Now you’re (Nu)tell(a)ing me, there’s a scientific way to make great crepes?

A modern French take on a classic tragedy: You see a beautiful crêpe in a restaurant, soft, thin, perhaps full of Nutella. You think to yourself “Oh! It shouldn’t be too hard to make this at home, what’s the worst that could happen?” You go to the store, pick out your ingredients, and set out to make those crêpes. The result? It’s okay, but it’s just not perfect.

In search of the perfect crêpe, researchers in New Zealand and France teamed up to unmask the secrets to these ultrathin pancakes. The answer, they found, lies in fluid dynamics.

Crêpe batter is not unique among liquids, but the process of cooking crêpes is a rather complicated display of thermodynamics. Immediately after the batter is poured onto the hot pan, it begins to cook, and thus begins to solidify and become more viscous. The end result? One part of the crêpe is overcooked, the other undercooked.

See, as the batter cooks, it gets thicker and thicker, making it harder and harder for the batter to flow on top of the pan. By developing a computer model that takes the pan’s orientation, temperature, and thickness into account, the researchers were able to come up with a method that maximizes a uniform thickness on the pan.

Based on their calculations, the best way to evenly spread the batter on the pan is to immediately tilt the pan to the side after the batter hits the hot pan. Then, while the pan is still inclined, rotate it in a circle so the batter is distributed across the entire area of the pan. After all the holes are filled, you can put down the pan and let it continue cooking before flipping to the other side.

In the video above, we attempted to replicate their technique (using this recipe from BuzzFeed). While we aren’t master crêpe chefs just yet, their tips certainly helped us step up our crêpe game!

While we can confirm crepes are a tasty test subject, the applications for this research span far beyond the culinary industry. In the future, their idea may be used to improve chocolate manufacturing, the coating of surfaces, or the production of thin elastic shells. For now though, we certainly appreciate their delicious results.
–Lissie Connors & Phoebe Sharp
Lissie Connors (@LissieOfficial) covers social media and writes about science in a slightly snarky manner for APS and PhysicsCentral. This fall she’s moving to the Pacific Northwest to study geochemistry and challenge Bigfoot to a rap battle.

Phoebe Sharp (@phee_sharp) is the editor of the Physics Buzz blog, curating goofy puns and overachieving science topics. She is starting her Ph.D. in Physics Education Research in the fall and aims to finally crochet an appropriately sized sweater before next summer.

Further Reading:

You may also read these articles