La Chandeleur: the festival of crêpes

Driving west from Normandy into Brittany, while dairy continued to be a treasure, it was more common to hear of butter than cheese. And, it was much easier to find salted butter than the unsalted variety.  Historically, when France imposed a high salt tax on much of the country, Brittany was exempt1. Before refrigeration, it was also hard to preserve butter unless it was salted, raising the question, to what extent did history influence the tradition of salted butter that Brittany is so famous for?

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Butter is a main ingredient in making crêpes, one of Brittany’s most famous dishes, and, each year on the second day of February, France celebrates La Chandeleur or the festival of crêpes. The ingredients for crêpes are basic: salted butter, milk, flour and eggs. Here’s a basic method to make crêpes.

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Gradually incorporate flour into eggs with a wooden spatula. Melt butter in warm milk and add gradually to the flour and egg mixture to make a thin batter. Let the batter rest, and then using a thick-bottomed pan, on low heat, brushed lightly with clarified butter, add enough batter to spread into a thin layer. Cook till the edges lift-up easily. Flip and cook until done.

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Talking to a friend from Paris it did not take long to agree that it was easy to find good crêpes in Paris, however, it was emphasized to me that Montparnasse, is the area in the city that is particularly known for crêpes. Gare Montparnasse, is the only train station in Paris that sends and receives trains to and from Brittany.

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From La Maison du Beurre, Saint Malo, Brittany

 

1. Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky.

 

 

10 thoughts on “La Chandeleur: the festival of crêpes

  1. Jeff

    What a lovely and interesting story! You've inspired me to think about seeking out a crepe tomorrow in honor of La Chandeleur. Hopefully they will look and taste as light and delicious as the ones here.

    Reply
  2. nirmala

    It was interesting to learn salt was used as preservative for longer shelf life in days before refrigerator was invented.

    I am sure Pavithra will remember having had fruit crepes at Red -e at Harrington road. Brings back memory of having got back home and tried out the recipe as shared by the Chef at Red-e, a fine spread of fresh cream on the crepe cut into semicircle , filled with finely cut freshfruits/canned fruits and carefully making a cone out of it

    The best crepes I have had were what you made when I visited both of you. I recall how patiently you spread the batter with the special double sided wooden spoon and made mouthwatering mushroom crepes!

    Reply
    1. Bala

      Thank you. Crêpes do seem popular in many places around the world each with their own variation. Growing-up, I don't recall having eaten crêpes in Madras (though, I remember tasting other French specialities), so, is Red-e a specific example, or have crêpes in general become more popular?

      Reply
  3. Liz

    MMM Crepes are a tradition in my family. It was the first recipe I memorized-- I used to make my parents breakfast in bed.

    What is the black spotted item in the first picture?

    Reply
  4. Shrutika Sankar

    Lovely,

    Those crepe's look amazing. Question though how does utilizing salted butter differ from using butter and then adding salt (or before adding salt?)

    Reply
    1. Bala

      A few thoughts to answer your question:

      1. With enough time salt has the property of extracting water which might affect texture and concentrate flavors in butter.

      2. When added to butter that is being kneaded the salt probably incorporates better.

      3. In making salted butter an artisan probably uses time-tested proportions of a particular salt that best extracts the flavor of butter.

      To me, the difference between good salted and unsalted butter is most obvious when tasted at room temperature, as is, or on a piece of good plain bread. I also think good butter sprinkled with a few flakes of good salt is quite good on bread.

      If you'd like to read more about this topic, please let me know and I'll post a link to an article that you might like.

      Reply
      1. Shrutika Sankar

        Sorry for the long await on the reply.

        Yeah I would love to see the links! Also thanks for the idea of testing the difference on buttered bread- that's something I can do.

        Reply

I look forward to reading your thoughts...