When she was a pastry chef at Chez Panisse, Jehnee Rains was asked to develop the restaurant's recipe for Crêpes Suzette. From the testing and retesting of several versions, she came up with what turned out to be the Holy Grail of sweet crêpes. She shared a few unusual tips that make these perfectly sweet crêpes stand out — and one very unusual ingredient. Can you guess?
Jehnee's secret ingredient is... BEER! She puts a light lager beer in her crêpe batter. You'd never know it, flavor-wise, but the texture and lacy structure of the dessert crêpes are perfection, with much credit to this added carbonation and yeast.
Jehnee Rains is now owner and chef of Suzette, in Portland, Oregon. Her restaurant is a bit unusual — the crêpe-focused menu items get cooked within a 1940s trailer kitchen and the dining room is a converted garage. On Friday nights, there's usually an old movie projected as the diners take in the amazing crêpes and entertainment.
But back to the crêpes. They are certainly the best I've ever had, and that's saying a lot as I spent about two weeks in Paris on a crêpe and macaron bender.
Jehnee's Top 5 Tips for Making Sweet Crêpes
1. Beer. I already mentioned it in the intro, but it's true. Beer adds a slight flavor, and carbonation, keeping the crêpe batter tender and loose. This ingredient keeps the crêpes lacy, with lots of air bubbles (which Jehnee says are a good thing!) while they're cooking. The bubbles and small holes leave lovely pockets for sauces and fillings to ooze through.
2. The right pan. Jehnee suggests buying a small crêpe pan, like this 8-inch one from Sur La Table. They're not expensive — $20 — but they ensure even cooking and have a great little lip for lifting the batter off the pan. If you like crêpes, this pan makes life easier. It's also nice to reserve the pan just for crêpes and care for it following the instructions, so it doesn't get dinged up and lose its nonstick perfect-crêpe surface.
3. Strain the batter. Once the batter is mixed, strain it through a fine sieve or metal strainer, to ensure there's no lumps in your batter. This may seem like an extra-fussy step, but it's all these little details that create the world's most delicious crêpe at home.
4. Let the batter rest. If you can make the batter the night before, or 8 hours before you plan to make crêpes, they will be better than straight away. This resting period allows the gluten in the flour to develop and bond to the milk and eggs, and this yields a more complex flavor. Jehnee insists that this step isn't absolutely essential, but if you have the time and forethought, it is worth the trouble. (Keep the batter in the fridge if resting for more than 30 minutes.)
5. Heat the milk. Heating the milk to warm, not boiling, along with the butter before adding to the eggs and flour ensures a delicious batter. The warm milk/butter combination allows the butter to 'stay in suspension,' which means the fat is evenly distributed in the batter and the crêpes won't stick to the pan when you flip the crêpes.
6. Use your hands. Okay, here's one extra tip I found interesting while watching Jehnee in action — she uses her hands to flip the crêpes. No fancy offset spatula, silicone spoon or anything else but her little fingertips.
Jehnee's Crêpe Recipe
Sweet Crêpe Batter
2 cups warm milk
1/4 cup melted butter
1 1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3/4 tablespoon oil
1/2 cup beer (any light lager beer will work)
Melt the butter and heat the milk to warm, over the stove or in a microwave. Meanwhile, mix flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer (or in a large bowl with a whisk ready). Make a well in the dry ingredients, pour eggs and oil into the well and beat on medium speed with whisk using the mixer, or vigorously with your hand-held whisk. Slowly add the melted butter and milk mixture until batter becomes uniform in texture.
Now pour batter over a fine-toothed sieve into another medium-sized bowl, pressing any lumps through with your fingers. Stir in beer, until just evenly incorporated (don't overmix). Refrigerate the batter, covered with plastic, for 8 hours or overnight, if you can.
Pour about 1/4 to 1/3 cup batter onto a smoking-hot pan, swirling the batter to create an even surface. Add a little more batter if needed. Little holes are okay while crêpe cooks — just 2 minutes on the first side (peek to see if golden brown color is there), then about 30 seconds on other side. Keep warm with sheets of parchment paper in between each crêpe, in a low oven, about 200 degrees until serving.
These crêpes are delicious with powdered sugar, jam, fruit compote, whatever you like! Jehnee served mine with homemade chocolate hazelnut spread, cinnamon ice-cream and chocolate sauce.
• Visit Suzette Restaurant: Suzette
• Recommended Crêpe Pan: De Buyer Blue Steel Crepe Pans, $19.95 - $24.95 at Sur la Table
Related: Weekend Cooking: Make Crêpes
(Images: Leela Cyd Ross)