Buckwheat crêpes, or galettes in French, are a staple of any Parisian household with kids, big or small. They make a great lunch, filled with ham and cheese, or quickly-sautéed mushrooms, or with any other filling you might have on hand. But for a more soigné meal, did you know they can also be filled with a soufflé?
Back when I was learning how to cook in the French system, we made these soufflé-stuffed crêpes, using the white-flour version of what are basically thin French pancakes. Anyone who wants to become a professional chef in France has to get one of two kinds of diplomas: the CAP, or Certificat d’Aptitude Professionel, or a professional Baccalaureat, also known as the BAC Pro.
Apprentice Training Centers
Almost every chef in France goes to a professional training school, the best of which in Paris is Ferrandi, the French School of Culinary Arts. But many other schools are scattered around Paris, and when I taught teenagers how to cook for 7 years, I worked at one of these schools, known as a CFA or Centre de Formation d’Apprentis.
Nowadays, cooking professionally has gained in popularity in France (like in the U.S.), so adults changing jobs or who have a business plan to open a chambres d’hôtes (bed and breakfast) want this diploma, too. Sometimes they go to cooking classes through their town hall, or mairie. 194 hours of cooking and learning qualifies you to take the national exam.
Muslim and Jewish students
And the recipes? Many of them are old-fashioned, to say the least, but they’re the foundations of French cooking, designed to teach you a maximum number of techniques in one fell swoop – the building blocks of classical French cooking. A lot of the recipes contain the ubiquitous lardon, or bacon matchstick, to which my Muslim and Jewish students would object vehemently, using all the expletives they knew (a few of which I wrote about here).
One of those building blocks was browned butter, which you can see how to make in the video below, and which you’ll want to make for the crêpe batter. Another basic was Mornay sauce, which is a variation on the traditional white Béchamel sauce. It seemed to be in just about every recipe for the first semester, just to make sure that students really knew how to make a Béchamel sauce by the time they graduated.
The building blocks
So if Mornay sauce is simply a Béchamel sauce to which you add cheese and/or egg yolks, what is a Béchamel sauce? It’s a white sauce made up of a roux, milk, and seasonings. And you may find yourself asking, what is a roux? It’s flour cooked in butter.
To get it right, I ended up making my students a little chart that looked something like this:
Whipped egg whites
Got it? I thought so! So that brings us to the whipped egg whites. Not hard to make, but you have to follow a few rules guidelines….
Make sure your eggs whites are at room temperature – they’ll whip up much faster.
When you separate your egg yolks from whites, use 3 bowls: one for the yolks, one for the white you’ve just separated from the yolk to make sure there’s no trace of yolk, and the big bowl in which you’ll be whipping for the “clean” whites that you’ll put in there one by one.
As I mention in the video, always start with a very clean whisk and bowl, whether you’re whipping by hand or with a stand mixer. Any trace of grease, fat, or yolk will prevent your whites from whipping. Some people like to rinse their bowl with white vinegar and then water before drying and whipping, just to make sure there’s no fat in there.
For soufflés, I like to use a bit of cream of tartar: their acidity helps to stabilize the egg whites.
Don’t over-whip your egg whites. After they’re whipped, pull the whisk through the white foam and lift it up quickly. At the tip of the whisk, you should have a nicely curved peak, a little firm, that resembles a bird’s beak.
Most of these tips I learned in cooking school, but the best book to buy about the hows and whys of cooking is Shirley Corriher’s Cookwise. I highly recommend it!
If you enjoyed the video in this week’s post, please share, and let me know in the comments section below if you made these amazing soufflé-stuffed crêpes!
Soufflé-stuffed crêpes with Roquefort and walnuts
This recipe comes straight out of the book that every French person learning in the national apprentice system learns from: La Cuisine de Référence by Michel Maincent-Morel. I’ve only changed the base; instead of white flour crêpes, I’ve given the recipe for buckwheat crêpes, which are more delicious and wholesome.
