February 2 is Crêpe Day in France, or as they call it, La Chandeleur. I believe the English call today Candlemas, which is a new holiday for me. I might be showing my lack of Christian knowledge here, but until I recently read Austen’s Persuasion for the first time, I didn’t know there was a Michaelmas in late September either. I sort of always thought Nicholas, or I suppose Christ, was all alone when it came to ‘mas days.
Alas, I sit corrected. Other ‘mases exist and today is one such occasion.
In France, la Chandeleur, which is alternatively named la Fête de la Lumière or La Jour des Crêpes, has its roots in the religious celebration of the official presentation of baby Jesus. But the day is celebrated throughout the country with the making and eating of crêpes. Much like Groundhog Day in North America, la Chandeleur is traditionally a day of seasonal prediction. The saying goes, “Rosée à la Chandeleur, hiver à sa dernière heure.” If there is due at dawn on Candlemas, then winter is almost over.
What la Chandeleur means on a familial level, to little French children and French families all over the country, is a bit more gastronomic perhaps even superstitious than meteorological – it’s all about crêpes. The story goes, if you successfully flip your crepe in the air with a coin in one hand and the pan in the other, your family will be prosperous in the coming year. Bonne chance!
Now, crêpes are in themselves a sacred French tradition which are enjoyed throughout the year. Originating in the North West part of the country, in Brittany, crêpes like their side-kick Cider, are about as typically French as Foie Gras, a crusty baguette or Cassoulet. Interestingly, French food is as diverse within the country as it appears unified from outside. Each region of France has its own specialities. But today we are focusing on Brittany. And crêpes & cidre in particular.
The history of crêpes is even older than France itself. With origins that trace back to Biblical times when a batter of flour and water was very thinly poured over a hot stone, crêpes have survived a Roman invasion and a Revolution. In North America, they even gained a few pounds and we called them pancakes.
Traditional crêpe batter is a cinch to make – 2 cups flour, three eggs and 2 cups milk (and you’ll need some butter to grease the pan). You can fill a crêpe with whatever your heart desires, but French tradition calls for ham and grated cheese for dinner and sugar and butter (which caramelize together, yum!) for dessert. On the streets of Paris, a vendor favorite is Nutella.
In Paris, la rue des crêperies is a small area behind the gare Montparnasse near the metro Edgard-Quinet, line 6. One of the best streets is called rue du Montparnasse; look for Les Cormorans, Crêperie de Pont Aven, or La Belle Ronde on neighboring street rue Daguerre.
If you don’t happen to be in Paris or France on this day of crêpes, we’ve put together a Homemade French Crêpe video so that you can give it a go and bring a little French tradition to where ever you are today.
Making crêpes is ridiculously easy. Yet as with everything in the kitchen, there are a few tricks. First of all, make your batter in advance; let it stand for at least an hour before making your crêpes. Second, make sure you whisk the flour and eggs together with the milk (this is to avoid clumps). And third, make sure your pan is nice and hot before you pour on the batter very thin, rotating your hand as you pour.
On that note, here’s the video. Hope you enjoy the accent! Subtitles in English!
And, of course, Bonne Chandeleur à vous tous!