Sunday, October 14, 2007

Japanese crepes! The full story (and how to make your own)

Update! This post continues to get a lot of traffic from Googlers! Just to be up front, I am not attempting to give an authentic Japanese crepe recipe below, but to describe it and approximate the experience at home. There is nothing much special about Japanese crepes other than the facts that they use less butter and most of the fillings are raw. They've turned crepes into quick street food. I provide tips at the bottom to make your crepes more Japanese if you want to.

My original post starts below the photo.


Alright, so I've become obsessed with Japanese crepes. I've previously mentioned them here, and here, and here - and that's for starters! But I've decided they definitely deserve their own post, and now's the right time.

Last night, the plan was that we'd eat some ramen and then visit this Japanese crepe place called Cecel Cafe Crepe that's just off St. Mark's Place on 1st Ave. in the East Village. (That link makes it look and sound more upscale than it seemed to us - it looks like a regular Japanese crepe place.) We were trying to recreate some of the Japan trip experience - really I think my wife's probably trying to shut me up about moving there by proving to me that we've got all the same stuff here. Anyway, Cecel's ended up being closed for one-day "renovations". Well, we weren't gonna let that stand. We decided to take matters into our own hands and make our own damn crepes. And now I'm gonna document the whole thing if anybody else out there wants to try it.

(We did go back to Cecel's. For a short report, click here.)

First, a little background for the Googlers and the newbies here. What's so special about Japanese crepes? Well, imagine a French crepe but without the "haute" in "haute cuisine" - taken down about five notches on the formality and snootiness scale. The great thing about Japanese crepes is their casualness (...casualty?). You buy them on the street from little shacks, they come with about 60 different possible fillings, and they make 'em on the spot and then hand them to you like an ice cream cone. But they taste basically like a French crepe - with a few minor differences. There's less butter used, for one, and all the fillings are fresh and/or raw - not cooked.

Did the Japanese spontaneously invent crepes on their own, creating their own unique product? No, my guess is that, like a lot of western foods there, they just borrowed the idea from France and added their own twist. They've turned it into fast food. Or as Larry David once wrote, "not fast food, Jerry. Good food, quickly."

It's amazing to watch a Japanese crepe maker in action. They're completely efficient and lightning quick, and there's a zen garden-like way of spreading the batter around that I find almost hypnotic.

I found this video that shows what I mean (note that this is not my video - thanks to the guy who filmed it):


Since French and Japanese crepes are really not much different, we figured it wouldn't be too hard making some at home. We were right! There's no big mystery about making crepes of any kind. People get scared of crepes in the same way they get scared of making souffles or custards, but they're really pretty easy. Even making the "cone" shape turned out to be not too difficult, although you might want some parchment or other kind of strong paper to hold it. (We only had wax paper.)

If you want to do Japanese crepes like the pros there do, you need some specialized equipment. Get a crepe set similar to this one, or bigger if you can find one.

That's very similar to what they actually use. If you want to buy everything separately, you need a crepe pan or electric griddle, spatula and spreader. The bigger, the better - Japanese crepes are enormous. That helps make the cone shape later.

But you can make even Japanese-style crepes (with some mods) using basic multi-tasking kitchen equipment that everybody has. We started off with a crepe recipe that we found in a cookbook, although there are plenty on the internet too. (Try this one.) The batter is basically just eggs, milk, water, salt and a little flour. Some recipes add sugar as well; ours didn't, but it's a preference thing. Japanese crepes themselves are not sweet, though. You blend your batter, then you let it sit. Really simple.

The filling can be whatever you want. We wanted something easy and that we might find in Japan, so we picked apple, banana and whipped cream.

That's my wife chopping up the apples. I gave it a try, but this is why you shouldn't use sharp knives after downing two glasses of wine:

Yeah, that really hurt.

We took the apples and bananas and just fried 'em up with some butter, sugar and cinnamon - like we were making apple (or banana) pie. The apples turned out so good, I couldn't help but eat a few wedges straight out of the frying pan. (Note that the Japanese would never cook banana, but I just like 'em better that way.)

