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Make great crepes in a snap

(béatrice peltre)
By Béatrice Peltre
Globe Correspondent / January 30, 2008

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If the many crepe stands and creperies all over France are any indication of the popularity of these delicate pancakes, then it makes sense that the French dedicate an entire day each year to these treats. Saturday is "La Chandeleur," a holiday that celebrates the return of spring. It's also known as Crepe Day.

A crepe (pronounced "krep") can be sweet or savory, but for this holiday, it's lightly sweetened. The thin pancake is made with flour, eggs, milk, sugar, and butter, with probably as many recipe variations as cooks.

Crepe-making at home can be an intimidating enterprise unless you have a French-born parent who taught you the special wrist-snapping technique for flipping. You might think crepes are out-of-reach. They do require practice and effort, but they're also accessible, and especially satisfying.

Each ingredient plays an important role in the final dish. A smooth batter requires the right balance of flour and milk, and respect when adding the ingredients to the mixing bowl. There's a certain order that insures a good batter.

One of the simplest ways to enjoy a crepe is spread with lightly salted butter, rolled up like a cigarette, and doused with sugar. Crepes can be more elaborate for a brunch or dinner party. For sweet fillings, use stewed or fresh fruit, jam, whipped cream, or rich chocolate sauce. One of my favorite dishes is crepes suzette, which are filled with orange sauce and flamed.

In Brittany, a northwestern region of France where crepes originate, savory versions called "galettes" are popular. They're made with buckwheat flour and water, filled with mushrooms, ham, cheese, and served with local cider.

"The key to making great crepes and galettes is to let the batter rest for a few hours," says Brittany-born Alexis Berthier, press attache for the French consul here. He uses his grandmother's recipe. "She likes to add a dash of beer in her crepe batter to make it lighter.

On a recent ski trip in France, I couldn't resist a daily stop at the crepe stand. I ordered mine with sugar and a dash of lemon juice, and ate it with my fingers, making sure to lick the sugar marks.