Made from the simplest of batters -- just flour, eggs and milk -- a French crepe is really quite plain. All it takes, though, to transform these thin, soft but crisp-edged pancakes into a special treat, are a few choice fillings. The plain crepe can become a sweet dessert, a fancy breakfast, a savory snack or even a three-course meal. Whether it be some pantry staples, yesterday’s reheated leftovers or an elaborate concoction you're preparing from scratch; all can be equally at home rolled, folded or layered into a crepe.
Sweet crepes are great for dessert, breakfasts and snacks. Plain crepe batter will work just fine, but you can also add a little sugar, honey, maple syrup or vanilla extract to complement sweet fillings.
Some of the most common crepe fillings served in France are basic pantry staples, including powdered sugar, lemon juice, jams and Nutella. Raid your refrigerator and pantry to find an array of toppings that are delicious alone or in custom combinations. Set up a "crepe bar" with any of the following:
- Chocolate, fudge or caramel sauces
- Lemon curd
- Orange marmalade
- Peanut butter and other nut butters
- Honey butter
Fruit is another typical crepe filling. Slice up fresh fruits or make a warm fruit filling by simmering fresh fruits until they break down. If the fruit is a little tart, add some sugar. Also consider dried fruit.
- Slice up softer fruits, such as bananas, peaches, mangoes, oranges and berries, to fold inside crepes.
- Apples, pears and rhubarb are especially nice to serve warm. Try combinations such as apples and raspberries or rhubarb and strawberries.
- Raisins, dried cranberries and diced dates are good choices for dried fruit.
- Add some crunch to your crepe fillings with chopped nuts or granola.
- Creamy fillings offer another texture contrast and go well with fruit. Try ice cream, frozen or regular yogurt or cream cheese.
Look to your favorite American breakfasts and desserts for flavor combinations that translate deliciously to French crepes. Just a few choices include:
- Peanut butter and jelly
- Maple syrup and butter
- Yogurt with honey and granola
- Carrot cake crepes made with finely grated carrots in the batter and a filling of brown sugar, cinnamon and raisins.
- Apple pie a la mode-inspired crepes with a warm apple filling, caramel drizzle and scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side.
- Tropical pina colada crepes filled with chopped pineapple, bananas and a splash of rum, topped with a sprinkling of toasted coconut and a decadent swirl of whipped cream.
For crepes with a more complex flavor, augment the batter with cocoa powder, pumpkin pie spice, lemon zest or a dash of booze, such as rum or triple sec.
In France, savory crepes are called galettes and are traditionally made with buckwheat instead of regular wheat flour. Buckwheat is not essential, though, so use a regular crepe recipe if you wish, omitting any sweetener.
As a classic of French cuisine, savory crepes have a natural companion in cheese. Sprinkle grated cheese over a crepe while it's still in the pan and give it time to warm through. A French favorite is oeuf, jambon et fromage (eggs, ham and cheese). After sprinkling cheese over a savory crepe, set a slice of good quality ham in the center, top it with a fried egg and fold in the sides to create a delectable parcel. Variations on this include:
- Cheese and tomato
- Bacon and egg or a BLT
- Sharp cheddar with thin slices of tart green apple
- Caramelized onions with an aged Swiss cheese
- Sauteed spinach with salty feta
- Prosciutto with arugula, Parmesan shavings and freshly ground black pepper
For a more elaborate meal of savory crepes, cook meat, vegetable and seafood fillings in a separate pan and keep them warm until it's time to fill the pancakes. Covering filled crepes with a sauce also makes them a more hearty meal. Here are some suggestions:
- Garlicky, buttery mushrooms
- Sauteed, sliced sausages or steak with onions and bell peppers
- Chicken with corn, green onions and a splash of cream or knob of herbed cream cheese
Seafood combinations to try include:
- Smoked salmon with sour cream and capers
- Crab and hollandaise sauce
- Cold salmon with a smear of mayonnaise and squeeze of lemon
Crepes are also a great vehicle for using up leftovers like ratatouille, shredded rotisserie chicken and pulled pork. Add some condiments from the fridge -- perhaps a squeeze of Dijon mustard or barbecue sauce.
Add fresh or dried herbs to savory crepe batter, or serve plain savory crepes with a knob of herb butter.
A glass of hard cider is the customary accompaniment to galettes in Brittany, their place of origin.