Saturday, August 23, 2008

Montmartre Memories

As a teen, I was blessed to have a father who believed that traveling broadened children's horizons and made them learn to think beyond themselves. This resulted in what was probably the best experience of my life thus far, a summer between junior and senior years of high school, spend studying in Cambridge, England and Paris. Along the way I made some incredible friends, all of whom were well-educated and interesting youths in the same program as myself, and who were simply more interested in sports, friends and academia than drinking and recklessness. I had previously thought I was the only teenager who felt this way, so it was a refreshing experience to meet so many others.

We studied things like art, quantum physics (I got an A!) and British cultural history during the day, followed by some punting on the backs and getting dressed up as characters from the Bond movies to dance the night away. It was good, clean, wholesome fun and I tend to think of it as my college experience. My real college years were fraught with hard-work (both in and out of school - at one point 3 separate jobs, and I graduated with a 3.9), very few friends (since I didn't drink- no one felt the need to hang out with me), and strained relationships with both L and my family.

I have so many pleasant memories of that summer that I could never fit them all in here. Recently I was thinking of our time in Paris, a whirlwind trip of museum after historic site after museum. Home base was a little hotel tucked away into a corner of Montmartre, with day trips to Versailles, Monet's gardens and the place where Von Gough painted his greatest works. I can only recall one meal I had in France that summer that did not include crepes, and I'm pretty sure it's because they were not on the menu. I was, and am, obsessed. One of my favorite crepes has always been a simple, slightly sweet crepe stuffed with paper-thin sliced ham and cave aged gruyere. I must have eaten this upwards of 10 times while we were there, although once my french was so poor that I received a crepe almonde instead of crepe jambon. This makes the perfect breakfast, and they freeze well, fully assembled and wrapped tightly in plastic, waiting to be popped in a microwave or toaster for a quick treat on the go.

Crepes au Jambon et Fromage (or ham and cheese pancakes for the rest of us)

Fragrant Sweet Crepes
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup milk
4 eggs
4 Tbsp melted butter
1/4 cup sweet marsala wine, lukewarm
1/4 cup water, lukewarm
1 tsp almond extract

Combine all crepe batter ingredients in a blender. Whiz, alternating between low and high speeds until completely homogenized. Let sit at least 30 minutes, or refrigerate up to 48 hours. This resting time is essential, as it not only lets the air bubbles escape the batter, allowing you to make perfectly thin crepes, but it also allows the flour to soak up flavor from the batter.

Indulge me with a little discussion about pans. I don't think you need a crepe pan. In fact, I used to have one, but I found that, number one, it was too small for the crepes I like to make (and the ones in Paris are probably double the size of the ones I make), and two, it was extremely hard to keep it properly seasoned and flip the crepes without tearing them. I think any large (I'm talking 12 inches or more) nonstick skillet or well seasoned, shallow, curved edge pan will do. I use a 14 inch Calphalon One skillet (not nonstick) that does not really get used for much else than pancakes, french toast and the like. Repeatedly melting butter in it has resulted in a lovely surface that crepes stick to enough to cook properly, releasing completely for flipping. I imagine a well seasoned cast iron pan would act in a similar manner. If you don't have such a pan, nor the funds to invest in one, just go with a large, inexpensive nonstick. But don't try to make crepes in an old nonstick that's been scratched up. The surface must be smooth.

On that note, preheat your pan over medium heat. I keep a stick of butter alongside, to rub the inside of the skillet with. I do this between every other crepe. The butter should sizzle slightly in the pan, indicating it's hot enough. Pour about 1/8-1/4 cup batter (depending on your pan's size) into one side of your tilted pan. Rotate the tilt around the pan, so that the crepe batter runs down and out to each edge. Keep swirling the batter until it's no longer liquid, then place the pan on the heat. Let cook 30 seconds - 1 minute, or until underside is golden brown. Use your fingers to pull up the crepe at the edge, slip a wide, flat rubber spatula underneath and gently flip the crepe over. Cook for another 30 seconds, then remove from pan to a cooling rack.

5 crepes
4 oz very good quality aged gruyere (should have little crunchy crystals that develop in a properly aged cheese)
10 paper-thin slices best-quality honey ham

Use a vegetable peeler to make thin slices of gruyere, a little under an ounce in total for each crepe. Arrange gruyere in one quarter of the crepe. Fold half of the crepe down over it horizontally, then fold vertically to make a little sandwich wedge. Toast in a buttered pan or toaster to melt the cheese and warm the crepe through.

P.S. I hope you will bear with me, as I have a feeling I may be a weekend blogger for a while. I always forget how much work it is to get back into teaching at the beginning of each year, and even more so now that I have master's classes running simultaneously. Monday the invasion begins! Wish me luck!


Amber said...

Welcome back to the world. My sis had a rough first week also. I love crepes, but the dessert kind. Actually I love dessert anything. But you know...the ham and cheese is tough to say no to. It looks beautiful.

Lore said...

Oh j'adore savoury crepes, my favourite are filled with emmental or parmesan but these are right up my alley too!
Try adding some fresh chopped dill to the batter, they're really cute like that :)

P said...

savory and delicious. I forgot we had Cambridge in common as well my near twin. I am "ready" for school to start I guess... Have a great week!

Beth said...

I adore crepes. We recently went on a weeks holiday to Brittany in Northern France and had them every day. Ham and cheese was my daughters fave combo!

jillian said...

I love ham and cheese crepes! After reading your post, I think I haven't been letting my batter rest or long enough.
I went on a similar kind of trip to China in high school, and it changed my perspective on just about everything.

Alejandra said...

Two of my favorite things! Ham and crepes!

Anonymous said...

looks fabulous! Maybe tomorrow's lunch.

cathy - wheresmydamnanswer said...

Looks amazing and brings back such great memories of our summer trip to France!! lOVE IT

Chez US said...

Making my mouth drool. I had a complete tastbud flash back ... love these things!!! Thank you! Have you had the salty butter ones that they make over there.... so good, too!

Katie said...

I stayed in Montmarte for my first time in France and I think I ate these everyday too. And the occasional Nutella crepe. Thanks for reminding me I need to make them again.

Kevin said...

Ham and cheese crepes sound really good!

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