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The French Lesson (January 17, 2003)


The book is huge, but so is the subject... and it's covered in 742 fabulous pages. What else? Glorious French Food: A Fresh Approach to the Classics by the very talented and dishy James Peterson. Paul Bocuse and Daniel Boulud love him, and so do we, for this chef and teacher will have you cooking perfect traditional French dishes immediately.

All the classics are here, and Peterson has added his comments that make each of the recipes a good read and totally understandable before you start to cook. The Basic Crêpes recipe, for instance, has a rather chatty few paragraphs about the cooking, but it's as if James Peterson is right at your elbow coaching you through the procedure. You'll be making perfect crêpes before you know it!

James Peterson says, "Anyone who has strolled in Paris for more than 20 minutes will have encountered one of the ubiquitous street corner crêperies with their mouthwatering assortment of crêpes flavoured with various sweet and occasionally savory fillings. One of my own favourite breakfasts or afternoon snacks is a hot crêpe that's been sprinkled with sugar, smeared with butter, and rolled up. Brushing a hot crêpe with butter and sprinkling it with a mixture of 1 part unsweetened cocoa power to 3 parts sugar, while it's still in the pan, before rolling it up converts it instantly into a chocolate crêpe; a light sprinkling of Grand Marnier, into an orange-flavoured one, and a smearing of Nutella – the sweet Italian equivalent to peanut butter, made with hazelnuts and chocolate – into a delicious crêpe Nutella.

"Savory crêpes are popular in Brittany where they're made with buckwheat flour and called galettes and where they're likely to be served with cold, hard cider. One of the easiest and tastiest galettes is made with ham and cheese – just sprinkle grated cheese and chopped ham in a crêpe, fold it in wedges and cook it gently in a sauté pan in a little butter until the cheese melts."

Well, we can't get back to Paris tonight, so let the French Lesson begin.

Class, we're starting with Crêpes...

On today's menu:

Download these recipes in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (55 KB)


Basic Crêpes

6 servings of 3 each

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (125 g)
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1¼ cup milk (310 mL)
  • ½ tsp salt (2 mL)
  • 6 Tbsp butter (100 mL), melted (for the batter), plus about 1 Tbsp (15 mL) softened (for the pans)

Combine the flour and eggs in a mixing bowl and add just enough of the milk to allow you to work the mixture gently into a smooth paste with a whisk. Don't overwork the mixture – which would activate the gluten – and don't worry about a few lumps, which will be strained out anyway. Gently whisk in the rest of the milk. Strain the batter and then stir in the salt and melted butter. (If the butter is added before straining, it congeals in the cold batter and gets strained out.) If you have time, cover the batter and let it rest in a cool place or in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours.

Cooking crêpes is one of those things that take a little practice, so if you're new at it, count on ruining a few until you get the hang of it. First, the pan has to be at the right temperature. If it's too hot, the batter will seize up in the pan where you first ladle it in and form a thick area in the crepe. Also, because you won't have time to spread the batter over the entire surface of the pan before it sets, the crêpe will be too thick overall. If the pan isn't hot enough, the crêpe may stick (unless you're using a nonstick pan), and of course it will take longer to cook. If you're making crêpes for the first time, start with a single pan. Use a paper towel to rub the inside of the pan with a very thin layer of softened butter (or use a brush). Put the pan over medium heat. When the butter foams and the foam begins to subside ever so slightly, as in making an omelet, ladle in enough batter to just cover the surface of the pan with a thin layer. If you add too much, pour the excess out of the pan. After a couple of crêpes you'll be able to judge how much to fill the ladle so you can add the right amount each time. If, when you pour the excess out, none of the batter sticks to the pan, the pan isn't hot enough. If the batter sizzles as soon as it hits the pan, the pan is too hot.

As soon as you add the batter, quickly lift the pan and gently rotate it and tilt it at different angles at the same time to coat with with the batter as quickly as possible. Put the pan on the stove for about 1 minute, until the batter loses its sheen. Pinch each side of the crêpe between thumb and forefinger with both hands or use a small, wide metal spatula, and lift the crêpe entirely off the pan, turn it over onto the pan, and cook it for about 45 seconds more. Don’t try to flip crêpes – it's impossible, since they cling to the pan. If the crêpe starts to tear as you're trying to turn it, you probably need to cook it a little longer. If cooking the first crêpe longer doesn't work, beat another egg and stir it into the batter. If it the next crêpe tears you've probably made the batter too thin. Work 2 Tbsp (30 mL) in of flour with milk until smooth and whisk this into the batter. If your crêpes come out too thick, thin the batter with milk.

