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The History of Crêpes

Once upon a time...


Crêpes originated in Brittany (fr. Bretagne), in the northwest region of France, which lies between the English Channel to the north and the Bay of Biscay to the south. Crêpes were originally called "galettes", meaning flat cakes. The French pronunciation of both words is with a short e, as in a bed.

Around the 12th century, buckwheat was introduced in Brittany from the east. Buckwheat thrived on the desolate and rocky Breton moors and is called “Sarrasin” or “blé noir” (black wheat) due to the dark specs that are often found in it. Buckwheat is one of the plants of the Polygonaceae family, which also includes rhubarb and sorrel. It is high in fiber and is an excellent plant source of easily digestive protein and contains all eight essential amino acids. Another benefit is that it is gluten-free.

White flour crêpes appeared only at the turn of the 20th century when white wheat flour which formerly had been as expensive as sugar, honey or meat, became affordable. White flour crêpes are as thin as buckwheat crêpes but softer as a result of the eggs, milk, and butter used to make them.

Crêpe making has evolved from being cooked on large cast-iron hot plates heated over a wood fire in a fireplace to hot plates that are now gas or electric heater. The batter is spread with a tool known as a Rozel and flipped with a spatula. In Brittany, crêpes and galettes are traditionally served with cider.

Crêpes are popular not only throughout France but elsewhere in Europe where the pancakes go by other names and adaptations, including Italian crespelle, Jewish blintzes, Scandinavian platters, Russian blini, and Greek Kreps.

Savored for centuries, crêpes are celebrating a worldwide revival today and for good reason. Come, let us introduce you to our hand-crafted sweet and savory delights!

ANECDOTES:

- In the Breton town of Quimper they actually have a museum celebrating the history of crepes. It’s located (where else?) in Place au Beurre or Butter Square!


- The word crêpe is French for pancake and is derived from the Latin crispus meaning “curled”.’

Happy Crêpe day!


February 2nd 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 ‘masses exist and February 2nd is one such occasion.

In France, La Chandeleur, which is alternatively named la "Fête de la Lumière" or la "Journée 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 Ground 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 it 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!

If you don’t happen to be in Paris or France on this day of crêpes, be reassured, you can give it a go and bring a little French tradition to where ever you are today, as 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 and rotating your hand as your pour.

Suzette: Woman of History


The story opens at a restaurant called the "Café de Paris" in Monte Carlo in the year 1895. Prince Edward of Wales, son of Queen Victoria and future king of England, was a regular patron. One day he and a party of other gentlemen and the daughter of one of the men arrived for lunch. Fifteen-year-old Henri Charpentier, an assistant waiter, got called upon to serve them. One of the courses was crepes.
The crepes were precooked in the kitchen but the dish was completed by heating them in a sauce made from orange peel, sugar, and a combination of liqueurs in a chafing dish in front of the guests. Unexpectedly, the alcohol caught fire thus flambéing the sauce and serendipitously creating a new taste sensation. Edward and his guests were delighted and the Prince asked Charpentier what he planned to call his new creation. Charpentier offered “Crepes Princesse” but Edward, in honor of his guest’s young daughter, asked if he would name them Crepes Suzette, and hence, a classic was born. Charpentier went on to become a world-famous chef and publicized the story in his memoirs.
Charpentier’s tale is disputed by some and is not the only version of the origin of Crepes Suzette. A variation is that Suzette was not the daughter of one of Edward’s guests but one of the prince’s paramours. It is also purported that a chef by the name of Monsieur Joseph invented the dish for a German actress, Suzanne “Suzette” Reichenberg. Even this account has an alternative rendition. Apparently, there was a play running at the time in which a maid named Suzette was serving the other characters pancakes. Monsieur Joseph supplied the play with a daily allotment of pancakes.
A final account alleges that Crepes Suzette was created by a chef named Jean Reboux for King Louis XV at the bequest of Princess Suzette de Carignan, who was supposedly enamored with the King. It seems we’ll never know whether Suzette was a little girl, a prince’s mistress, an actress, a character in a play, or a princess herself.