How to Turn a Tortilla into a French Crêpe
Making a good crêpe takes practice and commitment. The batter is rich—most recipes incorporate melted butter, whole milk, and several eggs—and the cooking of the crêpe requires good technique. You have to learn to deposit and swirl just the right amount of batter to get the thinnest possible crêpe, and then learn how to loosen the entire circle and flip it over without tearing or snagging.
A traditional crêpes batter consists of whole milk, eggs, melted butter, flour, a spoonful of sugar, and a little vanilla or booze for flavor. All of those ingredients are whisked together to create a smooth, thin liquid in which microscopic particles of flour are suspended. Watch chef Jacques Pepin's video below for a demo.
Crêpes batter is delicate. Because it doesn't store well (it tends to "break," or separate after a while), you have to cook all of it up right after you make it, which isn't practical for most of us. If you don't eat all the crêpes, you have to then wait for them to cool down, pack them between layers of parchment paper, and find enough room in your freezer to store them flat.
Fortunately, there exists a much, much, much easier version that even the most cooking-adverse can take on. And it involves one easy ingredient that pretty much blew my mind: a tortilla.
Kenny Shopsin, legendary New Yorker/restaurant owner, got fed up with this problem. In his book Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin, he explains that a crêpe is mostly flour and milk, so why not take a tortilla, which is mostly flour plus a bit of water, and dip it into a mixture of eggs and dairy?
When I read this, I thought, "This dude is crazy." But I do love crêpes, and his version sounded ever so much cheaper and easier than the traditional way (also somewhat healthier, if you can believe it). So I decided to see for myself if it worked.
This makes one crêpe. If you want more, just increase the recipe accordingly.
- 1 large egg
- 1 tablespoon heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon maple syrup, vanilla, rum, or port for flavor
- 1 12-inch flour tortilla (the thinnest kind available)
- 1 tablespoon butter for frying
Set out the egg and butter beforehand so they're room temperature (or use these tricks to get them to room temperature in a minutes). This is important, especially for the egg. If it's cold, the tortilla will have a harder time absorbing the mixture.
Whisk the egg, cream, and maple syrup together to form a thick, creamy batter in a large, shallow bowl. If you see lumps in the mixture (aka chalaza, or the cord that keeps the yolk suspended in the egg white), then take a tip from our French toast guide and strain it.
Take the tortilla and place it on top of the egg mixture. Press down to make sure the liquid spreads evenly all over the tortilla. You can also do this in a large, shallow plate.
Pick up the tortilla and dredge it thoroughly through the liquid. You want to make sure every square inch gets coated, especially the edges. This is key to creating the crêpe-like effect. Do this a couple of times on each side. You want the tortilla to get thoroughly moistened, but not be so wet it starts to disintegrate.
Heat a wide, flat skillet on medium-high. I used a non-stick pan. In my opinion, crêpes are too delicate for cast iron, since cast iron both conducts and retains heat. You'll just scorch your crêpe.
Melt the butter and make sure to move it around so the entire surface of the pan is covered. While this is going on, flip the tortilla once or twice in the egg mixture to make sure one side doesn't get too soaked.
Wait until the butter is lightly bubbling, then gently place the tortilla in the pan. Cook for one or two minutes until the first side is crispy and brown. Flip and cook on the other side.
I have to say, I had big doubts about this recipe, but the results are pretty damn impressive. The texture is very, very close to that of an actual crêpe, but you and your guests won't really care about how quote-unquote authentic it is. Everyone will be too busy gobbling them down and asking for more.
One last tip: Faisal suggested that I see if this technique could possibly be used to revive stale tortillas. After making a few inedible batter-covered tortillas that were as stiff as Frisbees, I'd say no. This recipe has the most success when you use really fresh tortillas. If they're dried out, they won't absorb the egg mixture well, and you'll end with a crunchy/chewy disk that lacks the tenderness and richness of a real crêpe.