Allyson Gofton cooks crepes, the snack food of the French
The concept of eating between meals — at least in my area of France — is pretty much unknown and, indeed, rather frowned upon. You eat three meals a day and in between you may, though more likely will not, take a coffee or tea, which will not come accompanied with a muffin, scone or slice of banana bread.
Snacks are pretty much non-existent, and eating on the street is considered rude — unless it is … a crepe. Creperies appear at weekly markets and most fetes, where the queue to buy is always long.
Large crepes, cooked while you wait, are served fresh and sweet, stuffed with creme Chantilly and chocolate sauce, summer fruits, sugar and lemon or, for a really French taste, smothered with Nutella, the reigning queen of preferred crepe fillings in France.
France consumes one quarter of the world’s Nutella —about 100 million pots per year. Their consumption of this sugar and fat-laden spread (its first two ingredients are sugar and palm oil) is an intriguing contradiction, given the strictness of their habitually lean daily diet.
Nonetheless, almost all French children’s preferred tartine (toast) topper or crepe filling features Italy’s famed chocolate and hazelnut spread, even though these two ingredients make up roughly only one-fifth of the total (hazelnut 13 per cent, cocoa powder 7.4 per cent).
Boulangeries will often have a basket full of freshly made crepes for sale beside their daily bread selection, and hungry artisans, caught between meals, will grab a few, roll them up and eat them as a snack without additional fillings. At weekend markets, children can be seen running around with half-eaten cold crepes in hand; seemingly the only snack you can acceptably eat in public.
Crepes feature particularly on two festival days, Le Chandeluer on February 2, marking the rising of the sun from its winter slumber and, Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, the last day before the parsimonious period of Lent begins and which we know as Shrove Tuesday. Many clubs wanting to raise money run crepe stalls at village markets — the sausage sizzle has definitely not made it here yet!
Whereas the English cousins’ pancakes are fluffy, textured, raised affairs, crepes are unleavened, thin, golden and lacy. The once basic recipe of flour, eggs and milk (water can also be used to make them crispier) is now enriched with browned butter and flavoured with the intoxicating “arome pour crepes”.
This flavouring, sold in litre bottles, can be a fragrant blend of caramel, vanilla, orange and orange blossom water or it may have an alcoholic note from the inclusion of rum. It’s a pantry staple, more popular than vanilla, ready to be added to the snack food de rigueur a la Francais.
To achieve tender, lacy crepes, the batter must rest for at least 30 minutes, though one-two hours is even better. During standing time, starch grains burst thickening the batter, as well as giving the gluten time to rest, thus ensuring tender crepes. Do not beat the batter after standing and before cooking as the gluten, which is like elastic, will tighten again preventing the batter from cooking into tender golden crepes. Get the recipe