Crêpes for prosperity and happiness?February 8, 2010
February 2nd was not just the Day of the Sonogram. In France, it is La Chandeleur, better known as Crêpe day. (So I’m a little late with this post having been sidetracked last week by babies and dogs.)
Before it became crêpe day, however, La Chandeleur was a Roman celebration during which the Romans walked the streets by night waving candles in honor fo their god Pan. In the 3rd century the celebration was Christianized by Pope Gelase who organized candlelight processions of believers to the village church in celebration of Christ’s being presented in the temple 40 days after his birth. Years later, the peasants got it into their head that if they didn’t make crêpes on the Chandeleur, all the wheat would go bad. Thus, La Chandeleur became the day of making and eating crêpes and somewhere along the way the religious celebration of the day became lost.
Crêpe making comes with its own superstitions and traditions. The most important is the tradition of the golden coin. This one was definitely one I had to try. So for the afternoon gouter, the girls and I tried out the crêpe tossing tradition. The first crêpe made on February 2 must be flipped holding the pan in the right hand while holding a golden coin in the left hand. For lack of a golden coin, I held a gold colored 50 centime coin in my left hand so already I was one point down. The next step was really the big issue. If the flipper successfully lands the crêpe flat in the pan the person will have happiness until the following year. Raphael wandered into the kitchen just as I was preparing for the toss and flip stage of the crêpe making. Observing my lack of technique, he insisted he show me how to do it properly. First you need to slip a spatula around the perimeter of the crêpe to loosen it. As it fully cooks, the crêpe will loosen on its own and it’s ready to be flipped. Raphael got it flat on the first try. Then to show off he flipped it back. What kind of luck does one get if the crêpe lands half over the side of the pan, sticks to the pan and when you try to remove it, rips in two? It’s a good thing I don’t believe in superstition.
But that’s not all. The first crêpe is not to be eaten. After a successful flip, the gold coin is rolled inside the crêpe and the entire family must somberly proceed to the master bedroom where the crêpe, with gold coin, is placed on the highest armoire until the following year. The remains of the previous years’ crêpe, after the rodents and crawly bugs have had their share, are tossed in the garbage and the gold coin is given to the first poor person to pass through the door. No matter how much the girls wanted to make this procession to my bedroom, I was not about to leave a piece of food on top of my dresser for a year, with or without gold coin. It’s bad enough I periodically find various pieces of cookie and other undistinguishable food items in corners of rooms, under cushions, in shoes (don’t ask), a present from a child. If all these rituals are followed, the family is guaranteed to have money all year long.
Crêpes are not just a treat to be enjoyed on February 2nd. In Paris, and other cities, Crêperies are like a crêpe café, small restaurants that specialize in, well, crêpes. Salty crêpes are filled with egg, ham and cheese. Sweet crêpes, the kind eaten on La Chandeleur, are filled with anything from simply sugar or jam to Grand Marnier and even maple sirup (although I haven’t yet found a really good maple sirop in France). Here in the south, a popular filling is crème de chatagne, a rich chestnut cream often mixed with vanilla. But by far the most popular filling is Nutella, a nutty chocolate spread.
And so begins a month of crêpe eating.
Pate a Crêpe
About 2 cups flour (If the batter is too thick, add a tablespoon or two of water at the end)
1 tsp salt
1 Tbls vanilla extract and 2 Tbls sugar
2 cups milk (For a richer batter use 1 cup milk and 1 cup liquid cream. For a lighter batter use 1 cup milk and 1 cup water. But really, if you’re going to eat crêpes anyway, go for the richer batter.)
1 Tbls melted butter
1 Tbls oil (anything but olive)
In the south, we also add a splash of orange flower water, eau de fleur d’orangier.
Put all the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Add the eggs and beat with a whisk. Mix all the liquid ingredients (except the orange flower water) in a separate bowl. Slowly whisk the liquid mixture into the dry mixture until it is smooth.
Refrigerate the batter for at least one hour but the longer the better. It will thicken up slightly. This is a good time to d the orange flower water or rum or water if you prefer.
While there are special crêpe pans, a skillet works perfectly. Pour a little oil, about a tablespoon and a half to two into the pan and spread around the entire bottom with a paper towel. This removes any extra oil. Between each crêpe, rub the oily towel on the pan. Make sure the pan is very hot before you begin making the crêpes. Use a soup ladle to pour the batter into the pan then immediately twist the pan around until the batter covers the entire bottom. It might take one or two crêpes before you get the right amount to batter into the pan for the perfect thickness.