For the past few years, I’ve looked forward to early July as a time to gather sour (or pie or tart) cherries from a friend’s tree or to catch their fleeting presence at the farmers market. When the cherries arrive, I want to make a free-form cherry tart and cherry-filled buckwheat crepes.
Last year we purchased a North Star cherry tree, and this season it provided us with a pound and a half of fruit (plus an offering for the birds). We’ve supplemented our harvest with cherries purchased at the Mill City Farmers Market from Prairie Hollow Farm. The fruit has also been available from Davidson’s Farm at the Kingfield market. If you miss the short and unpredictable cherry season, Jean Davidson makes a fine cherry jam, and her first jars of the year ($5 / 8 ounces) will be for sale on Sunday. Frozen Montmorency cherries (a classic varietal) can be found at Whole Foods for $7 a pound. If you do find fresh sour cherries at a farmers market, they freeze beautifully.
We must now address the pitting of cherries. I use an Oxo cherry pitter. I think it’s fun. I often read that you can open up a paperclip and use the curved portion to scoop out the pit. Even Alice Waters recommends this method. But I can’t get it to work. Or you could cut the cherry in half, twist the halves, and extract the pit from the part it sticks to … really tedious. Another source recommends simply pushing the pits out, but I think this would leave you with a squishy mess. In France, the cherry clafoutis, a baked rustic dessert, is often made with the pits in. This is the real reason “French women don’t get fat”: too much effort eating around the pits.
Buckwheat crepes are a specialty of Brittany, which juts out into the Atlantic from the edge of France. There you can buy premixed batter in a milk carton to pour directly into your pan. The simplest scratch recipe for the crepes contains only buckwheat flour, water, and salt. Recipes often call for the addition of all-purpose flour. And the wet ingredients may include oil, butter, eggs, milk, or beer. My recipe uses all buckwheat flour. It’s moistened with a rich combination of milk, water, eggs and butter. I like the way the butter plays off the nuttiness of the buckwheat. Buckwheat, Fagopyrum esculentum, is not actually a grain, and is therefore gluten free. Local co-ops sell fresh, organic buckwheat flour from Whole Grain Milling, and packaged buckwheat flour from Bob’s Red Mill can be found at some grocery stores.
To make a classic Breton dish, you would place a largish cooked crepe back in the pan, good side down; add cheese, a raw egg, and maybe some ham; and cook until the cheese is melted and the egg is done. You would then fold the crepe like a loose envelope, leaving part of the egg peeking out the center.
Here are my recipes for the basic crepes as well as an appetizer of stacked crepes filled with mushrooms and creme fraiche, and a dessert of folded crepes filled with sour cherry preserves and topped with fresh cherries and ice cream.
Yield: 20 or more 7″ crepes.
Be sure the pan is thoroughly heated, in step 4, before beginning to cook the crepes. Don’t be discouraged if your first crepe or two is not a success. You may substitute all-purpose flour for half the buckwheat flour, in which case you should let the batter rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour to relax the gluten. The mixed-grain version will be easier to work with but milder in flavor. The recipe can also be prepared in a blender or food processor.
2 ounces butter (4 tablespoons)
1¼ cups buckwheat flour (6¼ ounces, 180 grams)
large pinch of salt
1 cup milk (any fat content you have on hand)
¾ cup water
3 large eggs
Additional butter for pan
1. Over low heat, melt the butter in the pan you will use to cook the crepes (see note).
2. Place the flour and salt in a large bowl. Pour on the milk, and whisk rapidly to combine the ingredients and prevent lumps from forming. Add water and whisk until smooth. (If lumps form, blend in a food processor or blender or put through a coarse sieve.)
3. Add the eggs, whisking to mix thoroughly. Pour the butter from the pan and whisk in.
4. Reheat the pan thoroughly over a medium flame. A drop of water should evaporate immediately. Add around a teaspoon of butter (more than you would for standard crepes), and swirl it around.
5. Using a small ladle or measuring cup, add approximately ⅛ cup of batter to the pan and begin to tilt the pan, swirling the batter to coat the bottom as thinly as possible. Add more batter as you swirl, if needed. If there is too much batter, pour it back into the bowl. Note how much batter you used, and start with that amount for the next crepe.