Once you've prepped your filling, it's just a matter of cooking the crepes themselves. This takes literally 2 minutes. Since you probably don't have a crepe pan, a regular non-stick pan will have to do, and it helps even more if you butter it anyway. Yes, butter. You can't use anything else; it'll taste awful. Come on, you're eating crepes - "healthy" isn't the idea here. And be pretty liberal with the butter - the last thing you want is your crepe sticking at all. These things will tear at the slightest tug. Ideally, you want your crepe to slide around on its own in the pan after it's set.

The butter also helps brown your crepe slightly, which doesn't look very Japanese, but it tastes better. Incidentally, they don't need to use so much butter because of the surface they're cooking on, which is non-stick, has no sides and is specially made for crepes. But trust me, the butter makes it taste better - it's sort of a fusion thing, a little bit more French than Japanese. And making crepes at home, you're probably gonna need some sort of grease, so it may as well be the best tasting kind.

Here I am pouring a crepe below - that's about 1/4 cup of batter for a 10" crepe. Incidentally, this is much smaller than Japanese crepes really are, and it did turn out to be kind of a problem - but we got around it. This is the largest pan we had, though.

I don't have a crepe pan or a wooden spreader to spread the batter around, so I've gotta do it the old fashioned way - rolling the pan around until the batter fills itself in and starts to set:

Flipping a crepe can be tricky. In Japan, they've got massively long metal spatulas that, when used on a raised, flat hot plate like they use, can easily get underneath an entire 20" crepe. Most people here aren't gonna have something like that - I just use a regular spatula.

Here's a little trick, though. If you've got a non-stick pan and you've buttered it like I told you to, just jerk the pan back once and the crepe will slide forward. Now you can get the spatula underneath it slightly, and once you pick the edge up, grab it with your thumb and forefinger and pull it up until you can get the spatula all the way underneath. Now you can flip it cleanly.

When I made my first crepe a few years ago, I had just as much trouble getting it out of the pan. Then I realized that - duh! - I could just slide it right out without even touching it:

Incidentally, you see how we're keeping the crepes separated there - do not stack crepes! Unless you want to turn four or five regular crepes into one really thick crepe, because that's what's gonna happen. You're never gonna get 'em apart again. Once they've cooled, you can stack them with a piece of wax paper in between each one, but you can't do that while they're hot and you definitely cannot stack them on top of each other "naked" - ever!

Now comes the really tricky part - figuring out how you're gonna roll the thing up into the ice cream cone shape.

If you have a big enough crepe, then the easiest thing to do is put the filling in one half, fold the entire thing over once, and then roll from one side to the other. That's how most people do it in Japan. You can't do that with a 10" crepe, though - I tried it. You just get a handful of malformed crepe and filling oozing out all over the place.

I did figure out a system, though. First, you've gotta imagine the shape of your final cone and mentally project that onto your unrolled crepe. Then place your filling in the upper half of where you want it to eventually end up in the cone. Like this:

By the way, yes that's homemade whipped cream. Please don't use anything else or I won't be your friend anymore. If you want to be really Japanese, you'll put some chocolate sauce on top of this - that's almost a given in a Japanese crepe, but I think it's a little too much. Ice cream and custard are optional too. Yeah, their crepes can go pretty far over the top.

It may look like the filling's right in the middle of the crepe and angled towards the center, but it's not. That won't work! It's just the camera angle here - it's more towards the right edge of the crepe and angled towards the same edge. I know, it sounds a little over-thought - but believe me, this is the only way to get a proper cone from a 10" crepe. The first fold then just covers the filling, and you just roll from there.

Yeah, you like my Casio digital watch, huh? Pure class, baby! It's all about the Electro-Luminescence.

Anyway, you see that with my system, I've got a little hole at the bottom. Unavoidable, really. With a bigger crepe and folding it the way the Japanese do, you have no hole and your filling won't spill out. With a smaller crepe, you're gonna have a hole. Just cover it up with your paper.

Here's the final result:

Yeah, not only am I wearing a Casio watch, I'm also sporting my dorky FLCL t-shirt. Hey man, tomorrow's laundry day. I'm at the end of the cycle.

