When I was little, summers were spent visiting my grandparents. For breakfast, my grandmother would make us a tower of crepes and we would devour the entire batch, slathering it with layers of homemade preserves or brined cheese.
Initially, I would just observe as my grandmother carefully buttered the bottom of the pan, poured in a little bit of the batter, swiveled it around until it reached the edges, and then flipped it over with a fork at just the right moment. Watching her do it with such ease instilled a confidence in me and I gradually began assisting with each of the steps. I would butter the pan with the special device she had created for the job- a long, wooden stick with a ball of cheesecloth attached to one end that resembled a drumstick. I would pour the batter in the pan, occasionally even being the one to swivel it around the bottom of the pan.
Amid all this observing and doing, I would ask every little question that crossed my mind about the task at hand. How much do you pour in? How do you know when to flip the palachinka?
At the end of the summer, when our parents came to pick us up and take us back to the city, I asked my mom if we could write down grandma’s palachinki recipe. Unfortunately, our first attempt at recreating it was not very successful.
When I moved to live on my own, I asked my mother if I could take the page from her recipe notebook.
A few years after that, sitting at home, body aching with a miserable cold, on a gloomy fall day, I had the sudden resolve to pull out that recipe and try again.
For comfort’s sake, a little bit of research and preparation was in order before I began. So, I read over the recipe, dusted off the memory shelf of making palachinki with my grandma and, for good measure, read “About Crepes” in The Joy of Cooking.
I felt confident. I felt like I could do this. In fact, I felt so confident as to attempt a flip of the crepe using the pan. When else if not now? The palachinki were coming out so wonderfully anyhow. What did I have to lose? If it fell on the linoleum kitchen floor, who would see but me (Julia was right)? Holding the pan with both hands and with eyes almost squinted shut, I flicked my wrist and watched the crepe lift off the bottom of the pan, glide past the edge, and flip in the air at a modest height, landing unceremoniously back in the pan. Success! I did a little dance in the kitchen and repeated the whole motion with the next palachinka, and the next, and the one after that, until the batter was all gone and the stack of crepes stood tall on the plate. None had ended up on the floor. Not one. Astounding, unabashed success.
Since those initial moments of elation, crepes have become a brunch staple in our household and an attractor for Saturday morning guests.
Adapted from Grandma (Version I)
1 cup milk
1 near full cup flour
a little bit of salt and butter
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking (Version II)
Savory Crepes (for sweet add 3 Tbs sugar and reduce salt to 1/8 tsp; though I add about 1 Tbs sugar and a pinch of salt)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1/2 lukewarm water
4 large eggs
1/4 stick butter, melted
1/2 tsp salt
Combine the eggs, milk, flour, and salt into a smooth batter. Let the batter sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes (The Joy of Cooking recommends covering in plastic wrap and letting it stand for 30 minutes or refrigerating the batter for up to 2 days. If you refrigerate the batter, be sure to stir it up and let it stand at room temperature a bit before using it.). Place a little bit of the butter in a small to medium skillet (this is about the only time I use a nonstick skillet), enough to coat the bottom of the pan with a very thin layer and heat it on medium heat until the butter begins to brown, but not burn. Remove the pan from the heat and pour in a small ladle of the batter (for this, I use a 1/4 cup measure that is not quite full). Quickly, but gently, swivel the pan around (tilting, rotating) until the batter reaches the edges of the pan, covering the entire bottom in a thin layer. Return the pan to the heat.
The crepe will be ready to flip when the edges lift and small bubbles begin to form across its surface (a little over 1 minute). To flip the pancake, gently slide a wide knife (such as a spatula knife or spreader) beneath the crepe and gently flip it, using whatever combination of knife, fingers, fork works best for you. If you’re feeling particularly brave (and you should be!), remove the pan from the heat, and hold it in your dominant hand (you can use both hands too). Take a deep breath and gently, but quickly, flick your wrist down first and then up in a strong motion. The pancake will land right back into the pan. Sometimes it’ll land perfectly, another time it’ll do a 360, and sometimes it’ll land with the edges folded under. To correct this, either flip again or use a knife/spatula/fork to adjust it. Return the pan to the heat and allow the crepe to cook on this side as well (a little over a minute again).
Slide the ready crepe into a plate lined with wax paper and pour in another ladle of batter (my grandma recommends sprinkling a drop or two of melted butter on the stack of crepes once in a while). Repeat the above until the batter is all gone and the pile of crepes is stacked high. Every once in a while, you may need to rebutter your pan or, if the butter contains too many burned bits, you may have to replace it.
And remember, the first one or two are practice. In fact, I find that if I put too much butter in the pan, the first crepe is perfect for absorbing the excess, and I toss it.
Serve warm with an array of available preserves. Try it with feta too!