Crepes, those ultra-thin French pancakes, deserve a spot in our Valentine’s Day chocolate dreams. Crepes cook in less than a minute, can be made days ahead, and taste great flavored with chocolate and a sprinkling of sugar or decadently filled with whipped cream.
A blender full of batter, made quickly from flour, milk and eggs, actually improves with a stay in the refrigerator so the flour absorbs the liquid. Melted butter is a last-minute addition to help create tender, lacey thin pancakes every time. The butter also functions to easily release the cooked pancake from the pan.
Speaking of pans, our decades-old steel crepe pan is a treasured item. Truth be told, these days I rely on a heavy-bottomed, nonstick 7-inch skillet. Zero fat is needed to cook the crepes — just the proper heat. Once the pan is thoroughly hot, the cooked crepe slides right out of the pan.
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Two tricky things about cooking crepes — knowing how much heat to use and how much batter per crepe. Work over medium to medium-high heat, adjusting it as you go along. Test for proper heat by adding a drop of water to the empty pan; it should evaporate upon contact.
Count on the first two crepes to be your practice material to learn how much batter you need. Use a measuring cup or ladle to add the batter to the hot pan; it should start cooking as soon as it hits the pan. Swirl the batter in the pan so it completely covers the bottom making a thin crepe. For the thinnest crepes, pour off any excess liquid back into the batter bowl.
It’s a bit of a dance between the stove, ladling in the batter and knowing when to flip the crepe. After the second side is cooked, you can stack cooked crepes on top of each other to keep them warm. Alternatively, cool the cooked crepes on a wire rack, then stack them in a covered container and refrigerate for several days.
For chocolate lovers, a few spoonfuls of unsweetened cocoa powder added to the batter turns out a milk chocolate-colored crepe. Fill that crepe with mocha whipped cream just before serving. Generous drizzles of warm chocolate sauce make this a dessert to impress.
Chocolate Crepes with Mocha Cream
Makes about 20 crepes
1 1/2 cups whole milk (or 1 cup nonfat milk and ½ cup half-and-half)
4 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup melted butter
Whipped mocha cream filling, see recipe
Bottled chocolate sauce or hot fudge sauce, warmed
Fresh berries, for garnish
Mint sprigs, for garnish
1. For the crepe batter, put milk and eggs into a blender and process to mix. Add flour, cocoa powder, sugar and salt. Process until smooth. Refrigerate covered (leave in the blender jar if desired) at least 30 minutes, or up to 1 day.
2. Stir the crepe batter well before using. Then stir in the melted butter.
3. To cook crepes, heat a 7-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until a drop of water evaporates on contact. Pour or ladle in a scant ¼ cup batter. Immediately swirl the pan to distribute the batter into a thin even layer. Tip the excess liquid batter back into the container. Then cook crepe just until golden on the bottom, 30 to 60 seconds. Carefully flip the crepe and cook the second side just long enough to color it, about 15 to 30 seconds.
4. Slide the crepe out onto a plate. Repeat to cook all the crepes. When cool, the crepes can be wrapped and kept in the refrigerator for several days. Crepes can be reheated in the microwave, a few at a time, on a plate for a few seconds.
5. To fill crepes, place one warm crepe on a serving plate and dollop several tablespoons of the whipped mocha cream filling over one half of the crepe. Fold the other side of the crepe over the filling. Repeat for a second filled crepe. Drizzle with warmed chocolate sauce and garnish with berries and mint.
Whipped Mocha Cream Filling
Makes enough to fill about 16 crepes
Note: This cream filling can be put into a pastry bag fitted with a star tip to pipe it into the crepes. Leftover filling tastes great on pancakes or French toast.
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
1 1/2 tablespoons coffee-flavored liqueur or 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1. Sift cocoa powder and sugar into a large mixing bowl to remove any lumps. Add cream, mascarpone, coffee liqueur, espresso powder and salt. Beat with electric mixer on low speed until everything is dissolved. Then beat on high until soft peaks form when the beaters are lifted.
2. Gently fold in yogurt.
3. Refrigerate up to several hours.
(JeanMarie Brownson is a James Beard Award-winning author and the recipient of the IACP Cookbook Award for her latest cookbook, “Dinner at Home.” JeanMarie, a chef and authority on home cooking, Mexican cooking and specialty food, is one of the founding partners of Frontera Foods. She co-authored three cookbooks with chef Rick Bayless, including “Mexico: One Plate at a Time.” JeanMarie has enjoyed developing recipes and writing about food, travel and dining for more than four decades.)