Celebrating Spring with Crepes
As kids, my older brother and I were active in 4-H. We both raised livestock, but around the age of 12, my sibling suddenly became obsessed with making crepes. I thought this was due to his growing adolescent awareness that chicks dig guys who can cook, but in researching this post, I was informed that he took over food preparation because our mother was injured in a serious car accident when I was four.
By the time I was seven, my brother was cheffing up stacks of crepes every weekend, perfecting them for our region’s 4-H Demonstration Day, an annual competition in which club members from clubs all over Southern California delivered 15-minute presentations on a specific topic. I can no longer recall the exact nature of my brother’s crepe demo, but I do know he likely hasn’t made them since (he got a girlfriend out of the deal, however).
I eventually went on to graduate from culinary school and later interned at Chez Panisse, the legendary Berkeley restaurant owned by Alice Waters. My very first day, I was tasked with making crepe batter, using buckwheat, rather than the more familiar wheat flour.
Using a recipe made famous by Waters, (she was inspired while studying in France as a young woman), I combined the milk, a pinch of sugar, butter, eggs, and flour to form a thin, pleasantly sour-smelling batter that bubbled slightly. It was my first time working with buckwheat flour—the plant is a highly nutritious grass, and its seeds are increasingly popular for use in place of wheat flour because they’re free of gluten, with an appealing, nutty flavor.
Buckwheat was brought to France from Asia in the 12th century; it grows prolifically in lower Brittany due to the damp climate, which is why the flour is commonly used in savory Breton crepes known as galettes. They’re traditionally paired with the region’s hard cider.
Here in the Roaring Fork Valley, private chef, caterer, cooking instructor and restaurateur Mawa McQueen has gained a following for the crepes at her casual Basalt eatery, Mawa’s Market Street Kitchen. McQueen was born in the Ivory Coast and grew up in France, hence her love of crepes. At her year-old restaurant, she offers sweet and savory preparations, as well as wheat, buckwheat and chickpea flour versions (a purist, I’m partial to the Ham & Cheese, made with Black Forest ham, Gruyère and Swiss and a sunny-side-up egg).
I find crepes to be the ideal brunch dish, in part because the batter is best made a day ahead so it ferments slightly, which makes for “the best-tasting crepes,” says McQueen. With part of the prep out of the way, you can cook them to order for your family or guests, and offer a variety of fillings or crepe-based courses. The technique is also easily perfected with the help of a special crepe pan and some practice.
With Mother’s Day and al fresco dining on the horizon, I asked McQueen for a recipe that makes use of seasonal ingredients that celebrate the end of ski season and start of spring. Look for Western Slope asparagus in local markets or at farm stands, and feel free to substitute other fleeting ingredients like green garlic, spring onions, tender greens or fava beans.