Normally, you won't need to butter the pan before every crêpe, but if the crêpes stick, rub the surface of the pan with more butter. If you're using an iron pan and the crêpes stick, don't try to scrape the batter off the pan or you'll just make matters worse. Instead, keep the pan on the heat until the clinging batter gets dark brown, then gently coax it off with a knife. Once you've removed all the batter, rub the pan vigorously with butter and try again.

As you get better at making crêpes, try making more than one at a time so that while one is cooking, you're ladling in the batter for another. As you take the crêpes out of the pan, arrange them on a platter in overlapping rows – don't just stack them, because they cling together and you'll have a hard time separating them. Once you've filled the platter with a single layer of crêpes, cover the first layer with a sheet of wax paper before adding another layer. Cover the plate with plastic wrap and refrigerate it until you're ready to use the crêpes, up to 5 days. If you're freezing the crêpes, stack them with small sheets of wax paper between them and tightly wrap the whole bundle in plastic wrap.


Simplified Orange Butter Crêpes

Makes 6 dessert servings

James Peterson says, "I'm not calling these Crêpes Suzette because I've replaced some of the traditional steps used to make Crêpes Suzette with simpler methods and used less expensive ingredients. Most modern recipes call for Grand Marnier, a marvellous orange-flavoured liqueur, but frightfully expensive. Many cooks, when they run to the liquor store to buy a bottle, panic at the price and substitute Triple Sec or orange curaçao. Unfortunately, the sauce ends up tasting like hair tonic. My own solution is to make an orange flavoured sugar syrup, flavour it with Cognac and butter and pour it over the hot crêpes. Be sure to buy authentic Cognac."

  • 1 recipe Basic Crêpes
  • 1 Tbsp softened unsalted butter (for the serving dish) plus 1 stick (¼ pound [115 g]) cold unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces (for the sauce)
  • 4 navel oranges
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar (75 mL)
  • 2/3 cup Cognac (150 mL)

Fold the crêpes in half with the more attractive side on the outside, and fold again to form little wedges. Rub the softened butter on a heat-proof serving dish, such as an oval gratin dish, large enough to hold the folded crepes in a single layer with the crêpes partially overlapping.

Rinse off the oranges. With a vegetable peeler or sharp paring knife, remove all the zest in strips from 2 of the oranges. Toss zests into boiling water for 30 seconds, drain, rinse under cold water, and reserve. Squeeze the 4 oranges – you should end up with about 1½ cups (375 mL) of juice. Combine the strained juice, zest strips and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a gentle simmer over low heat and simmer gently until you're left with about 2/3 cup (150 mL) of orange-flavoured sauce. Strain the syrup into a clean saucepan. If you like, you can make the syrup up to one week in advance and keep in it in the refrigerator.

Twenty minutes before you're ready to serve, preheat the oven to 325°F (165°C). Cover the dish of crêpes with a sheet of aluminum foil, and 10 minutes before you're ready to serve, slide it into the oven. Bring the orange syrup to a simmer and whisk in the cognac and the 6 pieces of butter. When all the butter has melted into the syrup, taste the sauce. If it tastes too strongly of Cognac, boil it for about 30 seconds. Spoon the hot sauce over the hot crêpes in the serving dish or arrange the crêpes on hot plates and spoon some sauce over each serving.

Accompanying wine? Tony recommends...
The wine you choose has everything to do with the flavouring, not the basic crêpes. For a savoury dish with ham and cheese, choose an simple Beaujolais-Villages or a named village wine from Beaujolais (Morgon, Fleurie, etc.). For a sweetened crêpe try Asti Spumante. For orange-flavoured, a sweeter wine like an Auslese Riesling from Germany or a Select Late Harvest Vidal from Ontario.


We wish to thank John Wiley and Sons, Inc. for permission to publish material and photographs from Glorious French Food: AFresh Approach to the Classics by James Peterson. © 2002 by James Peterson.


Happily tested by Helen Hatton and Ron Morris.

Download these recipes in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (55 KB)




More Gourmet Recipes