Monday, February 2, 2009

C'est la Chandeleur: let's eat crepes!

February 2nd is Groundhog Day in the United-States, but in France, we celebrate La Chandeleur. Say the word "chandeleur" to a French person and they will think CREPES, bien sur! Yes, Chandeleur is the day we make crepes in France! Or as Juan and I like to call it, "Crepe Day".

Beyond being a day to make crepes, La Chandeleur (or Candlemas) is a very old celebration, dating back to the Celts and Romans. For Christians, it meant marching in a candle procession to celebrate the presentation of Jesus at the Temple and the purification of the Virgin Mary - chandeleur is derived from chandelle, which in French means "candle". (I have to be honest, I had to look up the real meaning of La Chandeleur).

One tradition of eating crepes on La Chandeleur lies in flipping the crepe, carrying the pan in the right hand, while holding a coin (preferably an old Louis d'or coin) in your left hand. It is said to be a good omen for wealth for the coming year. 

Now that we all feel smarter, we can move on to the crepe eating part. In an earlier post, I had told you about my love for crepes. It's that kind of thing that I usually make once a year (well I also treat myself to crepes from a cafe or a stand when visiting back home). I love making crepes. I make the dough ahead - it's better if it rests in the fridge first - then prepare my fillings on the table for everyone to help themselves to, and the flipping begins!

Let's talk hardware before we go any further. I have made crepes in a regular pan before but I strongly encourage you to invest in a small non-stick crepe pan, like this 8'' one. Your crepes won't stick and the whole process will go that much smoother. They do sell bigger crepe pan sizes, but I own a 8'' one, and to me it's just the right size for homemade crepes. The crepes you can buy on the street in France are usually much bigger but I can assure you the taste will be the same and it will be faster for you to make. I use my crepe pan several times a week and for many purposes other than crepes: individual omelettes, scrambled eggs, small sauteeing jobs...  

Now as far as fillings, the classic ones are sugar (my favorite), Nutella (heaven on earth) and fruit preserve. You could flambe it (with Grand Marnier) and make it a crepe suzette, or fill it with bananas or strawberries and whipped cream, or even spread sugar and squeeze lemon juice over it. Honestly, let your imagination run wild. Juan made himself a peanut butter and jelly crepe this weekend. I thought it was okay but he loved it. 

I wanted to introduce you to the savory version of crepes. There's no limit as to what you can put in a salty crepe either: ham, prosciutto, cheese (Brie, Camembert, Mozarella, Gruyere), mushrooms, spinach, bacon, chicken... I'm very simple when it comes to my crepe fillings - sugar or Nutella for the sweet ones, and ham and cheese for the savory ones. 

When I make a batch of crepe dough, I usually put all the ingredients except sugar and rum and divide the dough in two. I keep 1/3 for the savory crepes in one bowl and the rest for the sweet ones in another bowl. I then add my sugar and rum to to the batch for sweet crepes. 

Crepe dough (recipe for sweet and savory crepes)
Makes about 15 crepes (8'' diameter)

2 cups of flour, sifted
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups + 2 tbsp of whole milk
1 pinch of salt
1 tbsp sugar (for sweet crepes only)
1 tbsp rum (for sweet crepes only and optional)

Measure the flour into a bowl and add the eggs. Stir and add the milk and the salt. Make sure there aren't any lumps, cover with a plastic film and refrigerate for 1 hour. 

When you are ready to make the crepes, prepare a small bowl with 2 tbsp of vegetable oil, along with a piece of paper towel on a small plate, crushed in a ball or a heat safe silicon pastry brush. Take the dough out of the fridge and whisk.

Very lightly oil the pan and heat it on medium - and make sure it's really hot, that's very important! Pour 1/4 cup of the crepe dough into the pan and quickly lift it and swirl it to cover the bottom of the pan. Cook on medium heat, until very lightly tanned. Check every now and then by lifting a side. Flip it to the other side using a spatula and cook until tan / light brown. I usually know my crepe is done when I see small dark spots on the last cooked side (see photo above). 

Repeat the same process and make sure you lightly oil the pan between each crepe.

Transfer to a plate and eat or cover with foil until all the crepes are done. To fold the crepe, either simply roll it, or fold it in half and then half again (closely resembling the shape of a triangle).

Ham and Cheese Crepes (serves 4):

2 tbsp of butter
2 tbsp flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 pinch of nutmeg
1 cup milk
4 crepes (they can be made in advance, it's okay)
4 slices of good quality ham
shredded swiss cheese
shredded mozzarella cheese

Pre-heat the oven to 350 F degrees. Let's make the Bechamel sauce (white sauce). Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Add the flour and stir until combined. Cook for a minute. Add the milk and whisk constantly, until it thickens. Add the salt, pepper and nutmeg. If you think that the sauce is too thick, add a splash of milk. Reserve.

Inside each crepe, lay a slice of ham, spoon 1 to 2 tbsp of the Bechamel sauce, sprinkle with swiss and mozzarella cheese, roll the crepe or bring two ends to the middle. Lay in an oven safe dish. Repeat for each crepe. Spoon some more Bechamel sauce over the crepes and sprinkle with a little more cheese. Put in the oven for about 10 - 15 minutes or until the ham is warm and the cheese has melted. 

Serve along with a green salad. Enjoy!


Anonymous said...

Laetitia, thanks for the reminder, I just whipped a batch of dough tonite after reading your post so I can make crepe for breakfast tomorrow. It's been a while since I have made crepes. With some homemade cherry jam as well as lemon & sugar, we are set.

I do not have a non-stick pan. I don't like them at all. But I do have several well-seasoned cast iron frying pans, and they work perfectly for crepes and omelettes and really anything. I use them practically every day (and they also keep your wrists strong).


Hallie Fae said...

Yum crepes are so good. I'm not sure I'd attempt them at home but this is a great recipe!

L. said...

Well, celebrated the Chandeleur a week earlier, and it was the day I went into labour! I did take my time and enjoy my crepes and stuffed myself since I knew it would be hard work to give birth! Anyway, there's nothing better but crepes for a nice breakfast and it's so versatile that I do not see how anyone would not like it! I remember that when I was an au pair in London, I had to make TWO huge bowl for the three kids -kids or crepeaholics I don't know- I was looking after! So tell me about being good at making crepes! And I love the little black spots too [remember the name we gave those?]
Happy chandeleur!

Anonymous said...


Bonne Annee

I was asking for Suggestions on best places to buy Crepes Pans in the US on 'Serge the Concierge' and segued into La Chandeleur and found your piece which I mentioned.
I took the liberty to use your picture as an illustration.

A bientot

'The French Guy from New Jersey'