Anyway, mmmmmmmmmm! This was seriously probably the best crepe I've ever had. And except for the wax paper subbing for parchment and the butter-browning, it sure looks pretty much like the crepe at the top of the post, right? Of course, with all the prep work included, it did take about 3 hours longer to make! But we wanted some crepes and goddamn if we weren't going to have them - and no regrets at all after tasting the final result.

If you want your crepes to be more authentic Japanese than ours were, a couple little tips:
  • Use less, or no, butter. This is going to make it more difficult to cook, though, and it won't taste as good.
  • Try not to cook your filling if you're using fruit. Except for things like apples and pears, but in that case, they're usually only cooked very lightly and with no added flavoring (like cinnamon). A little sugar is ok to kill the tartness.
  • Add some chocolate sauce - though I think this makes everything too sweet! Ice cream and custard are common "binders".
  • Make your crepes as big as possible so you can fold and roll them the way the Japanese do. You need specialized hardware for this.
  • Buy some heavy cone-holding paper. Parchment would probably work, and I'm sure you can get paper designed specifically to hold ice cream cones that would also be fine (if it's big enough).

9 comments:

  1. Summer is eel season, right? I *so* wanted to find a place that sold unagi crepes.

    But the ones in Takeshita-Dori didn't, and it was too darn hot to do much searching.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I asked my wife about that, and she's never seen eel crepes in Tokyo. But she says eel is a big Shizuoka thing, and they have eel pie there, so they might have eel crepes.

    I personally haven't seen eel crepes in Tokyo either and I've only ever gone there in summer. There might be some places that have them, I don't know - just none of the 10-15 places I've seen.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Anonymous12:48 PM

    where can i buy one of those huge crepe machines cant seem to fingd one in the usa


    don

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anonymous7:22 PM

      I found one in ross in the cooking section (like with the pans and pots) but that was in hawaii so i think they may have a one where you live!!

      Delete
  4. Anonymous4:54 PM

    I work at at boba shop in socal and we make japanese crepes too.

    We use Nutella to spread it over our crepes and top it with strawberries, kiwi or bananas.

    Try spreading butter over the crepes and then sprinkiling sugar and cinnamon over it.

    A really simple one is while the crepe is still on the pan, put shredded cheese (we buy ours from the market) and let it melt onto the crepe. Fold it up, and it tastes so delicious!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Anonymous6:26 PM

    Hi, loved your site. Just returned from Chiang Mai, Thailand and spent much time visiting street
    vendor making crepes. Didn't know what they were, but knew I had to have a stove to take to FL
    and show my family. Vendor said recipe secret and he had paid for it, so I would have to pay big time. No way! The stove is gas and getting it set up was a big pain as far as proper, safe connections, but finally am in business. Problem is getting the right recipe.
    His were paper thin, sweet, lightly browned, folded in half and then once over and placed in a cardboard container. Banana and choc were his best seller. I tried 2 eggs to l cup flour, plus water and milk and they were too yellow and rubbery. My cats stand by stove waiting for my mistakes. Used the stick and middle rolled up and broke up. Really an art to using the stick pusher. Your photos looked like the right thickness, so if you would please e-mail me at carolmcbrown@yahoo.com I would appreciate it. Also, his were crispy not like the French crepes. Thanks

    ReplyDelete
  6. Anonymous12:36 PM

    Just wondering, I saw pre-made crepes at the store..but I think they were the French kind. Would I be able to make a japanese filling crepes with those crepes? Or are French ones too thick?

    ReplyDelete
  7. The theme for the second part of our 'Everyday Harumi' book contest is Crepes and Japanese Food.

    Maybe you want to share your suggestions.

    Deadline is October 25th, Midnight, US Eastern time

    Serge
    'The French Guy from New Jersey'

    ReplyDelete
  8. Ohh so they're basically Danish Pancakes :P

    ReplyDelete

About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.

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I'm married. I like to travel. I have no kids. I have a house... that I'm bad at maintaining. I used to collect classic video games. I'm the proud owner of two Fender Jazzmasters, a Gretsch G5422DC, and a Fender Twin Reverb amp - all musical equipment far better than my ability to use it. When I was younger, I was in a band. I like gadgets, and I'm an Android guy. Someday, I would like to go to outer space.

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