One thing I've never understood: cummerbunds. Another thing I've never understood: pancake mix. As you can see, I thought I easily had my plate full with life's mysteries. Then during a routine purchase of one slotted spoon at Crate and Barrel, I spotted a canister of The Barefoot Contessa's French Crepe Mix, and everything unraveled again.
To understand my confusion, let's first review the ingredients in a basic French crepe: eggs, milk, water, flour, and butter. These ingredients are all what we call pantry staples. That means that if I were to use the ingredients I already had in my house, I could make crepes at any given moment. Crepes at 4 p.m. as a reward for only once googling "Puppy Steals Baguette"? Don't mind if I do. However if I want to employ a mix, at some point I will have to haul it to Crate and Barrel and make a purchase. Now I'm spending money ($2 for bus fare + $6.95 for mix + $11.95 for irresistible 20-ounce wine glass). Being out both time and money, it's only natural to assume that the mix will make crepes that are exponentially better than anything I could whip up on my own.
These were the thoughts that were going through my head as I stared at that canister of mix, haunted. People have explained cummerbunds to me, but by the time I get up the courage to ask it's always 3/4th of the way and twenty Champagne toasts through the wedding and I only pretend to understand the answer. If I bought that crepe mix, would I finally unlock the secret to not one, but two of life's mysteries? (Is crepe mix worth it and can I finally make a perfect, paper thin Parisian-style crepe?) I decided to give it a try.
The directions on the canister seemed easy: Preheat a 10-inch skillet over medium heat and brush with butter. In a bowl, whisk together two eggs, one cup of water, and two tablespoons melted butter. Whisk in dry mix.
I had to provide both eggs and butter, and I couldn't help but wonder why Ina couldn't figure out how to dehydrogenate all the ingredients so that all I had to do was add some water. I mean the woman worked on Nuclear Energy Policy for the White House, powdered eggs should be child's play. But the real problem, I soon learned, was in the last direction. "Pour 1/4 cup batter onto skillet and swirl to form an 8-inch circle," it says blithely. "Cook for about 1 minute on each side, until lightly browned."
Anyone who has ever attempted to make French crepes will know that herein lies the problem. How does one get either side lightly browned? By flipping the crepe halfway through cooking. How does one flip the crepe? SHE DOES NOT SAY.
My first few attempts at flipping were a mess. No combination of objects from spatulas to chopsticks allowed me to flip the entire crepe smoothly. The dough folded back on itself, turning into a yellow pile that resembled scrambled eggs. It was frustrating, not only because I could smell the buttery crepes but not eat them, but because as each batch went into the waste basket, I was aware that each new crepe cost that much more. Finally, I got a winner, and a real beauty she was.
Famished by my work, I ate half of the crepe immediately. Texturally, it was pretty spot on— slightly stretchy with tiny air bubbles and, most importantly, paper-thin with crisp edges and assorted brown spots. As for taste, I enjoyed it at first. It tasted just like the crepes I ate in Paris—buttery and rich, with a hint of sweetness. Yet after the first few bites, I was aware of a bizarre perfection and monotony in the taste. It might be more accurate to say that the crepe I made tasted the way crepe stands in Paris smell. The taste was so concentrated, so blow-out-your-taste-buds buttery that it didn't seem real. A few bites also proved it to be noticeably salty, which I was only able to quell by smothering the crepe in jam.
And that's how I got my answers. Yes, I can successfully produce a lovely, paper-thin crepe. No, crepe mix isn't worth it. Not when it costs less money to make crepes from scratch, and requires roughly the same amount of time. Not when I have to dirty the same amount of dishes. Not when the resulting crepes taste like something out of a Stepford kitchen. And especially not when I have to spend 20 minutes on YouTube, watching videos on how to flip a crepe.
16 ounces costs $6.95 and is available online or in stores.
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