The weather has been pretty murderous all over this week, except for a thin sliver by the pacific shores, where I like to cling*. Even here, it’s foggy and overcast, the kind of dreariness that brings me back to Bretagne, the northeastern region of France that’s notoriously foggy and briny with ocean rain, it’s a violent shore garnished with old war relics and stony bastions from a more feudal time. When I was there some year ago, we did nothing but walked in the rain, hid from the rain, and then ate inside, away from the rain. Luckily, Bretagne is no stranger to amazing food, especially the crepe variety that originated from the area .
In Bretagne, it’s nothing but crepes and sightseeing and then more crepes with plenty of butter. In Paris we ate crepes on the streets like savages after a night of heavy drinking and dancing, but in Bretagne, you sit down to have a meal of savory crepes with proper utensils followed by sweet crepes also with utensils. The savory variety was called galettes de sarassin or galettes de blé noir – a dark, salty crepe that’s made with buckwheat flour. At the time, I ate them interchangeably with sweet toppings in the dark crepes and savory toppings in the white crepes, and I think that’s totally acceptable.
Even in San Francisco, it’s hard to find a creperie that will serve you buckwheat crepes for savory fillings – they’re all the same white batter with sugar. I stopped eating them with savory fillings because I now find it a bit disturbing and too weird, unless I’m sufficiently hung over, which hasn’t happened in way too long. Left with a particularly clear mind and hungry belly, I tried making my own buckwheat crepes about this time last year. It was too thick – I think this is common? I served it with poached eggs and brussels sprouts and we ate the better half and declared ourselves full. They looked innocently light. I was told by my food critic that it needed a sauce. Or something. I didn’t know what that something was, so I stopped thinking about crepes for brunch. For dessert, maybe, but savory needed something.
*for the record, it was pretty foggy all day while we made and ate these stuffed crepes… until I went to take the photos. the sun came out right onto the marble so I just went with it… bright photos and all. it’s a rare moment.
I didn’t really need to travel much more to find what something was, and I probably thought about those endless variations of French sauces for some time, and eventually did managed to put it on my “to blog” list only to let it idle until this weekend, when I had a gluten free eater come over, which, if you know me, means, fresh food critic! We made this lovely combination of buckwheat crepes made with a gluten free flour mix and it turned out perfect – much better than expected. I also whipped up something, a classic mornay sauce speckled with freshly ground fennel seed. Our whole house was swimming in fennel.
It’s a lot easier than it sounds.
Fennel Buckwheat Crepes: Brussels Sprouts & Shiitakes, Fennel Mornay Sauce
Notes: Crepe batter improves with rest, so make it the night before, or at least one hour prior to cooking. You’ll need plenty of fennel seeds, roast up about 1 TB for both the sauce and batter. The freshly roasted seeds will be much better than pre-ground, since they are an essential component in this dish. I used Gluten-free ap flour, Glutino brand, for both the sauce and batter. You can also use regular if you’re not gluten-free. It’s handy to have around for gluten-free guests.
1 ts finely ground fennel
1/2 c buckwheat flour
1/2 c + 2 TB gluten free ap flour, or ap flour
1 1/2 c milk, (have some extra around)
1/4 ts salt
3 TB melted butter
+ You can use a blender and do a few quick pulses, as little as possible to make sure the flour is properly blended. Rest the batter in the fridge for at least an hour or overnight.
Fennel Mornay Sauce
2 TB butter
1 1/2 TB AP flour of your choice
1 1/2 c milk
3 oz grated Gruyère
1 ts finely ground fennel seed
+ Melt the butter in medium low heat. Add the flour and mix it into a paste. Then, slowly drizzle in milk and whisk vigorously for five minutes – making sure all of the flour is blended in smoothly.
+ Remove the sauce from the heat and add fennel, cheese, and salt according to taste.
+ Set aside
Brussels Sprouts & Shiitake (per crepe, just multiply to get the right proportion)
1 1/2 c shredded brussels sprouts
1/4 c baby shiitake
+ Cook shallots in oil until wilted. Then, add the sprouts and cook until just tender. I like mine a bit crispy, but you can cook it as long as necessary to your own liking. Then, remove from pan and cook shiitake in more oil. Return the sprouts to the pan and salt to taste.
1 Fennel is sufficient for four crepes
+ Slice fennel lengthwise – about 1/4 inches thick. Fry them crispy in skillet until browned on the outside. Salt to taste.
+ Heat a nonstick, flat bottomed pan on your lowest setting. When warm to the touch, apply nonstick spray to the pan. Gently mix your batter by folding it with a spatula until everything’s the same consistency. Alton Brown uses a blender for this and does it in a few quick pulses. It should be pretty runny. If it looks thick, add more milk. You will know if it’s thick enough by actually making one. Generally, the flour will have absorbed more fluid the more it rests, so it should be at least as runny as when you first made it.
+ Make 10″ crepes by removing the pan from the heat, and pouring in 1/4 c. of batter in at a time, quickly tilting and moving the batter around to coat as much of the pan’s bottom as possible. You can also use a spatula or a special crepe spreader, but if the batter is thin enough, it will move quite easily.
+ Once the batter stops moving return the pan to the stovetop, and let it cook, as slowly as possible. Since the heat is not even, like with a proper crepe maker, you might need to move it around the heat source to get all of the crepes to cook evenly – much like baking. If your heat is low, you can watch the evaporation to see where it’s cooking. The dry parts indicate that it’s cooked. All of the crepe’s top will look dry and the edges will start to be crisp when it’s ready to flip. Cook for an addition 30 sec or so on very low heat before removing from the pan. Lay on a surface to dry completely before stacking on top any more crepes. You can also try blotting it with paper towels.
+ If you think your batter is too thick – it won’t spread easily, or the crepe breaks when you fold it, add some extra milk or water at this time before making another. Likewise, if it is too thin, you can add more ap flour.
+ You can flip using various methods. I like to lift it up with a spatula and flip it with my hands. It should not be too hot, if you cooked it low enough, and your hands will do the job quite perfectly. If you’re nervous about the heat, just put a plate over the pan and flip it upside down. Repeat with another plate before flipping it back onto the pan. This is the safest method.
+ Crepes can be kept in the fridge for a few days or even frozen, so make plenty for snacks!
+ When you’re ready to serve, heat up your crepe and various fillings. Putting the vegetables into the crepe like a roll will prevent the sauce from gluing your sprouts together. Heat up the sauce by putting it back on low heat and whisking in a few table spoons of milk. The fennel I put on the side. You can also add some poached eggs for more protein or serve it with a vibrant tomato and collards soup for a nice contrast. We had it both ways in the same day.