Just this morning I was speaking with a friend about our current cold wave and he said “It looks like an Impressionist painting outside.” He is right, the air is misty with cold, and suffused with delicate roses and blues here, soft yellows and violets there. I don’t remember such cold, and I don’t remember quite such texture of light either. It is impossible not to think of Claude Monet’s Cathedral of Rouen paintings each time I look out the window. I wish you could all be here to see it.
In the French kitchen it’s time for crepes and La Chandeleur, the Festival of Light, which is traditionally celebrated today, February 2nd. Originally, this date was an end of winter celebration, for right about now (in normal years when it isn’t so cold) farmers begin to work the soil. The crepe, it is said, symbolizes a healthy wheat harvest; its shape makes allusion to the sun, and to good luck and fortune for the year.
For us, the crepe symbolizes deliciousness and a crepe meal is always a fete. I’ve already mixed up the batter for buckwheat “galettes,” the nutty, thin crepes from Brittany, which I’ll stuff with ham and cheese and serve piping hot. I’ll make a few that are simply brushed abundantly with butter, sprinkled with minced shallots and a dusting of fleur de sel, and if anyone wants an egg in their galette, they’ll get one.
I’ve also got batter for white flour crepes, which we’ll have for dessert. Our fillings this year? A tasty blend of peanut butter and honey (the American influence!), Something a Lot Like Nutella (see recipe below), red currant jelly, butter, freshly made apple compote, sugar and freshly squeezed lemon juice. While the buckwheat galettes come to the table filled, I set a stack of crepes in the center of the table surrounded by bowls of filling, and everyone rolls their own!
It’s too cold to work the soil, but it’s never too cold for crepes! Vive La Chandeleur.
Sweet White-Flour Crepes (French Farmhouse Cookbook, Workman, 1996)
1-3/4 cups 230g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2-1/2 cups (625ml) milk
1 tablespoon Vanilla Sugar (optional)
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon clarified butter
1. Sift the flour and salt together into a bowl, and make a well in the center. Add 1-1/4 cups (310ml) of the milk and all the vanilla sugar, and gradually whisk the flour into it. Add in the eggs one at a time, whisking just until they are blended. Then, whisk in the remaining milk. Let sit for 30 minutes.
2. Heat a 10-1/2 inch (261/2cm) crepe pan over medium-high heat. Brush the pan with some of the clarified butter, and using a 1/4 cup (60ml) measure, pour the batter into the center of the pan. Quickly turn and shake the pan until the batter coats the bottom. Let cook until the crepe is golden and beginning to curl at the edges, about 1-1/2 minutes. If the crepe is cooking too quickly and getting close to burned on the bottom, reduce the heat slightly. Take the edge of the crepe in your fingers, or lift it using a wooden or plastic spatula, and gently pull the crepe up. Turn it over and continue cooking until the other side is slightly golden, 30 seconds. Repeat with the remaining butter and batter.
3. Place the crepes on a plate and keep them warm in a very low oven, covered with a cotton tea towel. Or serve them as you take them from the pan.
1-3/4 cup (235g) buckwheat flour
2-1/4 cups (560ml) water
2 large eggs
½ teaspoon sea salt
1. Place the flour in a medium-size bowl. Slowly whisk in the water to form a smooth batter. Then whisk in the eggs and the salt Whisk vigorously for several minutes, until the batter is smooth and the ingredients are thoroughly combined. The batter will be quite thin but elastic. When you lift the whisk it will drop off in “ropes.” You may use it immediately or let it sit for up to 2 hours. If you let it sit, whisk it before using.
2. To make the galettes, follow the instructions for making crepes, only let them cook a bit longer.
About 10 galettes
SOMETHING A LOT LIKE NUTELLA
Nutella is that sinfully rich chocolate and hazelnut spread that Mr. Pietro Ferrero, Italian candy magnate from Piemonte, Italy developed after World War II. Only he called it Gianduja, and it wasn’t until many years after he developed the recipe that the mixture was mass produced, and put in everything from giant, 2 pound jars to tiny, one-portion tubs and sold the length and breadth of Italy.
Mr. Ferrero apparently developed the spread in response to the post-war chocolate shortage, in an attempt to make what he could get stretch further. Originally, nutella was sold in a block, like Velveeta, ready for slicing and slapping between two pieces of bread, for a sandwich (what a fantastic idea!!!). The rest is really history.
About 2 cups (500ml) nutella like mixture!
2 cups (300g) hazelnuts, toasted, skinned, and finely chopped
3/4 cup (90g) confectioner’s sugar
1/4 cup (40g) unsweetened dark cocoa powder (such as Scharffenberger’s cocoa)
2 tablespoons canola oil or more if necessary – optional
1. Place hazelnuts in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Process until the nuts make a smooth paste, which will take some time, about 10 minutes. Add the powdered sugar and cocoa powder and process again until all the ingredients are thoroughly mixed. Add the pinch of salt, process, and if the mixture is very dry, add the canola oil while the machine is running. Taste for seasoning. If the mixture is very warm, let it cool completely before transferring it to a jar and sealing it. The nutella will keep for about one month in a cool, dark spot.