Monday, June 05, 2006

All crêped out

It started about 3 weeks ago. At first it was a procrastinating ploy, more appealing than work. Then as a window of pleasure between freelance jobs, then a reward. Over the last week, I've engaged in much household drudgery, determined to set our home straight after a couple weeks' neglect, but still I've channelled more energy into this task than to all the chores combined.

I've been making a lot of crêpes. In a handful of separate sessions, I've produced dozens. At first I rolled them up with jam, served some up plain to be topped with syrup (of which I myself am not a fan). Then Polish-style, folded up with cinnamon cottage cheese. As my experimentation drew out toward lunch, bacon and cheese, and ham and asparagus.

Not so much because I, or anyone else in this household, wants to eat the final product, but because I feel an overwhelming need — need — to perfect the recipe and technique. The fact that Helena devours my mom's crêpes and seems to care not at all for mine is something of a driving force.

To be clear: not pancakes. I've always thought them too... cakey. Doughy. I want paper-thin, plate-sized crêpes. Like the ones you buy on street corners in Paris for a quick, cheap lunch or an evening snack. Yes, we have them in Montreal, too. Some little stands appear during festival season, and a few permanent food counter windows offer them up, but I find they lack that Parisian je ne sais quoi.

My mother's recipe always served its purpose for quick breakfasts, but it never fully satisfied. Years ago she'd instructed me over the phone. My notes indicate "some" flour, about a tablespoon for every crêpe, which is even less precise than you might think, given that my mother has never owned or used measuring cups or spoons; I know the tablespoons in her kitchen drawer — they all seem so much less substantial than the ones I have, but heaped they're sure to hold more than my accurate half-sphere measure. Just add more water till you have the right consistency. Alas, my concept of "right" has never been quite right.

I came to a turning point this weekend when I looked up recipes in the cookbooks on my shelf. Actual recipes, at my fingertips, which I'd ignored.

They're not perfect yet, but getting there. Perhaps I'll invest in a dedicated crêpe pan, see what other kitchen tools are available to assist me. But I'm full for now, and grateful that festival season is underway and crêpe stands are popping up along the city routes I'm likely to travel this summer.


Anonymous said...

Have you ever seen the Japanese movie "Tampopo"? Every time someone's on the quest for a perfect recipe, I think of that movie. It's an odyssey through food, culture, and sex, made up of mostly unrelated vignettes (although there is one story thread they come back to -- the unending quest for the perfect bowl of noodles). Excellent and funny.

Anonymous said...

I had a very vivid dream last night about cooking crepes. I was in my parents' house trying to fix breakfast but I didn't have my glasses and I couldn't read the recipe. Woke up frustrated and longing for crepes, which I am about to cook for dinner.

Reading this post was...uncanny, to say the least. I feel like I should have deja vu.

Anonymous said...

My mom used to make what she called pancakes, but they were really crepes. Paper thin and just the teeniest bit crispy around the edges. Divine. I can't eat anyone else's "pancakes."

I do recommend getting a dedicated pan, by the way. I'm not big on fancy kitchen implements, but I do have an omelette/crepe pan and my omelette- and crepe-cooking techniques have improved tenfold. Not saying they're anything special, just better than they used to be.

Martha said...

Ooooh! Crepes! I never ever make them, I don't know why. Because I love them. I understand the urge to perfect a certain kind of food though-- my obsessions usually center around the German Christmas cookies and Stollen recipes I got from my Dad, who in turn got them from this little old lady we knew, who in turn got them from her German mother in law.

My mother is hopeless with recipes too, though. When I call to ask her about an old favorite, she casually throws off answers like, 'oh, I don't know, a handful of this or that' or 'a hot oven, and til it's just done'