In retrospect, it was the best meal of my life. Not coincidentally, it was also the best street food of my life.
Admittedly, much of what made the meal so memorable was the circumstances. It was just after midnight in Paris. We had just left a wine bar that closed for the night, where we’d had a glass or two of champagne. A light mist was was falling on the cobblestone street.
And in that most romantic of settings, I was hungry.
Across the street — cobblestone, as I said — was a creperie. There was a line, five or six people long, waiting to take their turn ordering crepes at the window that opened onto the street.
I made my way to the front of line, ordered and watched them as they made it. I picked up my crepe, shaped in a cone and wrapped in waxed paper, at the next window. It was absolutely heavenly.
And it wasn’t just the hour, the mist, the cobblestone street and the City of Light. It was the crepe itself: mushrooms and Emmentaler cheese, with a light coating of egg cooked onto the inside of the crepe.
But what kind of a crepe was it? Here is where my memory of the meal has faded.
I’ve always assumed it was a regular, though by no means ordinary, crepe. But what if it were a buckwheat crepe, which are also popular throughout Paris? Or whole wheat?
Here, the internet has let me down. I had hoped to get a clue about the crepes from pictures or perhaps a description, but apparently the place has closed. I have searched for it, remembering not the name but where it had been located, and apparently it is no longer there. A lot can happen in eight years.
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So, naturally, I decided to try making all three types of crepes. After all, Bastille Day is this weekend. Time to celebrate la vie francaise with a marvelous, Gallic meal.
I started with buckwheat. Buckwheat was a mistake.
It’s not that the crepe itself was bad, although it also wasn’t terribly good. It’s just that adding buckwheat flour to a crepe, or anything else, makes it taste more earthy. Because the filling was primarily mushrooms, it was also earthy, but a different kind. So we had two earthy flavors competing with each other, and no one came out the winner.
I should have realized buckwheat was wrong, because buckwheat crepes always have sugar. I left out the sugar because my crepes were going to be savory, but buckwheat turns out to be best when it is sweet.
Next, I tried whole wheat crepes. Whole wheat was a mistake.
Whole wheat crepes taste like whole wheat bread, without any of the mitigating factors that make whole wheat bread so good. They taste like someone was making crepes and ran out of white flour, so he added whole wheat flour in the hopes that no one would notice.
Believe me, you notice.
That left regular, old, not-so-ordinary crepes. And they were fantastic. They were the perfect counterpoint to the earthy, full-flavored mushrooms, the delightful egg and the gooey cheese.
Wonderful, oui, but were they as good as the crepes of my memory? Non. Perhaps you just need the midnight mist, the Parisian air and the cobblestones. And it wouldn’t hurt to have the echo somewhere of a long accordion playing “La Vie en Rose.”
PARISIAN MUSHROOM CREPE
Yield: 8 servings
2 1/4 cups whole milk
7 large eggs, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons melted butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons butter, divided
4 shallots, finely chopped
35 cremini (baby bella) mushrooms, sliced thick
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
Salt and pepper
3/4 cup dry white wine
2 cups Emmentaler or Gruyere cheese, shredded
Note: The first crepe of any batch you make is going to turn out badly. Accept that fact, toss it out and begin anew.
Place milk, 4 of the eggs, salt and melted butter in a large bowl or blender, and mix, whisk or blend together briefly. Add flour and mix, whisk or blend until combined. Cover and refrigerate at least 1/2 hour or overnight.
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Meanwhile, make the filling. Melt 1/2 tablespoon of the butter in a pan over medium-high heat, add shallots and cook until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add mushrooms, thyme, salt and pepper, and saute until mushrooms are cooked, 5 minutes. Add wine and simmer until it has nearly entirely evaporated. Remove from heat. This may be refrigerated for one day.
Beat 1 egg, if desired. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, add 1 teaspoon butter and swirl to coat entire bottom of the pan. Add 1 ladle of batter, about Â¹/3 cup, and swirl until it coats the bottom of the pan. Cook until set and beginning to turn a little brown on the bottom.
Flip crepe, using a spatula (or your fingers). If desired, quickly pour Â¹/3 of the egg onto the crepe and spread with a pastry brush. When egg begins to set, sprinkle 1/4 cup of the cheese on the crepe. Place Â¹/8 of the mushroom mixture in a stripe across the center of the crepe. When the bottom of the crepe starts to turn golden brown, roll both sides over the mushrooms and remove to a platter. Repeat with remaining batter and mixture, beating additional eggs as required.
Per serving: 409 calories; 23g fat; 12g saturated fat; 218mg cholesterol; 21g protein; 30g carbohydrate; 5g sugar; 1g fiber; 724mg sodium; 386mg calcium
Source: “Vita-Prep Recipes and Techniques” and Daniel Neman