicious and easy to make. The hazelnut macarons alone make it worth a visit. But I can also recommend le Coin de Mel (I am planning on making her classic Petit Salé aux lentilles very soon) and Croque-Maman.

French Cookery Books

1. I shared my top 5 favourite cook books a couple of years’ back, and it included a couple you will see listed below for the very good reason that they are fabulous. This chicken stew recipe that is on the blog comes directly from the enormous ‘2000 recettes de la cuisine française‘ recipe book, but it’s not much use if you can’t speak the language.

 

2. Rachel Khoo‘s The Little Paris Kitchen has been translated into French, which is as positive an endorsement as you can wish for! I don’t own this book but I watched the accompanying BBC TV series religiously and I recommend it on the basis that it was inspiring and made me very hungry. Rachel had a TINY kitchen in Paris, and yet she managed to produce some outstanding recipes.

 

3. If you’re looking for a solid modern book on French cooking, then Michel Roux (both Senior and Junior) are French chefs based in the UK. Their books are in English and are accessible to the common cook but they are classically trained chefs with all the solid knowledge that entails so you are in good hands.

4. There is also a French chef called Stéphane Reynaud who has created the most beautiful cookery books I have ever seen. They are all translated into American English, so you get references to capsicum instead of peppers, which took a bit of getting used to but otherwise, the books are GORGEOUS. Not only do you get delicious recipes, but also beautiful and funny illustrations, songs, history lessons, lists (lists!) of different wines, cheeses, what goes with what etc. I have the following two:

  • Ripailles, which offers 299 French traditional recipes
  • Rôtis, which is all about roast meat

Bonus: watch a film about cooking!

To get yourself in the mood, everyone should watch Julie and Julia [DVD] [2010]
featuring Amy Adams and Meryl Streep, a fab film about food and Julia Child, the author of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. If you’re not hungry by the end of it, you’re not human.

 

In other news, I’ve decided that as part of the 31 days challenge, I will post one classic French recipe every Friday that I have personally made at home. It will be easy and affordable and hopefully inspire you to check out French cooking without fearing having to go full Julia Child and start boiling pigs trotters to make your own gelatine.
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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

 

A cheese-free alternative to pizza

flammekuche 261014

The other day, I was reflecting on how difficult it must be to enjoy a good pizza if you don’t like cheese. I tend to think that tomato-based pizzas aren’t very interesting or tasty unless there is a generous amount of mozzarella on top but that’s just me.

It’s been a while since I have shared a recipe, and this time I was inspired to do so by a close friend who never gets to eat pizza because she hates any and all cheeses. So when we were in France in the summer and I was reminded of this whilst perusing the supermarket shelves, I was determined to try this recipe out at home.

One of the traditional dishes of the Alsace near the border with Germany is the Flammeküche, or Flammenküche, also known as tarte flambée (which is a tart cooked in a wood-fire oven, not the intriguing ‘pie outbreak’ Google Translate would like it to be). It is a type of pizza with a white base, topped with caramelised onions and smoked lardons and customarily baked in a wood-fire oven. Its stand-out characteristics are:

  • The base is made of cream and yoghurt: yes it works!
  • Not only does it not usually have cheese on it, it doesn’t even need it, which as a cheese and pizza aficionado I was a bit suspicious about originally, but I was positively surprised by the outcome.
  • The traditional dough is made without a raising agent.

The end result was delicious although I wasn’t totally sold on the dough. I must have done something wrong somewhere as it was sticky and difficult to work with, and when cooked, it was, well, quite ‘doughy’. Badgerman is a big fan of doughy and loved it but I think I will be a bit more careful with the amount of water I add in the future. If you’re unsure about dough in general you can still make this very successfully using pizza dough or a shop-bought mix and spreading it as thinly as you can although the end result won’t be quite the traditional way.

flammekuche pics 261014

INGREDIENTS

For the dough

  • 250 g plain flour
  • 50 ml rapeseed oil
  • 1 small glass of lukewarm water
  • A pinch of salt

For the topping

  • 60 g of crème fraiche
  • 50 g of plain yoghurt (I used Total yoghurt; this is the nearest equivalent to the French ‘fromage blanc’ I have been able to find)
  • 1 large onion
  • 250 g smoked lardons (or streaky bacon cut into thick matches)
  • 12 g corn flour
  • A pinch of nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper

METHOD

  1. Mix the flour and salt in a big bowl, add the oil and start to work the dough with warm water. You may not need all the water so add it slowly and see how it goes. Work the dough until it no longer sticks to your hands and put it aside.
  1. Cut the onion into thin strips or rings and brown them slowly in a frying pan with a little rapeseed oil, then add the smoked lardons and cook them for two minutes. Put aside.
  1. Mix the crème fraiche with the plain yoghurt, corn flour, nutmeg, pepper and a little salt. The lardons will add saltiness so don’t add too much.
  1. Pre-heat the oven as high as it will go (typically 240°C or 250°C – thermostat 8). Spread the dough as thinly as possible on a baking tray covered in baking paper. Spread the cream mix evenly over it, top with the onion and lardons and bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

You can eat it as you would a pizza with a green salad on the side.