French

The Fuss-Free Way to Make Crêpes

March 15, 2016

When I received a crêpe pan and a tin of crêpe mix for my tenth birthday, my family swapped Saturday morning pancakes for a tradition of a lopsided pile of crêpes.

But over time, I realized that neither the specialized pan nor the mix were necessary—despite crêpes being one of the most intimidating foods to make at home, matched only by soufflés and emulsion sauces.

To prove it, here are my time-honed, uber-secret crêpe methods. I'll walk you through how to make crêpes and address (in italics) your most common concerns—because everyone deserves a weekly crêpe routine:

First, mix up your batter.

crêpes are made of the simplest ingredients around: eggs, milk, flour, salt, sugar, and maybe a little fat. (If you’re looking for recipes, here and here are good ones.) You can mix them by hand, or dump everything in a blender if you’re in a hurry.

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Top Comment:
“When the crepe fully releases, turn it upside down over the top of the second one to flip it, and start the next crepe. Not only does it work well, but the "clang" as you hit the two skillets together is tremendous fun...”
— Doug R.
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The batter will be thin and might have a few lumps in it—this is totally fine, don’t worry about smoothing it out. Most batters can be stored in the fridge overnight, unless you use a recipe that includes leavening agents like baking powder.

Next, assemble your tools.

You will need:

  • a large, mostly-flat nonstick skillet
  • a third-cup measure on a small plate (or a large ladle) next to the stove
  • a stick of butter to grease the skillet before each pancake. Peel off the top part of the wrapper but leave the bottom on so you can apply the butter to the hot pan without dirtying fingers
  • a large plate where you can plop your finished pancakes
  • two spatulas for flipping—the larger the better

Think about fillings.

Assemble fillings before you start because they demand some attention. Minimalists maintain that a squeeze of lemon topped with a flurry of confectioners’ sugar is the perfect foil to the eggy pancake, but the options are many:

At the end of the day, the choice is yours—I love my crêpes with butter and a sprinkle of granulated sugar; something about the grit in my teeth when I bite down is very satisfying. And the more choices, the better (hello, crêpe bar).

Get some batter in a hot hot pan.

If you made your batter the night before, take it out of the fridge and let it warm up to room temperature. Turn the heat on medium-high under your pan (don’t be afraid—high heat is good for crêpes).

Once the pan is nice and hot, apply a thin coat of butter over the surface. Dip your third-cup measure into the crêpe batter and pour it into the center of the pan, working quickly.

Set the cup on the plate next to the burner, pick up the pan and tip it all around to swirl the batter over the pan’s entire surface. You want to do this relatively quickly, before the batter has a chance to set, but not jerkily. Ideally, you will end up with an even coating of batter throughout the entire circle of the bottom of the pan—if some of it comes up the sides, this is fine, too.

“My crêpes always stick.” Make sure you only use nonstick skillets, grease it with plenty of butter, and keep the pan over medium-high heat the whole time. Before pouring on the batter, flick a little water onto the pan’s surface; if it sizzles aggressively, you’re good to go. If it just kind of bubbles, turn up the heat.

When the batter turns from glossy to matte yellow and the edges begin to brown and curl inwards, after a minute or so, it’s time to start testing your pancake. Shake the pan gently—the crêpe should move freely, without sticking to the bottom.

“Crêpes are so delicate, they break. No thank you.” First of all, crêpes are stronger than you think. If your crêpes are consistently turning out too thin and tearing, up your batter allotment from ⅓ cup to ½ cup. Secondly, even if the worst happens and your crêpes do tear (gasp!), you can fix them. Simply patch any cracks with a little extra pour of batter, then smooth it out with your spatula. Once the “bandage” has set, slide the crêpe out onto a plate. No one will ever know.

Flip, but don't freak out.

Flip the crêpe, either using a spatula or your pan skills. When your crêpe is set on top and moves freely when you gently shake the pan, nudge one of your spatulas under the edge of the pancake. Slide a second spatula, at a 45-degree angle from the first spatula, about halfway under the crêpe. Now that the crêpe is stabilized with both spatulas, gently flip it onto its belly.

“I really fear the flip.” That’s okay because the flip is totally unnecessary, sort of like tossing your pizza dough into the stratosphere to shape it. I, an experienced crêpe-maker, stick to the two-spatula method:

Don’t be afraid to get handsy with your pancakes, either! Use your fingers to straighten the flipped crêpe out in the pan, or add a little momentum to the turn. Just be careful not to touch the hot pan itself (obviously).

The second side should only take a few seconds to finish cooking. Slide the pancake out onto the waiting plate, straightening it if it wrinkles. Repeat with the rest of the batter.

Fill the crêpe with whatever filling(s) you decided on.

“Um, how do you fold a crêpe?” To fill the crêpes, I like to spread the filling down the middle and roll them up like a little tube, sort of like an enchilada. You can also channel Parisian street vendors and smear your filling on one half of the crêpe, fold the other half onto it like you’re making a quesadilla, and then fold the whole thing one more time. This is especially convenient if you’re eating crêpes on the go. Finally, if you are up for a project or need to seriously wow someone with pastry, stack your pancakes into a pastry cream/Nutella-fortified crêpe cake. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve in thin slices, laid sideways so people can admire your skills.

Simple, right? Too easy? Then make them into a cake.

“So I’m spending the whole brunch making crêpes?” If the hungry hoards are looking over your shoulder, breathing down your neck, or generally making you nervous, hand off the pan to your guests. Give everyone a chance to flip their own breakfast, guiding them along the crêpe-making process. If you are feeling relatively comfortable with crêpes and want to speed up the process, you can always get two pans going at once. Just stagger your start time for each, so while you’re swirling the batter in one, the other is cooking, etc.

Did I leave one of your crêpe conundrums unanswered? Ask in the comments!

6 Comments

TJ November 17, 2016
Can crepes be made ahead of time and reheated or filled for desserts?
 
Jeff P. November 19, 2016
Hi TJ, I've made crepes for filling with savory or sweet stuff a few hours ahead and kept them at room temperature, covered; and then when ready to use them. (Personal favorite: egg, cheese, and ham; I cook the egg directly on top of the crepe in the pan after flipping it the first time.) I don't see why you wouldn't be able to store them in the fridge for a few days.
 
Shelley M. March 15, 2016
Why does the first crepe turn out sad, but then its clear sailing?
 
soleilnyc September 29, 2016
It's usually because the pan or the batter aren't at the right temperature, or the pan is over or undergreased and that first crepe kind of brings everything into equilibrium. We call that first crepe "pour le chien" (for the dog) and I am always THRILLED to be the dog.
 
cv March 15, 2016
Using two spatulas or two pans to flip a crepe is unnecessary. <br /><br />Just use one wide spatula and your fingers. When the crepe is ready to flip, the edges curl up and the batter is already quite dry around the edges.<br /><br />The main benefit of using two pans is to speed up the cooking process by having two going simultaneously.
 
Doug R. March 15, 2016
We only tried (unsuccessfully) to use an actual crepe pan once before settling on the two-castiron skillet method we use in our home. The first skillet should be smaller than the second. When the crepe fully releases, turn it upside down over the top of the second one to flip it, and start the next crepe. Not only does it work well, but the "clang" as you hit the two skillets together is tremendous fun...