NEW YORK — Let’s play a word association game. When I say crepe, what’s the first word that comes to mind? Maybe it’s France. Perhaps it’s pancake. But I bet a lot of you are thinking thin.
The crepe’s most famous quality is its lack of height — in the popular imagination, crepes are as thin and translucent as tissues. (Why do you think it’s called crepe paper?) But their reputation does a disservice to home cooks who want to bring a little Francophilia into their lives. If you attempt to make a paper-thin crepe, it will tear and end up looking like scrambled eggs — I don’t care how nonstick your pan is, or how well honed your flipping skills are.
Give up on thinness as your ultimate goal when you’re making crepes, and worry more about whether it will have enough body to hold your filling of choice.
How to achieve the perfectly formed crêpe? The batter should flow easily, but it shouldn’t be watery. The pan should be well lubricated with butter, and the heat should be medium-high. Finally, you should aim for a thickness such that the top of the crêpe will very quickly start to bubble and turn matte — there should be no trace of shininess left by the time you flip it. You may mess up your first crêpe or two, but that’s OK! Hide the disaster from your loved ones and nosh on it while you’re cooking the rest of the batch.
As for the crepes that survive intact, you may be tempted to fill them with Nutella, or ice cream, or strawberry jam, or all of the above. Please resist this temptation. For some reason, sweet crepes are the ones that have translated most easily between France and America, but the best French crepes are the savory ones, which remain as underappreciated on these shores as French pop icon Johnny Hallyday. Known as galettes, these savory crepes are made from a buckwheat flour batter, which offers a pleasantly nutty flavor. I offer you galettes stuffed with Gruyere, peas, leeks and mint and folded into quarters. The filling combination isn’t traditional, but it is good, and it’s just the thing to welcome spring.
Buckwheat Crepes With Peas, Leek, and Gruyère
Makes 8 crepes
Time: About 2 hours, largely unattended
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1⅓ cups milk
2 large or 3 small eggs
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup buckwheat flour
1 leek, white and light green parts only, chopped
1 cup fresh or frozen peas
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
1½ cup grated Gruyere cheese (about 6 ounces)
1. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a small saucepan over low heat (or in a small bowl in a microwave). Put the milk, eggs, all-purpose flour, and buckwheat flour in a blender or large bowl along with the melted butter and ½ teaspoon salt. Blend or whisk until very smooth. Cover the batter and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
2. Put 1 tablespoon of the remaining butter in a large skillet over medium heat. When it melts, add the leek and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until it softens, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the peas and continue cooking until they’re tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and mash the peas and leeks with a potato masher or fork to break them up. Stir in the mint, then taste and adjust the seasoning.
3. To cook the crepes, put about 1 teaspoon of the remaining butter in a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat. When it melts, add enough of the batter to cover the bottom of the pan in a thin but opaque layer. Cook until the top of the crepe is no longer shiny, about 45 seconds, then flip the crepe and cook for about 45 seconds on the other side. Transfer to a paper towel to remove excess butter. Repeat with the remaining butter and batter. (You will use about 3 tablespoons of butter total.)
4. Reduce the heat to medium-low and return one of the crepes to the skillet. Sprinkle about 3 tablespoons of the Gruyere over half of the crepe, then top the cheese with about 3 tablespoons of the pea mixture. Fold the crepe in half to encase the fillings, and cook until the cheese melts, 2 to 3 minutes. Fold the crepe in half once more and serve. Repeat with the remaining crepes, cheese and pea mixture.