Wednesday, August 15, 2012

In Honor of Julia Child

Today, August 15, 2012, marks the date that would have been Julia Child's 100th birthday!  I cannot think of a more appropriate blog post subject than to talk about this inspiring woman and the cuisine she brought to the average American household - French food! 

One of the qualities I admire the most in people is their ability to rise above struggles.  Julia Child certainly fits this category.  The more I discover about Julia, the more I like her.  I do relate to her in one big way.  Her husband, Paul Child, introduced her to fine cuisine much like my dude introduced me to fine (and diverse) cuisine!  She inspires me, and she inspired so many chefs - including Thierry Rautureau (pictured on the right with Julia).  Her cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking was ground-breaking.  I admire her cookbooks' great attention to detail.  I admire her desire, ability, and dedication to teaching others.  I admire Julia and Paul's great love story.  I admire how fearless she seemed to be.  I am in awe of the fact that she was prophetical in her prediction that a "fanatical fear of food" would take over the country's dining habits.  "Just a little bit of butter!"  You tell, them, Julia!

She once said something that I wholeheartedly agree with: "We should enjoy food and have fun. It is one of the simplest and nicest pleasures in life."  This, my dear readers, nicely sums up the reason my blog exists.

I was a fan of the movie Julie and Julia.  I really enjoyed Meryl Streep's performance, and it made me smile to see a wonderful portrayal of the love between Julia and Paul.  If you want to learn more about Julia, there are plenty of books available out there, and I have included them in my widget below.  Every home should have a copy of her debut cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  If you don't have a copy of it, click the link below to add it to your collection!  Get the hard copy.  It's a worthy addition to your library.  It's a masterful book, and Julia made it easy to master for even the most inexperienced chefs.  In case you want to stock up or just browse through her masterpieces, I went ahead and included links to all of her cookbooks.  Even if you aren't looking to purchase any of her books (some of them are quite expensive!), just thumb through it to get an idea of how many wonderful books she produced during her lifetime.

Crêpes are one of my favorite French foods to make at home.  I mostly make them for breakfast, but they are great any time of day!  I usually make sweet crêpes instead of savory crêpes.  I usually fill mine with bananas, Nutella, and coconut.  Sometimes I use strawberries or raspberries instead of bananas.  Sure, I could top them with powdered sugar and whipped cream, but I exclude those 2 ingredients in my ever-so-slight attempt to behave calorie-wise.  Yeah, I know, I just listed Nutella in the ingredients, so it's probably moot.  I can't help it!  I simply love Nutella!  It's sort of like cheating to add it to desserts to make them tasty!

To honor Julia, I am including my sweet crêpe recipe that I have adapted from one of Dorie Greenspan's recipes.  I hope you will honor Julia's memory by making some crêpes too!

Dessert Crêpes

2 tablespoons sugar
fine zest of 1/2 lemon (details below)
fine zest of 1/4 orange (details below)
pinch of salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup of milk (preferably whole, details below)
1 tablespoon of dark rum (that's how I roll!)
1 tsp of vanilla extract
2 teaspoons Grand Marnier or Cointreau liqueur (both are orange liqueurs, and yes, that's how I roll!)
3 tablespoons melted, unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
butter or other flavoring oil for the pan (details below)

First step is to determine if you will be using a stick/emulsion blender or a regular blender to create this recipe.  If you wish to double (or more) this recipe, then I would recommend using a regular blender.  I recommend using a stick blender for a much easier clean-up.  You can easily mix and store the batter in the large measuring cup.  If you are using a stick blender, I recommend using a glass/see-through large (4-cup) measuring cup. 

For the milk/creme ingredient, you can use 2% milk.  I usually use 2% milk since that is what we keep on hand.  If you want a slightly heavier crêpe, you can use whole milk or even a light cream.

To create your zest, be sure to use a fine-grain/microplane zester instead of the zesters with the 3-5 circles that create a "curly-cue" type of zest.  If using a stick blender, combine the zests and the sugar in your large measuring cup.  If using a blender, combine them in a small bowl.  You will notice the zest of 1/2 of a lemon and 1/4 of an orange are about the same amount of zest.  Using your fingers, rub the three ingredients together until the sugar is moist, colorful, and fragrant.  This step helps get all of the flavors of the zests' essential oils into the sugar.  If you are using a regular blender, you can now add the sugar and zest to the blender pitcher.

Next, add the salt, eggs, milk, rum, vanilla, and orange liqueur to your mixture.  Give it a few pulse blends until the egg yolks are broken and slightly blended.  Next, pour the butter and pulse blend until the mixture is well blended.  Slowly add the flour and pulse the blender to incorporate the flour.  Make sure the flour is blended, but don't mix the batter too much.