6. Cook the crepe for approximately 1 minute on the first side. It will be firm, and the edges will have begun to ruffle. The underside will be a mottled light brown. Loosen the edges with a table knife, and turn the crepe with a spatula. Cook for approximately ½ minute on the second side. Flip the crepe onto a rack, and cover it with a cloth. The first crepe is usually not perfect — even a mess. If the batter seems too thick, add a small amount of water (more likely to be needed if you use all-purpose flour).
7. Continue to make crepes. As they are done, flip them onto the previous crepe. You will need less butter after the first few crepes, and you may be able to skip adding butter every few crepes.
Note: This recipe was tested with an 8″ seasoned cast-iron pan and a 9″ nonstick pan. Pans with a diameter of from 6″ to 10″ will make good crepes. Crepes may be stored in the refrigerator for two to three days.
For each serving:
4 to 6 teaspoons sour cherry preserves (recipe follows) or purchased sour cherry jam
2 buckwheat crepes
7 or 8 Bing cherries, or 10 to 12 fresh sour cherries
Kirsch, brandy, rum or other liqueur
A scoop of vanilla ice cream
1. In a small pan heat the preserves or jam.
2. Pit and halve the Bing or sour cherries, and place in a bowl. Add confectioners’ sugar to taste and a teaspoon of Kirsch. Set aside.
3. Preheat a frying pan. Add a crepe, and after a few seconds, when it begins to warm, turn it over and heat for a few seconds more.
3. Spread half the underside of the crepe with 2 to 3 teaspoons of sour cherry preserves. Fold the crepe in quarters and place on a plate. Repeat with a second crepe.
4. Arrange the Bing cherry mixture in the center, and dust lightly with confectioners’ sugar. Top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Sour Cherry Preserves
Yield: Filling for approximately 16 crepes.
1 pound sour cherries (454 grams) (pitted: 14 ounces, 397 grams)
½ cup sugar (3½ ounces, 100 grams) (See note)
⅓ vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. In a wide, heavy saucepan combine the sugar and cherries. If using a vanilla bean, halve, scrape the seeds into the pan, and add the pod. Bring to a boil on medium heat, and cook for approximately 8 minutes. Bubbles will change from white to translucent red, and liquid will be syrupy. Add vanilla extract, if using, or remove vanilla pod.
2. Pour the preserves into a jar, and store in the refrigerator for a few weeks, or freeze. If you know how to can, you may do so. The preserves are delicious on toast.
Note: These preserves retain a good amount of tartness, which is balanced by the vanilla. Taste and add more sugar after cooking, if you wish. Using a wide-bottomed pan (around 8″) will allow the mixture to reduce quickly.
Mushroom Gateau de Crepes
Yield: Six appetizer servings.
1 tablespoon butter
2 or 3 garlic scapes, sliced thin or one clove of garlic, minced
1¼ pounds mushrooms (crimini or other)
A few scrapings of nutmeg
A generous tablespoon each of coarsely chopped tarragon and parsley
7 crepes, approximately 7″ in diameter, at room temperature
Hazelnut oil, walnut oil or olive oil
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
2. Wash the mushrooms and cut them into slices approximately ⅛″ thick.
3. In a 10″ saute pan melt the butter over low heat. Add the garlic scapes, lightly salt them, and saute over low heat until slightly softened. Raise the heat to medium; add the mushrooms, and salt lightly. Cook, stirring frequently, until any liquid released has evaporated and the mushrooms begin to brown and sizzle. Add the herbs. Stir and cook for 1 minute. Grate on the nutmeg.
4. Stir in ¼ cup creme fraiche, and taste for salt and pepper.
5. Butter the center of a small baking sheet. Place one crepe at the center, good side up. Divide the mushroom mixture into six parts, and spread one portion on top of the crepe. Place another crepe on top and repeat, ending with a crepe.
6. Cover the cake loosely with aluminum foil. Warm in the oven for approximately 20 minutes, gently lifting a center crepe to test for temperature.
7. Preheat the broiler. Adjust a rack so that the cake will be at least 6″ from the element. Remove the foil from the crepes. Top the cake with the Parmigiano-Reggiano and sprinkle with oil. Broil until the cheese bubbles and begins to color. Remove from the oven before the edges begin to burn.
8. With a serrated knife, cut the cake into six portions. Place on plates and top with a large dollop of creme fraiche.
Note: If you make the crepes and filling in advance, reheat the filling to allow the gateau to heat more evenly in the oven.