As someone who likes crêpes, I looked forward to tasting them in the country that made them popular. And when in France, I particularly looked forward to tasting them in Brittany or tasting those made in the Breton style given the tradition that this northwest region of France has made out of crêpes. As it turned out, French crêpes, by and large only refer to crêpes with sweet fillings. So, what about savory toppings and crêpes in France?
Galettes look like crêpes but are strictly not called so. They are always made using buckwheat and tend to be darker, deeper in flavor, and crispier than a crêpe, and they are only served with savory toppings, the most common version being, galette complète, that has an egg with a runny yolk, and some ham and cheese.
While the traditional Breton galette is made from just buckwheat flour and water, it seems more straightforward and contemporary to use a combination that also includes either some wheat flour or eggs and milk or all three.
Here's a method to make galettes:
Wheat flour or eggs
In a bowl, mix three parts buckwheat flour to one part wheat flour along with some salt. Add about one to one and a half parts water to one part flour mixture to make a batter the consistency of cream. Beat the mixture with a wooden spatula for about five to seven minutes to develop gluten and a slightly gelatinous batter. Alternatively, the batter can be made using only buckwheat flour and no wheat flour, but with eggs - one egg for about half a cup of flour. Refrigerate batter overnight for water to incorporate into flour. Next day, bring the batter to room temperature, mix, and add water if required to make a flowing batter. Heat some butter in a heavy-bottom, preferably cast-iron pan at low heat. Pour about a quarter cup of the batter to the center of the pan and spread into a thin layer. Cook galette until the edges start to crisp and lift-up. Flip the galette and cook for a minute or so before serving them hot. If using toppings like in a galette complète, cook the second side for a shorter time, flip back to the first side, add toppings - and break the egg into center - fold edges to form a rectangular packet and cook at low heat until toppings are done.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat that gives wheat flour dough its elastic property when kneaded, and so, bread uses wheat flour rich in gluten whereas tender, crumbly pastry uses lower gluten flour. The protein, in contact with water forms a network that traps and disperses water molecules, in the process stretching itself, or in other words it incorporates water into the flour in a way that results in elasticity1. So, it would be interesting to know, how a batter with just water and buckwheat flour - that has no gluten – spreads into a nice thin layer on a pan, as seems to be the traditional method in Brittany? Until then, it helps to make use of the protein content of wheat flour or eggs when making the batter.
An allergic reaction to gluten is the reason why some people develop celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, the prevalence of which seems to be increasing in the general population, as also evidenced by the growing interest in gluten-free flour and gluten-free products. It has been shown that the worldwide incidence of gluten-intolerance ranges from 0.5% - 1%2. While genetics plays a role, there appears to be a correlation between a diet rich in gluten and increased incidence of gluten-intolerance. For instance, people in northern India who have relied on a wheat-rich diet for a long period of time unlike those in the south who tend to eat more rice, have a higher incidence of gluten-intolerance than their southern counterparts2. So, is it important to balance diet with different grains?
Sarrasin in French refers to buckwheat, and according to the Larousse French dictionary, in the Middle Ages it referred to the Muslim people presumably indicating the Middle-eastern origin of buckwheat in France. There is a sense of simplicity that seems to accompany galettes: the few ingredients required for its preparation; the way it is served – with minimal savory accompaniments, like just butter; the way it is eaten - unlike in the rest of France, this dish is eaten with an accompanying drink of cider, not wine; where it is eaten – galettes are enjoyed as street food just as much as in a sit-down meal; and, the ease with which its main ingredient can be grown – buckwheat grows rapidly and efficiently in soil conditions that are considered generally poor.
In France, the word galette refers to many culinary creations – it literally translates to something round and flat – however, in Brittany, the word takes a distinct meaning.
Given how sharply and uniquely, history and geography have shaped the tradition of galettes in Brittany, and given the fact that galettes in Brittany seem just as popular as crepês if not more, it is puzzling then as to why there are crêperies that serve crêpes and galettes but no galetteries that do the same, even in Brittany. Not to mention, the French festival, La Chandeleur that on the second day of February, celebrates crêpes but not galettes.
The crêperie La Maison de Joséphine in Rennes, Brittany shows support by sharing this blog post on its Facebook page: https://fr-fr.facebook.com/pages/La-Maison-de-Joséphine/148550388516233
1. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGhee
2. Celiac disease: Prevalence, diagnosis, pathogenesis and treatment by Gujral N, Freeman HJ and Thomson ABR in World Journal of Gastroenterology, 14 Nov 2012, 18 (42):6036-6059