The joy of crêpes, those classic paper-thin French pancakes, is the infinitely delicious ways to enjoy them.
Dusted with sugar or filled with a slick of chocolate spread, they make a perfect light snack. Stuffed with heartier ingredients – meat, vegetables or a creamy cheese sauce perhaps – they‘re a meal in themselves.
Why not join Michelin-star Chef Michel Roux Jnr. and master the crêpe. In his online course Classic French Cuisine: The Roux Way you will learn the secrets behind Chef Michel’s spinach, cheese and ham crepe - a slim, elegant and luxurious dish. Once you’ve nailed the technique, Roux will set you the same challenge he was tasked with on BBC MasterChef: The Professionals – the crepe soufflé.
In traditional French cookery, crêpes are often filled with a thick sauce – bechamel, velouté or cheese sauce made with Gruyere – and served as a hot hors d’oeuvre. If this sounds appealing, prepare the sauce first, then make the crêpes, as they’re always best served hot from the pan.
These basic sauces all welcome extra ingredients. For example, a handful of mixed mushrooms fried in butter, garlic and a little fresh tarragon is lovely. Or, swap the mushrooms for ham, cooked chicken, tinned and drained tuna, fresh cooked prawns or steamed green vegetables. Simply stir your extras into the basic sauce.
Once you’ve made your crêpes, spoon some of the filling into the centre of each one and roll up or fold into quarters, then serve on individual plates. Alternatively, make two or three filled and rolled crêpes per person, arrange them snuggly in a baking dish and cover the top generously with grated Gruyere cheese. Bake in a180°C/350°F/gas 4 oven until the cheese on top is bubbling and the filling is hot all the way through.
Another type of filled savoury crêpe is the Breton Galette, a speciality of Brittany. Traditionally these are made with buckwheat flour, which gives the crêpes a distinctive and slightly nutty flavour. But use your standard crêpe batter made with plain flour if you prefer.
Typically, Breton Galettes are served with cheese and egg and these are very simple. Once you have turned your crêpe over to cook on its second side, break an egg onto the centre of it. When the white begins to set, sprinkle grated cheese around the white, then fold in the sides of the crêpe to make a square (so the sunny egg yolk is visible). Cook until the cheese has melted, then eat immediately.
In a similar style, prepare the following components: onions slow-cooked until soft and sweet, crispy shards of bacon, and apple slices gently fried to tenderness in butter and fresh thyme. Mix these components together and place a spoonful in the centre of a crêpe, then fold over the border to make a square as before. Sprinkle with cheese and grill for five minutes or so, until bubbling and the edges of the crêpes are crisp and golden.
Arguably, sweet crêpes are more popular than savoury, and here the possibilities really are endless. Jam, honey or lemon and sugar are timeless and simple because they require no cooking all.
Or try spreading crêpes with peanut butter and top with fresh berries and seeds before rolling or folding. Finish with a drizzle of good honey. Chocolate spread and sliced bananas are another wonderful no-cook filling, or make a simple berry compote to spoon over your crêpes. For this, sprinkle chopped strawberries, raspberries and/or blackberries with caster sugar and leave to macerate for at least 30 minutes, or until the juices leach from the fruit to form a sweet, fragrant and flavoursome sauce.
For cooked sweet fillings, caramel sauce is hard to beat because it offers so many possibilities and is always a crowd-please. Simply warm the sauce and drizzle over the crêpes. Or serve the caramel-drizzled crepes with gently fried sliced fruit such as apples, pears or stone fruit. Toasted walnuts, pecans or almonds make a sublime addition here, for extra flavour and soft crunch.
For an impressive dessert, make a batch of crêpes and fill them with with cooked berries and a cream made from whisked together mascarpone, double cream, vanilla and sugar. Or, fill crêpes with a mixture of ricotta cheese mixed with dark brown soft sugar . Once rolled, drizzle with honey.
Fruit curd – passionfruit, lemon or orange – makes a divine crêpe filling, as does crème patisserie (thick custard). Serve either with roast or poached fruit: it’s hard to past rhubarb here.
To really impress your guests, try the 1970s dinner party classic Crêpes Suzette – crepes in a boozy orange sauce. For enough to serve four people, make a batch of crêpes (two or three each is about right), fold them into quarters and set aside.
To make the sauce, melt 60g of butter in a frying pan. Whisk together 2 tablespoons of caster sugar, 200ml orange juice, the finely grated zest of 1 orange and 3 tablespoons of Cointreau or Grand Marnier. Pour this mixture into the frying pan with the butter and simmer gently until the sugar dissolves and the sauce turns slightly syrupy.
Carefully transfer the folded crêpes to the pan, poking them under the sauce to warm through. To flambé, (not necessary but quite a fun finale to supper) heat 3 tablespoons of Cointreau or Grand Marnier in a small pan and carefully ignite with a long match. Carefully pour the flaming liquid over the crêpes and once the flames have subsided, serve immediately with the sauce spooned over.
Whatever you do, don’t reserve filled crêpes for Shrove Tuesday, the day when pancakes are traditionally eaten. They’re just too good to only enjoy them only once a year.
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