Every year, pancake day comes around with unerring regularity. Having lived through 29 of them now, you would think I might actually remember one of them before it actually happens. I’m sure if I were a more organised person I’d have planned, cooked and written about the following recipe weeks ago in order to give people time to cook it for pancake day themselves. Unfortunately, I’m not that person and so here I am, giving a porky pancake recipe a week after Shrove Tuesday. Fortunately this recipe is damn good whenever you make it and I doubt if many of you are giving up dairy for Lent anyway. If you are, well it’s not too long until Easter….
I love pancakes in all their forms, from big fluffy american style ones, through to your classic pancake day pancakes, complete with icing sugar and a squirt of jif lemon from one of those weird lemon shaped bottles. I think my favourite pancake though has to be the classic breton crêpe: wafer thin, light brown and deeply nutty and savoury down to the use of buckwheat flour.
Many, many moons ago when the earth was young, and Liz and I had just met we went on a short break to stay with a friend in Nice in the south of France and it was there that I had my first crepe complet as an adult. Ham, cheese, fried egg, and basil sealed up in a featherlight batter of buckwheat flour and scoffed down on the beach as the sun set over the mediterranean. There are few things better. Since then I’ve eaten an awful lot of crêpes and whilst they may not have had the romance of these formative ones (A woman who can still love me with melted emmental stuck in my beard is clearly a keeper!) they have all been damn good.
For a foolproof crepe recipe, I always use my own variation of the one in the bible of high gastronomy, The Usborne First Cookery Book. You can even make the crepes up in advance and just fill and reheat them when you’re ready. The recipe follows
Jon’s Crepe Complet
125g plain flour
75g buckwheat flour
50g spelt flour (or other wholemeal flour)
3/4 pint milk
1/4 pint water
1 tbsp melted butter
2 shallots, thinly sliced
Good quality cooked ham. 1 slice per crepe
Emmental Cheese, grated
Eggs, 1 per crepe
Espelette pepper (optional but it’s bloody good)
Green herb sauce
For the green herb sauce
1 clove garlic, blanched in boiling water
1 bunch basil
1/2 bunch parsely
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tbsp white wine vinegar
First make your batter. Start by sieving the flours into a large bowl. You’re doing this to help get some air into the batter rather than sieve out impurities so feel free to tip the grains that have accumulated into the sieve back into the bowl.
Make a well in the centre of the flour and crack in your eggs. Now whisk the flour into the eggs before gently adding in your water milk and salt. Continue whisking until all of the flour is combined and you have a thin and light batter. Finally slowly fold in the melted butter and whisk for another minute or so. The batter really improves with standing so set it aside for an hour or so if you can.
While the batter is standing, thinly slice the shallots and fry them in a little butter until they’re completely soft and very lightly coloured. Set them aside until ready to use.
Next make your green herb sauce. Throw all your ingredients into a mini chopper and pulse until combined. Alternatively you can chop the herbs and garlic by hand and combine in a bowl with the oil and vinegar. Set aside to chill until you’re ready to serve.
When you’re ready to eat, melt a small amount of butter over a medium heat in a large frying pan. You will only need a very tiny bit. I tend to wipe round the pan with some kitchen roll dipped in butter before frying each crepe.
When your pan is hot, add a ladle of batter to your pan and roll it around until the batter touches the side. Fry gently until browned on one side. This should take 3-5 minutes.
Flip your pancake. You can do this as flamboyantly as you like. Me? I just tend to turn it over with a spatula. Showboating in the kitchen is all well and good but no one likes a floor pancake.
You can now proceed to fill and serve your pancakes or simply cook the crepes and fill and reheat at a later date. As I was making these for dinner, I did it all in one go.
To fill, place a slice of good quality ham in the centre of each crepe. Cover generously with cheese and a spoonful of the fried shallots then very carefully break an egg into the centre. Immediately fold in the side(s) of the crepe to make it into a square shape and continue cooking for a couple of minutes. Remove from the hob and flash it under a grill for a couple of minutes until the yolk is set. Transfer to a plate, drizzle with your green herb sauce and dust with espelette pepper if available. Pure indulgent pleasure.