The Legend, The Lore, and How to Make the Ultimate Buckwheat Crêpe

Sunday July 20, 2014

Ti Couz (“the old house” in Gaelic) was a popular San Francisco crêperie bretonne conceived, owned, and run by my friend Sylvie Le Mer, who was born and raised in Quimper in Lower Brittany, France.

Once a staple in the diet of both the rich and the poor, savory buckwheat crêpes, known as krampouz, are traditional in this area of France.  They are made with farine de sarrasin, also known as farine de blé noir or “black wheat” flour, which is known for it’s rough, strong-tasting character and dark color.  Sylvie shared the recipe for her wonderful crepes shortly after opening. I felt so lucky getting the recipe, especially now that the restaurant is no more. When I first got the recipe, I wrote about it in my newspaper column. I was told that there was a run on buckwheat flour and in the entire south bay area, there was none left on the shelves. I even got razzed at the meat market by the butchers who read the article and called me the buckwheat crepe girl.

While the crepes can be made with just buckwheat flour and water, this recipe combines domestic buckwheat flour with a small percentage of whole-wheat and white flours in an effort to approximate the mild French buckwheat flour, which is still unavailable in America.  Early September is the buckwheat harvest in Ohio and New York states, the flour is good and fresh.

To Sylvie’s delight, visitors from Brittany say her San Francisco version taste very similar to those served on the continent.

Usually eaten in its robust roasted form known as “kasha,” buckwheat is technically not a grain, but the

dark and light whole buckwheat and flour

triangular-shaped seed of a red-stemmed plant related to rhubarb and sorrel.  It was introduced to Europe in the Middle Ages by the Crusaders, who brought it back to Venice from Asia Minor.  Ground into light and dark flours, buckwheat flour is low in protein, which makes for a tender baked product with an assertive, musky, slightly bitter flavor.

This recipe makes two dozen large French-style crêpes using a 12- to 14-inch sauté pan or heavy paella pan instead of the typical small crêpe pan.  Although this may seem like a large amount, it is a good idea to make extra once the pan gets hot as they are great for guests and keep well in the freezer.

Enjoy the nutty-tasting crêpes “grandmother style:” straight off the hotplate, generously spread with sweet butter and folded in fours, and eaten grasped in your fingertips. They are also good filled with cheese, slathered with apple butter, topped with a gently fried egg, or wrapped around a grilled sausage.

For dessert fill and roll up with vanilla, chocolate, or cherry ice cream, store in the freezer up to 12 hours, and serve with a hot fudge sauce or fruit purée drizzled over.  Wash them down with the traditional accompaniment:  a ceramic bowl of cold cider, but a good cup of hot or iced coffee is also nice.

ham + cheese + egg-- a tender slice of ham in melty Gruyère cheese, topped with a fluffy scrambled egg

Yield:  About 24 large crêpes

Ingredients

  • 9 cups spring water
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 3/4 cups whole-wheat flour or white whole wheat flour
  • 1 2/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 cups buckwheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • About 1/2 cup organic solid vegetable shortening, for brushing pan
  • Unsalted butter or Breton Herb Butter (following)

the bilig over a charcoal fire

Instructions

1.            In a large ceramic bowl with a large whisk or in the work bowl of a large food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine the water, milk, egg, melted butter, the 3 flours, and salt .  Beat well until creamy, about 30 seconds. The batter may also be beaten with your outstretched hand for 10 minutes, in the old farmstead fashion.  The batter will be the consistency of smooth liquid heavy cream.  Cover and let stand at room temperature about 1 hour.  The batter can also be covered and refrigerated, up to 1 day and brought to room temperature before baking.

2.            Assemble your work space with everything you will need for cooking the pancakes before baking, so as to be able to work uninterrupted.  Spread out a large clean kitchen towel on which to lay the pancakes after baking (in Brittany there are ribbed wooden boards specially for this purpose).  Set out a measuring cup or a 6 ounce capacity ladle for the batter, a wide spatula or wooden pancake spreader (a rozell is traditionally used), and a wide, elongated wooden or metal spatula for flipping (a spanell is traditionally used). Have a piece of paper towel for scooping out the shortening and greasing the hot pan.  The pancakes are traditionally cooked on large, round hotplates (a bilig), but I use a 14- or 16-inch sauté pan or heavy paella pan.

the rozell in action

3.            Heat the pan over medium-high heat.  Sprinkle the pan with a few drops of water.  If the water sizzles, the pan is ready.  Brush the pan lightly with some shortening.  Stir the batter.  Ladle in a full 2/3 cup of batter with one hand on the left side of the pan and using the spatula, immediately pull the batter from left to right in a round clockwise motion, spreading in little strokes.  (If you are left-handed work in the opposite direction.)  You will be pulling the batter back over itself to make a thicker pancake than a crêpe. Do not tilt the pan.  It will take a few pancakes to get the rhythm.  Cook until the edges are lightly browned and lifting up slightly off the pan.  Slide the long spatula under it and turn carefully.  Cook briefly, just until brown in spots but not until crispy.  These crêpes should remain soft.  Lift gently onto the towel.  Continue to make the crêpes in this manner, stirring the batter and greasing the pan lightly before cooking each pancake.

the bilig: electric krampouz makers

4.            Eat immediately with plain or Breton Herb Butter or let cool and refrigerate wrapped in plastic up to 2 days, or freeze up to 1 month.  After being frozen,the krampouz must be brought back to room temperature before using to avoid tearing.

mushroom and cheese crepe with a pot of tea--THE ultimate lunch or snack

Breton Herb Butter

A savory bright green beurre parfumé, scented butter.  Spread the butter between two crêpes and cut into wedges.

Yield:  1 cup

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons each loosely packed fresh parsley, chives, chervil, and  watercress leaves
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) lightly salted butter, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 large shallot, minced

Instructions

In a blender or a food processor fitted with the metal blade, chop the herbs.  Add the butter, lemon juice, and shallot and process just until smooth and evenly combined.  Alternately, the herbs may be chopped by hand and creamed in a small bowl with a fork or an electric mixer.  Scrape the sides as needed.  Pack the butter into a covered crock or form into a log wrapped in plastic.  Herb butter keeps 1 week refrigerated, or it may be frozen up to 3 months.

Here is a list of possible fillings that will accompany your buckwheat crepes:
Savory Fillings: Cheese, Béchamel, Ham, Eggs, Sauteed mushrooms, Asparagus, Fresh tomato, Spinach, Ratatouille, and various sausages….
Sweet Fillings: Sugar, Jam, Fruit Spreads, Sauteed Apples, Ricotta, Fresh fruits, Berries, Chocolate, Nutella, Canned sour cherries, Maple Syrup, Honey, Whipped Cream…..


Excerpted from The Best Quick Breads, by Beth Hensperger. (c) 2000, used by permission from the Harvard Common Press.

Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2014

Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.


Your Comments

2 comments Comments Feed
  1. pk 20/11/2014 at 11:04 pm

    Thank You Thank you Thank You!!!

    I miss these crepes and periodically search for the recipe. FINALLY I have found it.

    I would kiss you.

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