02 February 2009

It's French pancake day

It's crêpe day in France, La Chandeleur. That's Candlemas Day in English. The origin of the feast day is supposedly the presentation of baby Jesus at the temple by Joseph and Mary all those centuries ago.

There's picture of a crêpe
right on the cover of the cookbook.

For some reason, people in France eat crêpes — little thin pancakes — on this day. There's a whole ritual. You are supposed to hold a gold coin in one hand as you cook the pancake, and then flip the pancake in the pan to turn it over. If you are successful, you and your family will be prosperous for the coming year.

If, however, you manage to throw the pancake out of the pan when you try to flip it, you are supposed to leave it where it lands, undisturbed. For a year! If you move it, you risk bad luck for the rest of the year.

Around here, this would not be a problem. The crêpe would have to be stuck to the ceiling for Callie not to find it and gobble it up in a flash.

Another legend says you are supposed to put the first crêpe you make (which is never a very nice one, because they pan hasn't heated up thorougly and evenly yet) in a kitchen cabinet and keep it for a year. If you do that, you will have a good harvest in the fall. Maybe we should try it, given our sad vegetable gardens and poor harvests of the past two years.

Here's a recipe for crêpes from one of the handiest cookbooks I have. It's called Cuisine pour toute l'année, by Monique Maine (1969). Make them, any day. They are very simple to do, and you can put sugar and lemon, jam, honey, chocolate, or other fillings in them.

I just read on French Wikipedia that in Mexico people eat tamales on Candlemas Day. That sounds good too. In the U.S., today is Groundhog Day. Do groundhogs eat crêpes? I bet they would if they got the chance.

Here's a translation of the recipe:
Crêpes for Groundhog Day

For 12 pancakes: 5 oz. flour, 1 egg, 1 cup milk, 1 cup water, 1 tsp. vegetable oil, 1 pinch salt, 1 Tbsp. rum.

Put the flour in a bowl and add the egg and salt. Start stirring with a wooden spoon and gradually blend in the milk and water until you have a smooth, fairly liquid batter. Then stir in the oil and rum. Cover the bowl and let the batter rest for two hours.

To speed things up, use two pans, preferably specially designed crêpe pans. Brush the interior of the pans with oil. Get them good and hot and then put a ladleful of batter in each pan. When the pancake is browned on one side, flip it over with a spatula and brown the other side.

It's best to eat the crêpes as you make them, without waiting. If that's not possible, keep them warm on a plate over a pan of simmering water.

Serve the pancakes with sugar, jam, or with sugar and a squirt of lemon juice.

To make savory crêpes, make the same batter but omit the rum.

What the recipe doesn't tell you is that you need to swirl the batter around in the pan before it sets up so that the whole inside of the pan is covered in a thin layer. Use a non-stick pan.

Make the crêpes very thin. You can put them on a plate, one right on top of the other, and they won't stick together. Keep them warm, covered, in the oven.

And when you serve them, sprinkle on sugar or spread on a thin layer of jam and then either fold the pancakes or roll them up.


  1. Oh yum! That made me hungry. I've never made crêpes, but I'd love to try. Your recipe looks great.

  2. UK's pancake day is on Tuesday 24th Feb..I have never heard of Candlemas day...it is the Christian Festival of Light.

  3. That's interesting: I never realised France made Candlemas into a pancake day. Ours in the UK is Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras), and associates the pancakes with eating up all the good things before Lent and its fasting (some hopes these days) - and they're traditionally eaten with lemon and sugar. In some places, they still do pancake races (running along, flipping a pancake in a pan as you go), which probably tells the French all they need to know about British attitudes to food.

  4. It seem that, originally, it was a Celtic rite.
    As usual the Catholic Church highjacked a pagan tradition and repackaged it to its own needs. I think Chandeleur can be associated with the festival of lights.
    I don't know if the Druids had non-stick [non bâton?] pans to make crêpes, though.

  5. Ken

    Enjoy your crêpes. For us in NA, bad news:The famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, saw his shadow, predicting the winter will last for six more weeks.

  6. Hi Cousin, I'm sending FedEx some SoCal sunshine to cheer you up in Toronto. I'll have my crepes for lunch. Yummy!

    My word verification is samisho. Is that a new Japanese delicacy?

  7. "It's best to eat the crêpes as you make them, without waiting. If that's not possible, keep them warm on a plate over a pan of simmering water."

    I think it is impossible in our house for a crepe to go uneaten long after it leaves the griddle!

    What an interesting tradition. I hope groundhogs eat crepes. They'll see their shadow today in Virginia and will need the extra plump to survive 6 more weeks of winter.

  8. Bonjour Cousin

    Unfortunately Montreal gets more snow than Toronto and colder too. We have run out of space to put the snow that we have cleared from the driveway and path leading to the house. So we are going vertical :-) and we have to be careful when we pull out from the driveway.

  9. Bonsoir Cousine,
    My mistake. For some reason I thought you lived in Toronto. Montréal is much better! I'm sure FedEx will reroute that piece of sunshine I sent you this morning. The snow will melt "comme par enchantement".


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