A Harte Appetite: Oh Crêpe!

Mar 22, 2021

The French think they're superior to us when it comes to clothing, wine, and food -- not to mention romance! And, admittedly, they do have a way with each; and perhaps nowhere is French sophistication more evident -- at least in the culinary world -- when it comes to pancakes.

American pancakes are puffy, down-to-earth concoctions, sometimes inelegantly referred to as flapjacks, are usually served for breakfast.

French pancakes, or crêpes, on the other hand are thin, delicate, suave, and urbane -- right at home at the fanciest dinner party.

Though I take a back seat to no one in my esteem for fluffy, American, buttermilk pancakes drenched in maple syrup, I'm nonetheless convinced that we Americans ought to develop a further appreciation for the French member of the pancake family: the crêpe.

After all, as Dorian L. Parker points out in her book on the subject, crêpes are not only the most refined of the pancake variety, but are the most versatile as well. Because they're neutral, they go well with almost any type of filling or sauce, whether it's sweet or savory.

But though they've perfected the crêpe, the French probably didn't actually invent the process of adding liquid to milled grain and cooking it on a flat surface. Pancakes, as the Oxford Companion to Food tells us, are an ancient delicacy. The griddle method of cooking being an older form than oven baking. And every culture has a version ranging Russian blini, to Vietnamese rice pancakes, to Hungarian palatschinke.

But clearly, the crêpe is the ultimate variation, and it's surprisingly simple to make. Once you've mastered the basics, you can make the most elegant crêpes of all: crêpes suzette. A dish supposedly created by accident in 1896, when a chef inadvertently set a cordials sauce of fire, dunked crêpes into it and served it to the Prince of Wales at the Cafe de Paris in Monte Carlo. The Prince gallantly suggested that the dish be named for the lady who accompanied him.