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There were signs, early on, that Jeffrey de Leon was going to be a chef.

While other children in his Southern California neighborhood were attempting to make pancakes from a just-add-water box mix, de Leon was making light and airy crepes from scratch.

"I used to make them for breakfast for my parents," said the 31-year-old executive pastry chef at Salt Lake City's Grand America Hotel. The meals, he said, included his own handmade menus.

Since then, de Leon, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Pasadena, has moved on to more difficult recipes, such as mastering extravagantly decorated wedding cakes and French pastries. But he still loves crepes. "They sound so fancy, but they are super easy to make," he said.

Crepes are just the kind of easy, elegant meal families can prepare to impress mom this Sunday for Mother's Day.

De Leon and his staff will be making thousands of the paper-thin pancakes during Grand America's annual Mother's Day buffet — which is hands-down the busiest dining holiday of the year.

"There's always a line at the crepe station," said de Leon. "It's us and the roast beef."

Watching the cooks pour the batter, then swirl, flip and fill the crepes — in just minutes — is part of the allure. "It's a show," de Leon said. "It's the Food Network right in front of your face."

Crepes, the French word for pancakes, have been around for centuries. Originating in Brittany, they were used as a peasant-type bread and rarely had fillings. Eventually, the wafer-thin treat spread throughout Europe, with other countries and cultures creating their own variations, from Italian crespelle and Jewish blintzes to Russian blini.

Making crepe batter requires no special ingredients and is best done in a blender or food processor, writes Lou Seibert Pappas, in her cookbook Crepes: Sweet & Savory Recipes for the Home Cook. For tender crepes, the batter should be made ahead and refrigerated for at least two hours or overnight. "The resting time allows the flour to absorb the liquid and the foam to dissipate," she said.

Crepes also could be cooked ahead of time, wrapped in plastic wrap and either refrigerated for up to three days or frozen for up to two months.

Typically, crepes are made with all-purpose flour, but whole wheat flour can be used as well. For those who have gluten intolerance, crepes can be made with a variety of specialty flours, such as buckwheat, blue cornmeal, corn flour and cornstarch.

Versatility is another attribute of crepes. They can be sweet or savory and served for breakfast, lunch, as an appetizer or for dinner, depending on what kind of fillings are in your refrigerator and pantry.

Fresh berries and whipped cream are the easiest and probably the most popular filling. Another idea is to use Nutella, a chocolate-hazelnut spread, and bananas warmed in a bit of butter and brown sugar.

The savory fillings combinations are endless: sautéed mushrooms and spinach; sausage and roasted peppers; ham and asparagus.

That variety of fillings is why Pappas calls crepes "the good cook's best ally."

Twitter: @kathystephenson —

Grand America Hotel crepes

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoons vanilla extract

4 large eggs

2 cups milk

1⁄3 cup melted butter

Sweet fillings ideas

Nutella and sliced bananas

Fresh berries and whipped cream

Savory fillings

Sautéed mushrooms and spinach

Roasted peppers and cooked ground sausage

Heat oven to 200 degrees. In a bowl, sift flour, sugar and salt together.

Put milk, eggs, and vanilla into a blender or food processor. Add flour mixture. Pulse until all ingredients are combined and the mixture is without lumps. With the machine running, slowly pour in the melted butter, in a slow, steady stream. Blend until the butter is completely emulsified. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours, but preferably overnight.

When ready to cook, place a 6- or 7-inch nonstick pan over medium heat until very hot. Spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray.

Take the pan off of the heat and ladle about 1/4 cup batter into the pan. Quickly, tilt the pan to cover the bottom with a thin layer of batter. Return to heat and cook for about 1 minute or until the bottom of the crepe is golden and top is opaque.

Flip the crepe and cook until the other side is cooked, another 15 or 30 seconds. Be careful not to overcook it.

Remove from heat and place on parchment paper. Cover and place in the oven to stay warm until ready to serve. Repeat until all the crepes are cooked.

To serve, place desired filling in the center of each crepe and fold in sides.

Servings • About 3 dozen (6- or 7-inch) crepes

Source: Jeffrey de Leon, executive pastry chef, The Grand America Hotel —

Savory crepes

2 large eggs

1 cup milk

1/2 cup water

1 cup all-purpose flour, preferably bleached

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons butter, melted, plus 2 to 3 teaspoons butter for coating the pan

In a blender or food processor, blend the eggs, milk, water, flour, salt and 2 tablespoons butter for 5 seconds or until smooth. Stir down and repeat if necessary. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours.

When ready to cook, gently stir the batter if it has separated. Heat a 6- or 7-inch nonstick crepe or frying pan over medium-high heat until hot. (For larger crepes use a 9- or 10-inch pan). Coat the pan lightly with butter.

Lift the pan from the heat and pour in 2 or 3 tablespoon of batter for the small pan or ¼ cup for the larger pan, tilting and rotating the pan to coat the surface.

Cook until the crepe is almost dry on top and lightly browned on the edges, about 1 minute.

Loosen the edges with a heat-resistant spatula and flip the crepe using fingers or the spatula. Cook on the second side for about 15 seconds.

Remove from the pan onto a clean tea towel to cool. Repeat with the remaining batter.

Cover the crepes with aluminum foil and keep warm in a 200-degree oven. Or, wrap them in plastic wrap and place in a self-sealing bag. Refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 2 months.

Servings • 6-18 small or 10-12 large

Source: Crepes: Sweet & Savory Recipes for the Home Cook —

Sausage and mushroom crepes

8 (6- to 7-inch) savory crepes, cooked

10 ounces chicken-apple or Italian turkey sausage

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 green onions (white part only) finely chopped

3/4 cup (6 ounces) chopped Portobello, shiitake or cultivated white mushrooms

1 egg or 2 egg whites, slightly beaten

3/4 cup (6 ounces) ricotta cheese or fresh goat cheese, room temperature

1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded Gruyère or Jarlsberg cheese

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 teaspoons minced fresh tarragon or 1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon

1/2 cup dried cranberries

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.

In a saucepan, cover the sausage with water and poach in barely simmering water for 10 minutes or until cooked through. Cool and then skin the sausages and shop coarsely.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Add green onions and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes. Add mushrooms and sauté until heated through, about 1 minute. Remove from pan to cool.

In a medium bowl, combine egg, ricotta, Gruyère, garlic, tarragon, sausage, cranberries and sautéed mushrooms and green onions.

Spoon ½ cup of the filling in a ribbon down the center of each crepe and roll up. Arrange in a greased baking dish, seam sides down. Brush with remaining 1 tablespoon oil and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

(If making ahead, cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Allow crepes to come to room temperature before baking.)

Otherwise, bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until heated through. Serve immediately.

Servings • 4

Source: Crepes: Sweet & Savory Recipes for the Home Cook —

Problem-solving tips

Too many bubbles • Batter was beaten too long at too high a speed. Let it stand longer before baking.

Lacy patterns • Batter may be too thin. Mix 1 to 2 tablespoons flour into batter.

Edges are crispy and tend to crack • Pan is too hot. Decrease heat. Or batter may be too thin; whisk 1 to 2 tablespoons flour into the batter.

Small holes in crepes • Use more batter to completely cover bottom of pan.

Batter is curdled like scrambled eggs • Too much butter or oil in the pan.

Batter refuses to coat bottom of the pan with ease • Batter is too thick. Mix 1 to 2 tablespoons milk or water into the batter.

Source: Crepes: Sweet & Savory recipes for the Home Cook.

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