I believe that this time of year is for planning holidays… I can’t blame you really; if you lived in a country like ours, having our fair share of wind, rain and snow that is never really over until the end of March or even April, you’d be thinking of sunnier shores. Saying that, and while you are behind your computer, you might want to check Brittany out; not only you would make an excellent choice of destination, but you will also realise first hand, what global warming is all about… You see, Brittany has been plagued for years with a reputation of a cold, windy and very rainy country… I blame the Parisians. When it is cold and miserable in their beautiful city, I’d rather be on the Atlantic coast and get a full blast of South Westerlies while looking at a demented sea. Sadly, it is no more – or not as much- temperatures have risen, frost and ice are a rare occurrence, there is a vineyard on the outskirts of Quimper, and yes, you might get the odd shower… Sometimes. But this is the least of your problems…. And I want you to be prepared, that’s all!
The storm has come and gone, all is still and quiet, time to get out there. Breakfast is very important to me, but recently I have been diagnosed with I.B.S and I have to give up bread and even coffee. It sucks a bit, but I am of the creative kind, not ready to let this inconvenience affect my favourite meal of the day. Porridge is great; you can mix a lot of things in it, fruits, nuts, even if it looks like a bowl of gruel straight out of a Charles Dickens’ nightmare, it is actually quite enjoyable if you can pass the visual hurdle. Eggs are good too, I love them, scrambled with a bit of cheese, but to be frank, I was missing something. I went back to my origins, where I found an answer in our traditional buckwheat crêpes. This is a quick version as I have to go to work and waking up at 6 am to make breakfast is just not going to happen. You can use this recipe for sweet or savoury, it doesn’t matter.
Ok, a bit of fun today for lunch, it is Friday after all! I am still in my Crêpes buzz, but this time savoury. This way is far from being the traditional way to serve “galettes” but who cares. It will keep for a few days in the fridge and you can use any toppings you want and in the oven it goes! Here we go.
From time to time, we all need a bit of gentle sweetness. For me, childhood food comfort comes in the form of Crêpes, savoury or not, but also apple compote my grandmother used to do by the gallons at this time of year. I brought some back from her garden last month, trees planted over 35 years ago, ideal for a breakfast treat. Here it goes.
One thing is for sure; in Brittany people do not need an excuse to eat crêpes or pancakes. Whatever you want to call them, we actually call them Krampouezh so (pronounce “Krampooz”). We have two types; the crêpes are for dessert and made with wheat flour, the “galettes” are savoury and made with the legendary buckwheat. It is easy enough to find Buckwheat flour if you check your local health food store. I have selected this recipe which is ideal for both sweet and savoury.
Hungry Breton Buckwheat Pancakes
- 375g of Buckwheat Flour
- 125g of white flour
- 50cl of milk
- 50cl of water
- A pinch of sea salt
- 1 levelled tsp of baking soda
The beautiful thing about buckwheat is that it doesn’t make any lumps while whisking. Take a large bowl for comfort, and put in the two flours together, the salt and baking soda. Give it a dry whisk to mix everything together. While whisking, add the milk and stir to a thick dough first, go on, show a bit of strength, you can do it! Keep whisking and add the rest of the milk, then the water. The secret now is to leave the dough or rather batter, to rest in the fridge for a few hours, ideally overnight.
The making is a bit tedious but so worth it at the end. In a bowl, mix some melted butter and a mild oil. Roll an old piece of material into a ball and tie with a bit of string. This is just brilliant! Oil a hot pan, and start the process. Pour the batter in the hot pan, and tilt quickly the excess back in the bowl for thin crêpes, leave it for thicker ones. Almost ready when you see a nice brown marble forming, time to flip, are you up for it? Otherwise, use a plastic spatula.
The topings are entirely up to you; this is the magic of crêpes. I used this time a roasted Italian salsiccia and thinly sliced sweet cabbage (come on, we are in Ireland after all!!!) that I braised in a good beef stock for a few minutes. A bit of butter before serving et voilá. For dessert, I had kept and froze some blackberries from the plentiful month of September 2014 that gave so generously. Stew them for a bit with a bit of water and sugar or honey, serve with a bit of whipped cream… Or, or, if you are feeling bold, you can always melt some 70% cocoa dark chocolate with a bit of butter or fresh cream, pour over the crêpe and put a DO NOT DISTURB sign on the door. Enjoy!
My mother’s short enough life didn’t get off to a great start. Thinking about it, it didn’t end like a fairytale either, unless you count some of the Grimm Brothers’ work she loved so much, on technicality it qualifies as one.
