When I was little, spending a night at a friend’s house was exciting for many reasons, and getting to try breakfast cereals that we didn’t have at home was high on the list. But when Claudine, the daughter of Jacques Pépin, invited her friends for sleepovers, her dad—the world-renowned chef who, among many other achievements, has cooked for three French presidents—would sometimes make them breakfast the next morning. And no, he didn’t serve the girls his perfect, pillowy omelettes. Pépin prepared crepes.
The girls would line up at the kitchen counter or around the table, Pépin recalls, while he set out jars of apricot jam, strawberry preserves, and shaved chocolate in front of them, whisked together eggs, flour, and milk, and melted butter on the stove. As the crepes came hot out of the pan, each of Claudine’s friends decided for themselves what toppings to add.
It certainly beat the heck out of Froot Loops.
But the French crepe is so much more than a confectionery fantasy topped with whipped cream and jam. “The basic crepe is usable in a savory dish or as a dessert,” says Pépin. The versatile recipe can serve as either a delicate garnish or provide a foundation for any number of ingredients. That’s the power of this ultra-thin pancake that has become an emblem of homestyle French cuisine.
Featured in Essential Pépin, the chef’s carrot crepes showcase the sweet root vegetable in a savory batter. According to the chef, the flour content may need slight adjustment depending on the moisture from the carrots and the size of your eggs, so aim for a silky batter with a consistency thinner than that of pancakes. This mixture results in a pale orange-colored crepe, in line with the season’s pastel color palette. The recipe works well in sweet applications, too—just omit the scallions.
Whether you decide to go sweet or savory, one of the most ingenious parts of this dish is Pépin’s decision to incorporate the carrot-cooking liquid into the batter. This trick not only imparts a deep, sweetly vegetal flavor, it is also waste-conscious. When I made this dish at home, I cooked the carrots ahead of time and cooled them down right in the pot before blending.
When made savory as the recipe suggests, these crepes have faint sweetness and a tender texture punctuated by bits of lightly browned scallion. They work well as a brunch or simple supper with ginger-spiced shrimp or smoked salmon and crème fraîche. If you decide to go in a sweeter direction, a sprinkle of powdered sugar is sufficient adornment—or gild the lily and top them with a swish of mascarpone and seasonal berries. Versatility is really the point of the humble crepe, so do like Jacques and use it to elevate whatever you happen to have in your kitchen—whether that’s a few choice leftovers or, indeed, whipped cream and strawberries, the stuff of Saturday morning dreams.