Several of my friends have secret family pancake recipes, along with fond memories of making and eating animal shaped pancakes with their parents. But growing up, my family was never very big on breakfast. My dad and mom fueled themselves on coffee and tea, and my sister was constantly on some kind of diet. I always zipped out the door without grabbing anything to eat. If I was good, I'd have a bottle of SunnyD (gross, right?) and a banana. But that was it. Back then, it had been years since I'd eaten pancakes, and the closest thing I'd come to waffles were some of those Eggo ones that you popped in the toaster and tasted like cardboard.
It was only in college that I started to really need breakfast. After a heavy night of drinking, a plate of greasy eggs and bacon from the school cafeteria seemed like a godsend. And then, of course, in the mid-aughts, came the brunch revolution. Overnight, it seemed like a ton of cute mom-and-pop type restaurants had popped out of the woodwork, attracting long lines for breakfast food served at midday. My friend Leah, always up on the latest trends, would drag me out of bed at 10AM (early for a college kid) for brunch at the latest hip spot. I was unimpressed; this usually meant standing outside in the cold and rain as we waited for the same kind of eggs and bacon that we had in the school cafeteria. In an attempt to make these brunch trips worthwhile, I started ordering sweet brunch dishes that you couldn't get from the school cafeteria — stuff like freshly made waffles, pancakes, and French toast. Pretty soon, I was the one dragging Leah around in search of the best breakfast sweets around town.
My favorite sweet breakfast dish, however, have always been thin and crispy French crepes. I adored the way you could fold them up into triangles and the crazy amount of fillings available — lemon and sugar, Nutella and banana, strawberries and cream — almost any combination you could imagine! These crepes, for instance, go all out and are filled with bananas, Nutella, and Speculoos cookie spread:
I'm sure at this point, there's no need to introduce anybody to Nutella, the European chocolate-hazelnut spread that has taken the US by the storm. But have you guys heard of Speculoos cookie butter? Speculoos cookies are a kind of thin, flat European shortbread cookie, spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cardamom and white pepper. As a kid living in the Netherlands, these cookies would usually appear some time around Christmas (specifically for Sinterklaas).
Speculoos cookie butter takes these cookies and turns them into a spread akin to peanut butter and Nutella. Some people have likened it to peanut butter, but they're wrong — because sure, it's like peanut butter, if peanut butter were on some kind of crack to make it even more delicious, glamorous, and sexy. Speculoos cookie butter tastes like a combination of caramel and gingerbread. It's got the texture of peanut butter, but with crunchy cookie crumbles that give it a little something extra. Big shout out to my friend Tracy for twisting my arm and making me try a jar of Speculoos!
Some baker's notes:
- Speculoos cookie butter is available online, or at your local Trader Joe's. Nutella is available in almost every major supermarket, usually near or in the peanut butter section.
- Did you know that you don't need a crepe pan or a crepe spreader to make crepes? I know that a crepe spreader will make your crepes thinner and crispier, but the crepes that I had in France were actually a little bit spongy. These crepes are more like that — thin and slightly spongy in the middle, crisp and crunchy on the outsides. All you need to make them is a nonstick pan with a handle.
- Although crepes are widely regarded as a breakfast food, did you know that you can also make cakes out of them? Check out this chocolate hazelnut crepe cake or this other coconut cream crepe cake beauty. Both recipes use this crepe recipe as its base because this crepe recipe is extremely forgiving. Once you get the hang of it, you can make perfectly circular crepes almost every time. I promise.
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 large eggs
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk
- Bananas (I used 3 medium bananas)
- First, brown the butter. Place 4 tablespoons unsalted butter in a small saucepan over medium heat and whisk gently, as it continues to melt. Continue whisking gently as it bubbles. After 2 to 3 minutes, you should see brown bits appear at the bottom of the pan, the surface will foam, and the butter will emit a nutty aroma. Remove from heat immediately and continue whisking for another 30 seconds, before setting aside on a wire rack to cool slightly.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together 2 large eggs and 1/4 teaspoon salt until the egg looks uniformly yellow. Add about 1/3 cup of the all-purpose flour and whisk into the eggs until just combined — at this point the batter will seem lumpy, but that's okay. Add about half of the 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk into the batter and continue whisking until the mixture thins. Keep adding the milk and flour alternately until you've added it all. Continue whisking until the batter is just smooth, before adding the butter. Continue whisking until the butter has fully incorporated into the batter. At this point, you're ready to cook the crepes.
- Preheat a medium nonstick skillet pan with a handle on medium heat. Once the pan is hot enough (you can tell by putting your hand over the surface and seeing if it emits heat), pour about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of batter into the pan. As you pour the batter, use the handle to twirl the batter around. The batter will coat the pan in a circle to make the crepe. Once you're satisfied with the crepe you've formed, place the pan back over its heat source. As it cooks, it will change in appearance — you'll see the edges start to curl upwards and take on a lacy texture. Once unsticking the edges, a cooked crepe should slide easily around the pan.
- Once one side is ready, slip a spatula under the crepe and flip it over. Continue cooking for another 20 to 30 seconds, before transferring onto your serving plate. The crepes are best when warm and fresh, so go ahead and layer on as much Nutella and Speculoos as you desire. Both fillings will get a little bit melty and delicious. Sprinkle with banana slices. Fold up into a half, and fold that up into another half to get a triangle. Eat immediately!
- Repeat until you've run out of crepe batter.