25 July 2013

Food Lab 23: Crepes

OK, it hasn't actually be four full months since the Food Lab crew assembled. We had a lab planned
back in the middle of April: candy making. We were going to do caramels, lollipops, and chocolate truffles. Unfortunately, at the last minute, the IAs were unable to join us, and seeing as Mama IA was the instigator of Candy Lab, we didn't feel right about proceeding without her.

So, blessed with extraordinarily good weather that day, Chef Spouse and I hung out with Mad Kitchen Scientist and The Executive Committee in their backyard playing with the Green Egg smoker to which they're providing a temporary home, grilling flat bread and veg of all sorts, and trying out the molecular gastronomy kit The Executive Committee got for Christmas. We made lemon foam (for our grilled asparagus) and balsamic vinegar pearls (for our grilled romaine). And chocolate truffles, which wasn't really a lab because Chef Spouse makes them all the time, but he did NOT use the Super-Secret Recipe provided to him be a friend of ours for purposes of, I quote, "sexual blackmail."

But I digress.

May and June were busy travel months for various members of your Food Lab team, which left us next able to gather on Sunday, July 14, also known as Bastille Day.

Bastille Day food lab?

Crepes, bien sur!

First, to get you in the mood, go ahead and start the video below of Edith Piaf singing La Vie En Rose.

So we used both Julia Child recipes, sweet and savory, an extremely simple sourdough (using the sourdough starter I've grown over the past several months, who goes by Fred), and a buckwheat batter. All were made the previous day.

The thing about crepes isn't the batter, though. The batter is simple: flour, eggs, butter, salt, milk, and water.

It's the flipping technique.

I should back up. Several years *before* he started getting serious about cooking, Chef Spouse decided he wanted to learn how to make crepes. So we got him official French steel crepe pans (sorta like these), and he perfected his flipping technique. He can actually flip with both hands at the same time. It's pretty impressive. Like a dope, I didn't take video.

Anyway, according to his notes, here's how it works:
  1. Combine the wet ingredients, then beat in the flour and salt until the batter is the consistency of a milk shake
  2. Heat your crepe pan, add a little butter, then pour in just enough batter to cover the pan
  3. Flip when golden brown by making sure the crepe is loose, then slide the crepe away from you until 1/4 is hanging off the pan, then flip with a flick of the wrist
In more detail:

Butter: use a full stick of frozen butter and rub it on the pan between crepes to avoid using too much. The butter should sizzle but not brown.

Pouring in the batter: a traditional crepe pan will take about 1/3 of a cup of batter. When pouring it in, tilt the crepe pan so the batter runs down it and fills the pan. Pour the batter across the top from left to right (10 o'clock to 2 o'clock) across the top, with the bulk of the batter pouring out at the top of the pan (12 o'clock). The batter will slowly pool to the bottom and join up.

When to flip: never let crepes cook until they smoke or the edges get brown, or they will crack when you roll them. The crepe should shake loose in the pan before flipping. A very quick shift (forward/back) of the wrist will let you know if the crepe has separated from the pan yet.  You can't flip a crepe that is still stuck to the pan.

How to flip: as Julia Child states, you must have courage. Hesitation will kill your flip, a la -->

We did discover one key thing. If you’re short, you need to stand back from the stove for the flip because your arm needs to be lower  than stove height. If your arm is too high, you can’t do the motion correctly, and you end up with a mess. The problem, of course, is that if stand back from the stove to flip your crepe and miss, the crepe hits the floor.

Now, you don't have to have a crepe pan. You can use a more traditional fry pan/skillet. The problem is that it ups the degree of difficulty on the flip significantly. SIGNIFICANTLY.

So what did we fill all these crepes with? Spinach sauteed with onions and pancetta, mushroom duxelles, lightly steamed asparagus, home-smoked salmon (see above, re: Green Egg), homemade duck confit (which we also tried adding to the crepe batter itself, tasty but hard to flip), goat cheese, and Gruyere.

Of course, at the end, we had sweet crepes. We had all sorts of plans for them, but it came down to two things: a gooseberry/blueberry compote Mad Kitchen Scientist had made with mascarpone cheese and, of course, Crepes Suzette (because setting things on fire in the kitchen on purpose is fun).

What did we drink? Well, wine, of course, and French 75s, one of my very favorite cocktails ever. Booze, simple syrup, lemon juice, and champagne. Ah, but what booze? The traditional is gin v. cognac, and we tried both. They were both lovely, with gin clearly the winner for warm weather, and cognac clearly the winter version. We then moved on to trying rye and silver tequila. After all, a French75 is basically a Tom Collins topped with champagne rather than club soda, so why NOT try it with a whiskey sour as the base? And we needed a comparison booze. Well, the silver tequila blew us all away, so we then moved on to the inevitable silver v. resposado comparison. Resposado was better.

Finally for Mad Kitchen Scientist, who was sad we didn't have a recording to play:

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