Crêpe expectations for Pancake Day
The day of batter-based feasting is upon us, and this year I’m bucking the trend. I’m not looking up how to make perfect pancakes for Pancake Day. I’m making crêpes.
Before you resurrect capital punishment for cases of high treason, let me explain. First of all, I spent my childhood in Pennsylvania where Fat Tuesday was in no way related to pancakes – it is Fastnacht Day, celebrated with simple sugared doughnuts. I have no genetic history which compels me to have a pre-Lenten pancake party.
Don’t get me wrong, I love pancakes. In fact every Saturday was – and is – pancake day in my house. Usually I have them fluffy – occasionally lightened with egg whites, or tart with the addition of raspberries or blueberries. I make them (mostly) to Hugh’s drop scone recipe, so perhaps I’m not making pancakes after all. The pancake police have yet to arrive.
But what’s a special treat to me is a crêpe – occasionally purchased from the beautiful lady at the farmer’s market (who claimed to eat 12 crepes a day, and was impossibly slender and elegant). I like them smothered in chocolate hazelnut spread, or soaked in orange liqueur. I like the Breton version made with buckwheat flour and loaded with Emmental cheese and ham – they seem to take an eternity to cook while you’re standing over them, clapping your mittens together for warmth, watching each shred of cheese melt.
Crepe or pancake?
So what’s the difference between a pancake and a crepe that will make my Pancake Crêpe Day so special?
First of all, there’s an increased richness. Michel Roux doesn’t hold back from adding a little cream to his suzette-style Crêpes with orange butter sauce. Delia’s Apple crêpes with Calvados uses a sizeable proportion of creme fraîche with 1/3 buckwheat flour. And of course the sauces – fragrant and buttery – make the crêpe a definite dessert, unsuitable for breakfast unless you’re one of those people who thinks ice cream in the bath makes an acceptable dinner (I may be one of those people). Would you put whipped cream on a pancake? No, I can’t picture it.
Secondly, restraint. The French famously restrain themselves to strict eating times and etiquette – for instance, wouldn’t be seen dead gnawing on a falafel while walking down the road (who me?). This famous restraint is also shown in the resting time allotted to crêpe batter. From an hour ahead up to a day, the resting period is important to achieve the correct super-thin, even, silky texture of a French crêpe. Make them now!
Gastronomic chemist Peter Barham discusses how to make le crêpe parfait in the Kitchen Cabinet.
The beauty of both the crêpe and the pancake, is that they sit somewhere between a childhood treat and a grown-up one. It’s elegant, crisp, lacy, and, unsweetened, can partner anything from fried eggs to dulce de leche. What other food conduits can claim that? It’s probably a little bumpkin-ish of me to think that a crêpe is slightly more grown-up (see earlier, re: Pennsylvania and falafel eating). But for a regular pancake eater, I’m going to make a little more effort to make this Pancake Day exceptional.
What do you feel are the differences between pancakes and crêpes, if any? Does it matter what you call them, or is a pancake by any other name as sweet?