Born a couple of years after the end of the Second World War, life was tough for most. Beautifully illustrated in Jacques Prevert’s poem “Barbara”, Brest had been levelled by the allies, as well as Lorient, the city where she was born. Raised by her grandmother, her own mum had gone for a brave fresh start in Paris. To make ends meet, my great Gran made pancakes while my mother would deliver them, on foot or with her bicycle. Sometimes, I believe, people would even come in the kitchen of the small dwelling to enjoy the notorious crêpes. The stories of this small enterprise gave my sister and I great entertainment at bedtime; the little girl, who through hardship by selling crêpes with her grandmother, grew up to become a teacher.
Funny enough, rare were the times when she made them in the house; “it’s too messy” or “I don’t have time”, “maybe on Wednesday”… Never mind. Once a month at least, we went to the Crêperie; Italians gave the world Pizzerias, us Bretons, the Crêperie. That’s it. That is just the way it is, “get over it!”
My routine consisted of three crêpes, or rather one galette and two crêpes. Savoury, galettes were simply made with the nutty and wholesome buckwheat flour, trademark of the Breton cuisine. The most popular was with ham, cheese and egg; when one ordered, the waitress would ask how would you like your egg? “Brouillé” (scrambled) or “Mirroir” (mirror, meaning not scrambled I guess), either way, an absolute nightmare to pronounce for the English speaking visitor! Another popular choice was with scallops and leek fondue or a rustic sausage and braised cabbage; the surf and turf of our peninsula.
For dessert, it had to be only one thing. Dark chocolate sauce, make it two actually, uncompromisingly delicious and so rich! My father enjoyed his forth with gently stewed apples and flambéed with our local poitín called “Lambig”. We were too young for cider, even the mild stuff; well at least not in public; the odd time we might get a “go on then, just a sip”. This over indulgence often resulted in my complexion to rapidly turn duck egg green like, close calls but never deterred! “Until next time folks!”… Until next time.
This week was “pan cake Tuesday”; we have a similar day in Brittany but it is a bit earlier. Called Chandeleur, it has religious origins too, but takes place forty days after Christmas. It is said that one would toss a coin in the pan; depending on the landing, the year would be believed to be good or bad… Very native! I was in and out of the house to take some pictures to illustrate my little story. I sat in front of the fire, determined to eat the models that posed for the shoot. Even though I enjoyed it very much, I couldn’t help thinking: “This is like sipping on a pint of Irish stout at the terrace of a harbour bar in Lorient… Just not quite the same”.
Classic Breton Crêpes
Autumn is trying to come back, pointing its nose through my window. Time for the ultimate comfort food, perfect with the blackberries I gathered at the back of the house … If I have any left, as I can’t stop eating them, I might gently stew a few and pour over my Breton Pan Cakes!
- 250 g of Organic white flour
- 50g of melted butter
- 1 pint of milk (500 ml) or ½ Litre
- 4 large eggs
- 2 tbsp. of honey (or sugar)
- 1 pinch of salt
- 1 scraped vanilla pod (or a splash of vanilla essence)
- 1 tsp. of baking soda
I guess, like Brown Bread in Ireland, everybody have their own recipes, I have several hidden in books and note books, in safes, under the mattress… I like this one; I think it is as good as any.
In a bowl, place the flour, salt and baking soda and give it a brief whisk; it will help breaking the clumps, I don’t believe in sieving… (Us Bretons are like that, rebels and contrary to the max). In another bowl, whisk the eggs until homogenized. In a pan, gently melt the butter and the honey together. Back to the flour bowl, pour the eggs in the middle and start stirring gently; Little by little, add the butter and honey mixture, then start pouring your pint of milk. Gentle now! You should start getting a ribbon like texture, almost there… Cut a vanilla pod in half and scrape the seeds inside the mix. Give it another gentle stir and cover, in the fridge it goes for 45 min to 1 hour. It needs a rest. If you don’t have a vanilla pod or vanilla extract, pour in a bit of dark rum, my Mum used to put a dash in her Breton dessert… Very good too!
Ok, you’ll need a cloth, butter and a hot pan… Off we go! One ladle at a time, once it doesn’t stick anymore, flip the crêpe to the other side for a few seconds to a minute, in a plate, butter the pan again, and repeat the operation until you are out of Crêpe batter…
Enjoy with more honey, homemade jam, chocolate, stewed apples, etc., etc…