Although these are listed under the first courses in Maincent-Morel’s book, I prefer to serve them as a main course, with a great big green salad alongside.
for the buckwheat crêpes: 1 cup (120g) buckwheat flour
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1¼ cups (300ml) milk
1 tablespoon water
4 tablespoons (60g) butter (for beurre noisette)
4 tablespoons (60g) clarified butter OR vegetable oil
for the Mornay sauce: 2 tablespoons (30g) butter
¼ cup (30g) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup (240ml) milk
2 egg yolks
for the soufflé: 5 egg whites
¾ teaspoon cream of tartar (optional)
2 egg yolks
about 1 cup (120g) Roquefort or other blue cheese, cut into dice-sized cubes or crumbled
about 1 cup (100g) walnuts
special equipment: an 8-inch (20-cm) crêpe pan or non-stick pan
how to make it:
1. Start by making the crêpe batter – it needs to rest for about an hour in the refrigerator. In a medium bowl, combine the flour and salt and whisk well. Make a well in the center of the flour, and pour into it the eggs. Whisk well, then pour in the milk and water. Whisk in a clockwise direction, starting in the middle and slowly bringing the flour into the liquids.
2. Once the mixture is smooth, make the browned butter, or beurre noisette. Cool it quickly by placing the saucepan into a cold water bath, and then pour the browned butter into the crêpe batter. Whisk until smooth.
3. Reserve in the refrigerator for at least an hour.
4. Now make the Mornay sauce: heat the butter over medium-low heat in a small saucepan until it foams, then add the flour all at once. Cook the roux for about 3-4 minutes, stirring often with a wooden or other spoon. Add the salt.
5. Add to the saucepan about half of the milk, and whisk constantly, making sure to get into the corners of the saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, and when the mixture is smooth, carefully add the rest of the milk, whisking immediately but carefully to avoid splashing.
6. Bring to the boil again, whisking the whole time. The mixture should be smooth. Remove the saucepan from the heat and add the two egg yolks.
7. Whisk well, return the saucepan to the heat, and bring to the boil again. Boil while whisking for about two minutes, then remove from heat.
8. Preheat the oven to 300°F (150°C). Turn the Mornay sauce into a large bowl to cool on the counter (not in the fridge) while you’re preparing the rest, and cover with plastic film. The film should lie directly on the surface of the sauce to avoid it forming a skin.
9. Spread the walnuts onto a baking pan, and roast in the oven for about 15 minutes, stirring them around the pan once or twice during cooking. The walnuts will be a medium golden-brown and fill up your kitchen with a wonderful walnutty odor when they’re done. Let them cool for about 5 minutes in the pan, then turn onto a cutting board. Chop coarsely.
10. Make the crêpes: heat a scant teaspoon of the clarified butter or oil in a crêpe pan or non-stick pan over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, wipe the pan slightly with a folded paper towel. Ladle about a ⅓ cup of batter into the pan, swirling the batter around the pan to distribute it evenly. You want a very thin, almost lace-like crêpe so the soufflé can rise inside it later on.
11. Cook for about 3 minutes on one side, then turn the crêpe over and continue cooking on the other side, adjusting the heat as necessary. Don’t worry if this first crêpe doesn’t look quite right – the first one is always a throw-away!
12. Continue cooking in this way until you’ve used all the crêpe batter. Stack the crêpes on a plate as you go.
13. Now make the soufflé mix: in a very clean medium bowl, whip the egg whites (and the cream of tartar if using it) to stiff peaks: you should have a good “bird’s beak” like in the video.
14. Add a bit of the whipped egg whites to the egg yolks to “relax” the yolks. Then incorporate the yolk mixture back into the whipped whites, folding carefully with a rubber spatula.
15. Turn the oven up to 400°F (200°C).
16. In the same way you “relaxed” the yolks, add a bit of the whipped egg white mixture to the cooled Mornay sauce. Stir to combine.
17. Then fold in the rest of the whipped egg white mixture, adding in the crumbled Roquefort cheese and cooled walnuts.
18. In a large baking pan, fill the crêpes with the soufflé mix, and fold in half.
19. Place in the bottom third of the oven and cook for 8-10 minutes.
20. Serve immediately, and I mean right away! Whoever is eating should already be at the table when you put these in the oven, since they won’t wait. Bon app’!