A bad weather day means an opportunity for a fun cooking project. I'm not talking about a well-planned, lofty, drawn-out enterprise—just something that's a little out of the ordinary, easy, yummy, and most important, made with ingredients I already have on hand. So as a major snowstorm worked its way up the I-95 corridor this week, I decided to make one of my very favorite treats: crespelle, the Italian version of crepes. All I needed to whip up for the batch was an egg, some flour, milk, and a few optional add-ins.
Crespelle batter comes together in a snap and is wonderfully open to a number of creative variations. Unless the cupboard is completely bare, you'll always find a way to make it work. A traditional blender is the best and quickest way to achieve perfect, silky-smooth batter; because of the large proportion of wet ingredients to dry, the flour tends to lump up.
Food processors always fail on this point--they fling the liquid to the sides and miss most of the lumps. An immersion blender is better, but can be difficult to use for such a small batch. If you don't have a traditional blender, the old hand-whisking method is the best way to really target those lumps with strategic arm action.
The most important thing to remember is that the flour should be the last ingredient added to the blender or the bowl, or you will wind up with too many un-dissolved lumps sticking to the blender blades or between the tines of the whisk.
Once you get the hang of it, cooking crespelle is great fun. A non-stick or well-seasoned cast iron pan is optimal. I like to use my ages-old cast iron fry pan because it preheats evenly and retains the heat through all the swirling. Greasing the pan lightly with vegetable oil or cooking spray is very important, and I find that my crespelle come out lacy and light if I repeat this step after every two I turn out.
My favorite filling is nothing more than a slick of really great honey, but today we peered into the refrigerator and found homemade blueberry jam and some leftover ricotta. A check of the baking shelf in the pantry resulted in a generous drizzle of melted chocolate and some chopped toasted walnuts.
Try using ricotta or thick, Greek-style yogurt, mixed with honey, cinnamon and orange zest, or a layer of Nutella with sliced strawberries or bananas. How about gelato and warm caramel? Sauteed apple slices? We can go on and on. What are some of your favorite sweet combinations?
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/2 cup orange juice, or club soda, or in a real pinch, plain water
- 1 large egg
- 2 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted, or 2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (or 1 tablespoon white, light or dark rum, brandy, cognac, grappa, Amaretto, or Frangelico)
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- A few dashes of cinnamon and/or nutmeg; grated orange, lemon or tangerine zest
Place all of the ingredients except the flour in a blender and whirl briefly to combine them. Add the flour and blend until you have a silky-smooth, velvety consistency. You may have to stop once and scrape any flour that sticks to the sides of the blender. Let the batter sit for a few minutes; any lumps will float to the top and can be re-blended, removed or strained out.
Preheat and grease a 8- or 10-inch nonstick or cast iron sauté pan, or a crepe pan if you have one. Add enough batter to the pan and quickly swirl it around and to evenly coat the bottom of the pan; if it is too difficult to swirl the batter, thin it out with a bit of water or orange juice. (You'll get a better sense of how much batter to use after making the first one). Place the pan back over the heat; when the edges have started to turn golden, loosen the cresepella with a small offset spatula or a butter knife and flip it with your fingers to cook the other side for another 30 seconds or so. Repeat with remaining batter.
You can fill and serve the crespelle up as you go, or make an entire batch, layering them between sheets of parchment paper, keeping them warm in a low oven. Fill them as desired and dust with powdered sugar.