What’s a Crêpe?

In the words of the character Jean Girard in the movie Talladega Nights, “they are like really thin pancakes”. Which pretty much sums it up. Those among us who have crested the 40 mark may recall the short-lived crêpe fad in the 70’s. I personally remember a restaurant chain in the Chicago area called “The Magic Pan”. Crammed into malls and painted to look like rustic Provençal bistros, they specialized in vegetable crêpes swimming in thick, cheesy Béchamel sauces. Needless to say my father wouldn’t go near those places. But then in the blink of an eye The Magic Pan was history, gone the way of Leo Sayer records and zip-up velour shirts. I seem to recall it was replaced by another theme restaurant that specialized in giant baked potatoes covered in bacon. That was the 80’s for ya.

Yet for all its sins of excess the Magic Pan did introduce me to Crêpes Suzette, that sweet, rich, orangy indulgence that truly is one of the world’s great desserts. Yes, they flamed it at tableside, but hell that’s what made the place such a hot date spot. You can’t blame them for getting carried away with theater.

So then, what is it that separates crêpes from pancakes as we know them? Pretty much just the thinness of the batter. Crêpes are also unleavened, which helps maintain their trademark delicacy. They can be extremely challenging things to make. The French say it takes a lifetime to master the perfect crêpe. But then they say that about everything and life is short, you know? I’ll settle for the ones my imperfect technique and $20 nonstick pan produce. They aren’t at all shabby.

Oh, and if you’re wondering what the word crêpe means, it comes from the Latin “crispa” which means “wavy” or “curled”, a possible reference to the edges of a crêpe, which curl as they dry out in the pan.

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