GEORGE OLIVER (this article was published in January 2013)
Each week, we rummage through the dark corners of our kitchen drawers to bring you an enigmatic item. We ask you to guess what it is in our weekly From the Back of the Drawer puzzle. To enter this week’s puzzle, visit this page. To read more descriptions of past items, visit this page. And, don’t forget to donate your odd items to the Southern Food and Beverage Museum.
This week, we found a Crepes N’ Things Crepe Maker!
Making pancake-like foods is not particularly difficult—you make a batter, then pour and cook them on a flat surface. Leave it, however, to clever inventors to come up with devices that ‘improve’ the process.
In the early part of this century, there was a TV commercial for a plunger-like pancake dispenser that purported to make perfect pancakes. Besides the fact that you had to fill the plunger with batter, thus having another device to clean, it wasn’t clear why you needed perfectly round pancakes. Such devices are still being made and sold today.
(Note: In an interesting culinary irony, there are patents for commercial pancake making dies that create factory pancakes with enough irregularity to make them look homemade. Thus, some homemakers apparently want perfectly round machine-made pancakes, and companies want irregular pancakes that look like they aren’t made from a machine.)
Crepes have fared with less irony, perhaps because they’re not standard fare in this country. There are electric crepe makers of all kinds, so someone thinks that crepe making is difficult enough to need some help. Williams Sonoma, for example, sells a device made in France for $150, purporting to make crepes faster than in a pan.
It looks essentially like an electric skillet without sides, but reviews are generally good. One reviewer said “I have tried making crepes in a pan and always experienced failure. With this machine, I can now make crepes at home!” If you’ve made crepes in an ordinary sauté pan, you couldn’t be faulted for wondering why that reviewer could have always experienced failure.
Since you can’t tilt such a crepe maker like a pan to spread the batter, you’re given a wooden ‘rake’ to spread the batter over the surface, which seems like more work than tilting a regular pan to spread the batter. Aside from rakes, the other common technique is dipping. You essentially heat the non-stick surface, dip it into a pan of batter, and let it cook. There are problems that can arise. If the surface is not hot enough, the batter won’t stick properly. If it’s too hot and too oiled, the crepe can end up on the batter’s surface. An electric crepe maker with a temperature control could at least maintain its proper temperature.
The device pictured is a Nordic Ware Crepes ‘N Things non-electric crepe maker. The surface of the maker is convex. Hand-held flat devices call for ‘rolling’ the surface into a pan of batter to coat it, but this iron must dipped into a special dish you can buy for it, or any concave dish with the diameter of the iron deep to hold the batter.
We tried it and after a couple of failures, it did work pretty well and the crepes were perfectly round (if that’s important to you). It was rather dramatic and fun to cook a crepe upside down. The concave underside works best over a gas jet, but it can work over an electric burner as well. One thing you can do with it that you can’t do with a skillet is that you can double dip the iron and a get a thicker crepe for filling with more substantial sauces. However, one Amazon reviewer noted that it becomes harder to use as the batter level gets low in the dish.
Whether it’s worth buying a Crepes ‘N Things crepe maker depends on your cooking confidence. It adds another specialized utensil to your pot collection, which might be fun for a collector. Since it’s not electric, it doesn’t make better crepes than a non-electric skillet, but it might be more fun when company is there.
Indeed, the show aspect of such a device is not lost on the makers. One reviewer described the electric crepe maker discussed above as “a real show stopper at parties”. If you’re planning on making crepes in front of an audience, then this might be the device to make it more visually interesting. What other “things” the Crepes N’Things makes beside crepes is not clear. Blintze wrappers perhaps.
However, if you are planning to make crepes in your kitchen before you serve them, you’re probably better off learning to make them in a skillet. At least in the privacy of your kitchen, your failures can’t be filmed and broadcast on YouTube. And you’ll have the satisfaction of learning a skill that will make you feel like a real French chef.
Our Rating: A specialized tool that’s fun but not necessarily easier to use than a skillet.
Design: As simple as a pan, but not flat.
Originality: The upside-down dipping nature of the cooking technique is interesting, related perhaps to other devices like a Swedish rosette iron.
Practicality: If you don’t mind the extra device with limited use for show, it’s fine; otherwise learn to use a skillet to make crepes.