Crepes for Mother's Day (Bill Hogan, Chicago Tribune / April 15, 2010)

The family crepe tradition started after the parents spent a week in New York attending a family wedding. They enjoyed fancy, filled crepes at the wedding brunch and were instantly hooked on the delicate French pancakes. The search for a suitable crepe pan began — Bridge Kitchenware solved the problem. Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" provided an excellent batter recipe.

We created all manner of crepes from that little pan — sweet, savory, main-course and dessert. One memorable midnight supper involved four fillings and a passel of college buddies home on break. Away from home, we filled our crepe longings at the original Magic Pan creperies. From the 1960s through the 1980s that was the place to enjoy crepes. Souffled spinach crepes reigned, in our eyes.

Four decades later, my mother's crepes still inspire our special occasion Sunday meals. And that black steel pan continues to dutifully turn out paper-thin, tender, lacy pancakes. As for the fillings, nowadays we steer away from the complicated creamed chicken and vegetables in favor of simplicity. After all, the crepe deserves center stage.

At Parisian and American creperies, making the crepe is part of the show — with large, round electric griddles set in full view of the diners. The crepe cooker pours a thin-ish batter onto the heated surface. Then the cook uses a little wooden trowel to smooth it evenly into a paper-thin circle before flipping and browning the second side.

We noticed the batter was kept very cold and was nearly as thick as heavy cream. Julia concurs with this observation. She advised adjusting the milk and flour to achieve the right consistency. Julia says chilling the batter allows the flour to expand in the liquid and ensure a light, tender crepe. So for the best results, make the batter at least 2 hours in advance — it'll even keep in the refrigerator for a day or two.

Practice makes perfect when it comes to making thin, beautifully browned crepes. Swirling the batter evenly over the bottom of the crepe pan will take a few tries (take heart — imperfect crepes still taste yummy). Always fiddle with the heat under the pan. It needs to be high enough to set the batter upon contact, but not so high that the pan smokes. Once the crepe is golden, it will release itself from the pan. Use a heatproof rubber spatula (metal could tear the crepe) to help you flip the crepe to brown the second side.

For filling, try a simple sugar and butter version like those sold on the streets of Paris. Other choices could include marmalade, ham and Gruyere cheese or peanut butter and jelly. Our favorite, made with garlicky baby spinach and goat cheese, is easy to assemble.

As for the crepe pan, there are electric models, but we prefer the price tag on the simple steel pans sold online at Bridge Kitchenware (bridgekitchenware.com). Or enlist a small, heavy-bottomed nonstick pan. Choose 6-, 7- or 8-inch pans for easy-to-manage crepes. Once you're an expert, make 10- or 12-inch versions like they still do on the streets of Paris. You'll impress the lucky recipients for years to come.

ctc-goodeating@tribune.com

Crepe batter a la Julia Prep: 5 minutes Chill: 2 hours Cook: 40 minutes Makes: 24 to 30 crepes

The number of crepes this batter yields depends on the diameter of your pan and how adept you are at making a thin pancake. Use a small ladle or measuring cup to pour the batter. Crepes can be made several hours or up to 1 day in advance. Separate them with plastic wrap, then wrap well and refrigerate. Reheat in the pan briefly, one at a time, before serving.

4 large eggs

1 cup whole milk

½ teaspoon salt

2 cups flour

½ stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted

Vegetable oil

Filling of choice, see ideas

1 Crack eggs into a blender container. Add milk, 1 cup cold water and salt. Blend to mix. Add flour and butter. Blend 1 minute, scraping down sides of container if necessary. Cover; refrigerate 2 hours or up to 24. (Leave in the blender container if desired.)

2 Heat an 8-inch well-seasoned crepe pan or nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Dip a paper towel into a little vegetable oil; carefully wipe it over the inside of the hot pan. Set the pan over the heat to heat the oil. Pour in a generous 2 tablespoons batter. Immediately pick up the pan and swirl it gently to coat the entire bottom evenly with the batter. Pour any batter that does not adhere to the pan back into the container of batter. Return the pan to the heat; cook until set, light brown and little beads of moisture are visible on the surface, about 30 seconds. Use a heatproof spatula to help loosen and flip the crepe. Cook the second side to brown it lightly, about 30 seconds more.

3 Transfer the cooked crepe to a covered baking dish. Keep warm in a low oven while you cook the remaining crepes. Top each crepe with a couple of tablespoons of the desired filling. If using the Florentine filling, roll up the filled crepes and serve sprinkled with chopped parsley.

Nutrition information

Per crepe (for 30 crepes): 58 calories, 40% of calories from fat, 3 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 33 mg cholesterol, 7 g carbohydrates, 2 g protein, 52 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Fillings

Florentine: Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large nonstick skillet. Add 1 halved, thinly sliced onion; saute until golden, 5 minutes. Add 2 cups chopped mushroom caps; cook until golden, 4 minutes. Stir in 2 bags (6 ounces each) spinach and 2 finely chopped cloves garlic (add spinach in batches if needed). Cook and stir until the spinach just barely wilts, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool. Stir in 4 ounces crumbled goat cheese, and salt and pepper.

Jam and creme fraiche: Spread hot crepe lightly with a scant tablespoon of creme fraiche. Top with dollops of your favorite jam; smooth with a rubber spatula. Fold crepe into quarters. Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar.

Caramel and banana: Spread hot crepe lightly with a scant tablespoon of caramel sauce or Mexican cajeta. Top with sliced bananas. Fold crepe into quarters. Top with more caramel and banana slices and sprinkling of confectioners' sugar.