Next, you will need to cover the batter and store it in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.  If you used a regular blender, pour the batter into a large measuring cup with a spout.  The batter can be refrigerated for up to one day.

The batter is ready when it is a little bit thicker than heavy cream.  You do not want to strain this batter because that would strain out some of that delicious zest!  If the batter it is too thick, you can thin it with extra milk.  If it's too thin, you just couldn't wait the full 2 hours could you?!?  Put it back in the fridge!  It truly does need the full 2 hours in the fridge in order for the flour particles to expand in the liquid.  It helps the crêpe to be tender, light, and thin.  I've grown impatient in the past and used crêpe batter that has only sat for ~1 hr, and it was very runny.  It just didn't cook properly either.  It looked almost rubbery.

For cooking the crêpes, Julia recommended cooking dessert crêpes with clarified butter to lubricate the pan.  That's certainly delicious and true to the French style!  If you are using a (good quality) non-stick pan to make your crêpes, you might not find it necessary to use butter.  True French crêpe pans are not non-stick.  If you're starting out, I'd recommend using a non-stick pan to get used to the technique.  Personally, I'm a huge fan of my electric crêpe maker.  It's a 12-inch non-stick pan, and I've found butter to be a bit of a hindrance when making crêpes with non-stick cooking surfaces. Here's the biggest bonus for the electric crêpe maker: I can take it to work to make crêpes for coworkers!  In fact, I'm doing so on Friday!  It also has a raised edge that helps make a perfectly round crêpe.  It helps avoid having any batter spill over.

Just before you pour the batter to cook your crêpe, stir it up since the batter will separate during those 2 hours it is in the fridge.  If you want a thicker crêpe, use a smaller pan (5-7 inch pan).  If you want a thin crêpe, use a slightly larger pan (9-12 inch pan).

If you are making a crêpe with an iron skillet or crêpe pan, rub the pan with butter, and set the heat to a moderately high heat until the pan is beginning to smoke.  If you are using a non-stick pan, just set it to moderately high heat.  Remove the pan from the heat.  Immediately pour about 1/4 cup of crêpe batter (~3-4 Tbsp) into the middle of the pan.  Quickly tilt the pan in all directions to run the batter all over the bottom of the pan to create a thin film.  If you have excess batter pooled on top of your crêpe, just pour it back into your measuring cup.  The entire coating process should take about 2-3 seconds.

Return the pan to the heat for about 60-80 seconds. Quickly jerk the pan back and forth and up and down to loosen the crêpe from the pan.  Lift its edges with a spatula to check the underside of the crêpe. If it's a nice light brown, it is ready for turning.  You can turn the crêpe with 2 spatulas.  I usually take an icing spreader, roll the crêpe around it about halfway through the crêpe, and then flip it and unfold it from the icing spreader.  If you get really good with it, you can just flip the pan to turn the crêpe over.

Brown the crêpe lightly for about another 30 seconds on the reverse side.  The second side is rarely more than just spotty brown.

With my electric crêpe maker, I have found it is easiest to start with a cool pan before the crêpe batter starts to form that thin film. It comes with a spreading tool, and you can't exactly flip the crêpe maker all over the place to spread the batter like it's in a pan.  Since my batter is usually relatively thick, you can turn the machine on, pour the batter immediately, and immediately start spreading the batter with the tool.  If you create some gaps when using the crêpe spreader, you can cheat and add a dab of crêpe batter to cover the holes.  In between each crêpe, you can clean the surface with a wet paper towel to cool it down.  It takes some practice, but you will get to the point where you can churn them out without adjusting temperatures and using a cool pan to start.  It takes a bit of practice to become adept with the spreader!

Crêpes can be kept warm by covering them with a dish and setting them over simmering water or in a low temperature oven.  You can also freeze them, refrigerate them, and reheat them.  You can separate them with waxed paper to keep them from drying out. 

For serving, you can either roll them up and put toppings on them, or you can fold them in 1/2, 1/4, or 1/3 folds with toppings in between the folds.  Top or fill with fruits (strawberries, bananas, raspberries, blackberries), sauces (Nutella, chocolate sauce, caramel sauce, lemon curd, etc), nuts (almonds, peanuts, macadamia nuts, et), a sprinkle of powdered sugar, and some whipped cream.  Want to get fancy?  Flambe some bananas Foster for a wonderful filling!  Don't forget the Nutella! 


I hope I have done justice to Julia's memory by including plenty of tips to help you make a proper crêpe.  If you have any comments or suggestions, feel free to contribute below.

Julia ended her last book with a quote that I hope I will remember, and I think we would all be so lucky to remember this at the end of our days on this earth: "... thinking back on it now reminds that the pleasures of the table, and of life, are infinite – toujours bon appétit!"