Under wraps

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 November, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 November, 2004, 12:00am

Almost any ingredient, savoury or sweet, can be enveloped in a crepe to make an appetiser, breakfast treat or dessert. They make even leftovers seem elegant. Crepes are not difficult to make, but several factors contribute to their success. The consistency of the batter has to be right - it can't be too thick or thin. It should be about the thickness of pouring cream. The temperature of the pan also has to be hot enough to cook the crepe's first side (which is always the most attractive) in about one minute. The crepes will be lighter if you let the batter rest in the fridge for at least two hours.

I cook crepes in carbon steel pans (purchased for only about $60 in France), which are taking on a beautiful sheen the more I use them. If you don't have a crepe pan, cook them in a small, well-seasoned skillet or scratch-free non-stick pan.

Crepe batter

Buckwheat flour gives crepes a lovely, nutty flavour but it goes rancid quickly. They're fine made entirely with plain flour.

3 large egg yolks

300ml (approximately) chilled whole milk

A pinch of salt

140 grams plain flour (or 70 grams plain flour and 70 grams buckwheat)

30 grams unsalted butter, melted

Oil, for the pan

Whisk the eggs with the salt. Whisk in the flour and milk, then stir in the melted butter. Pour the mixture through a fine sieve, forcing it through with a rubber spatula to remove the lumps of flour. Check the consistency - if it's too thick, add more milk. Let the batter rest in the fridge, then check the consistency again before using.

To cook the crepes, heat the pan, pour in a little oil and use paper towels to rub the oil evenly but lightly over the surface. Pour in enough batter to lightly coat the bottom of the pan. The crepe should cook in about 60 seconds. Turn the crepe over and lightly brown the other side, then slide the crepe onto a plate. Continue with the remaining batter, brushing the pan lightly with oil between each crepe. Makes about eight large crepes (approximately 16cm in diameter) or 16 smaller ones (10 to 12cm in diameter).

Mushroom and asparagus crepes (pictured)

Cook the filling in batches in a large skillet or wok, otherwise the liquid from the mushrooms won't have room to evaporate.

20 thin stalks fresh asparagus

1kg mixed fresh mushrooms, such as button, oyster, shiitake, enoki and portobello

40 grams dried porcini, soaked in about 100ml warm water

60 grams unsalted butter

3 large shallots, minced

3 large garlic cloves, sliced

60ml cognac or brandy

300ml cream

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Chopped fresh parsley

Boil a large pot of salted water and blanch the asparagus for about 30 seconds. Drain and run under cold water then dry the stalks with a clean tea towel. Cut the asparagus into 2.5cm pieces.

Briefly rinse the fresh mushrooms and dry with a clean tea towel. Slice the larger mushrooms into 5mm pieces. If using enoki, cut off and discard the ends and break the mushrooms into smaller clumps. Squeeze the liquid from the porcini and cut them into smaller pieces. Strain the soaking liquid through a fine sieve to remove any sediment.

Heat a large skillet over a medium heat and add half the butter. Before the butter is melted, add half the shallots and garlic, and cook until soft. Increase the heat to high, add half the fresh mushrooms and porcini and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook over a high heat to brown the mushrooms, then stir and continue to cook until they start giving off some liquid. Add half the asparagus, cognac or brandy and porcini liquid and let it simmer vigorously until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Stir in half the cream and simmer until thick enough to lightly coat the mushrooms. Taste for seasoning and adjust, if necessary, then pour into a large bowl. Cook the remaining ingredients in the same way, then combine the mushrooms and stir in the parsley.

Spoon some of the filling into a crepe and roll. Makes about eight large crepes or 16 smaller ones.

Crepes with chicken and leek

If you start with a cooked chicken, this filling takes less than 15 minutes to prepare. Either buy roast chicken from a supermarket or bak chik gai (white cut chicken) from a Chinese roast-meat shop. Don't try to substitute see yau gai (soy sauce chicken) because the flavour is too strong. You can also poach chicken breasts or legs to use in this recipe.

1/2 cooked chicken, skin and bones removed

30 grams unsalted butter

2 large garlic cloves, minced

2 large leeks, white and pale green part only

75ml dry white wine

200ml cream

Finely grated zest of one lemon

Salt and pepper to taste

Hand-shred the chicken into long strips. Cut the stems from the leeks, wash them thoroughly and slice into rings about 1cm thick.

Heat the butter in a skillet, add the garlic and cook until soft. Add the leeks and stir to coat with the butter, then cook over a low heat until they're tender but still maintain their shape. Stir in the white wine and simmer over a medium-high heat until absorbed. Stir in the chicken, cream, salt, pepper and lemon zest and simmer until the cream is thick. Spoon the filling into the centre of the crepes, roll and serve. Makes about eight small crepes.

Crepes with spinach, ham, cheese and egg

6 crepes, about 16cm in diameter

1kg frozen chopped spinach, thawed

45 grams unsalted butter

2 shallots minced

6 thin slices ham

6 slices Gruyere

6 fresh eggs

1 tsp white vinegar

Salt, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg, to taste Squeeze as much liquid as possible from the spinach. Heat the butter in a skillet, add the shallots and cook until soft. Add the spinach and cook until hot. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Boil a large saucepan of water, add the vinegar and poach the eggs until they are cooked but soft and runny. Transfer them to a bowl of cool water.

Put a cooked crepe in a skillet and put a slice of cheese and ham in the centre. Heat until the cheese starts to melt then transfer the crepe to a plate. Put some of the spinach on top of the ham and make a mound in the centre. Add a poached egg and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper. Fold the sides of the crepe loosely towards the centre, leaving the filling slightly exposed. Serve immediately.

STYLING Rachael Macchiesi