01 February, 2010

Of candelabras and crêpes.

I love pancakes, from sour cream-topped Russian blinis (not the store-bought travesties) to American buttermilk and oat flour flapjacks drizzled with Grade B maple syrup; from paper-thin Italian crespelle to filled Vietnamese bánh xèo to spongy Ethiopian injera (torn and dipped with the right hand only); from Dutch mini kiddie poffertjes showered with powdered sugar to enormous pannekoeken with all the savory or sweet trimmings; from the dark, very filling buckwheat galettes of Brittany, in the north, to the paler, more refined crêpes, sold at any carnival and most street carts across France. I love pancakes.

It is perhaps no surprise that a day just for pancakes, to me, seems highly logical. In France, February 2nd is la Chandeleur, the day for crêpes. The name is derived from the word chandelle, or candle, as these are lit for this holiday. It is the last of the festivals around Noël, and so this is also the day that the crèche (nativity scene) is put away in the Provence. I wrote last year about some of the other origins, both pagan and Christian, of la Chandeleur.

While I'm on the subject, there's famously also Mardi Gras, whose counterpart in Anglo countries is Shrove Tuesday (from the verb to shrive, or to obtain absolution through confession and penance). Mardi Gras is the day before Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of Lent (during which, for forty days one gives up something desirable and perhaps even fasts). Accordingly, the rich perishables--eggs, milk, butter--historically needed to be consumed beforehand. Ergo, pancakes.

I have collected, as you might imagine, (way too) many pancake recipes. Friends, family and strangers on the street have been kind enough to share their favorites with me. But my stand-by crêpe recipe is from the Petit Larousse de la Cuisine, which is the starter/standard reference for French cooking. Pff: there's no background story to relate, no whispered exchange of portions or unusual additions, no chance meeting with an exalted chef, it is just a basic recipe from page 972 that has never let me down. If you want to make savory crepes (say, sprinkled with Gruyere cheese), simply omit the vanilla and liqueur flavoring. If you'd prefer a sweeter batter, take a look at Parisienne Clotilde Dusoulier's recipe on her Chocolate & Zucchini blog. She also helped develop a "crêpes 101" page at Martha Stewart's site if you'd like a refresher in pan technique...Happy Pancake Day!
Pâte de Crêpes Sucrée/Dessert Crêpe Batter

For 500g of batter (serves 4 or more, as these are quite thin).

2 organic eggs
10g organic butter (about 1 scant tablespoon)
100g flour, white/all-purpose (about 1 cup gently filled, not packed, please)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2.5 dl organic whole milk (1 cup)
1 tablespoon liqueur, such as rum or Grand Marnier (optional)
1/2 vanilla bean, or two teaspoons vanilla extract (optional)

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Mix the eggs in a bowl. In a separate large bowl, sift the flour and salt then add the eggs. Pour in the milk, thinning it with 2-3 teaspoons of water. Lastly, add the melted, cooled butter and the liqueur and/or vanilla. Allow to rest at room temperature (and this really is worthwhile!) at least one hour, preferably two. Just before using, thin with an additional teaspoon of water.


  1. You are a good teacher. I frankly didn't know bergamote came from an orange. (I thought it was some kind of herb).
    I have a basic recipe for crepes, and it never lets me down. My son adores crepes, sprinkled with some sugar.

  2. I'm always interested in context, it's nice to know others are as well! Actually there IS an herb that Americans call bergamot (also referred to as bee balm), so you're not mistaken. It just isn't in Earl Grey.

  3. Hi, other expat blogger! I saw you on Rose's blog! In a few weeks it is Waffle Day in Sweden, a pun for Ascension Day. I did not know about pancake day/ candlemas thing in France.

  4. Thanks for visiting, SL! Waffles--almost anywhere almost anytime--are also a very good thing. Mmm. I once went dog-sledding (leading a pack of VERY keen dogs by myself) in Sweden. This is not something for the faint of heart, but as a result, if I think of Sweden, I think of stands of birch, wooden houses, and being violently thrown off a dogsled and landing face-first in serious snow.


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