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The truth about crepes by a French woman

If you are here to get the best recipe for crepes - you’re in the wrong place.

If you are here to understand why everybody is writing about crepes today and learn everything about the holiday La Chandeleur (on February 2), you’re also in the wrong place.

So, before you decide to continue reading or not, here’s what I am going to tell you in this post: as a French woman, I’ll tell you how crepes are an intrinsic part of the French food culture and also of daily life in France. Interested?

No recipe, no explanation

So, as I said, I’m not here to deliver the best recipe of the “pâte à crepes” (the crepes batter), and even not mine. If you’re looking for one, just google it. For example, mine is a derivative of my mother’s recipe, which I adapted throughout the years, and I honestly can’t say it’s the best one in the world. But I like it, and I know it by heart. Some may not like it because it doesn’t include any sugar. Yes. You are reading correctly: there isn’t any sugar. But keep on reading, and you’ll understand the reason why.

So, no recipe here. No explanation about the Chandeleur either, and the origin of this holiday, which is less a holiday today than a good excuse to make crepes at home. At least, in my opinion. So here again, if you are curious about this Chandeleur thing, google it. And if you are interested in French holidays - and food - have a look at my article about the galette des rois for the Epiphany.

What I will try to explain to you, and that you can’t google, is how crepes are such an essential and intimate part of French daily life.

I haven’t read studies about this, and I don’t even think there are studies about it. And, scientifically speaking, I am not sure that the results of me asking my family and friends if they all make crepes at home would be really valid. But, I’ll take the risk and declare, here, to all of you, that EVERY FRENCH PERSON has a recipe for crepes batter and knows how to make crepes.

Crepes are part of the French landscape

It’s less a question of genetics, but rather a matter of tradition, of heritage, of regular, simple food made once a month in every French family. And since French kids have been eating crepes from their early days, and then have been participating in the process of making crepes, they all know how to do it. I’m not saying everyone is a chef. But I guess it’s like cooking an omelet, or maybe, as I imagine life in the US, baking cookies. There’s a chance I’m completely mistaken, but I have this fantasy about American families where each one has a recipe for cookies and bakes a batch once a week.

whipped cream and chocolate crepe
Pic: Austin P on Unsplash

Well, in France, it’s the same… but about crepes. If you’ve never lived within a French family, you might think that crepes are this sweet and delicious street food you buy at a booth, you know, in a little cardboard holder. You imagine we usually eat crepes outside, on the go, unless we order a fancy one as a dessert in a restaurant. I guess you see it as chic, exclusive, original, occasional.

crepe in a home pan
Pic: Philippe Murray Pietsch on Unsplash
But in reality, crepes are part of everyday life in France.

After all, you only need flour, eggs and milk (and sugar for some people). It’s something you can easily improvise. You don’t have to plan it, make a list, go to the grocery store and free three hours of your time. Everyone has flour, eggs and milk at home. And it only takes a few minutes to prepare the batter. And on the opposite of what you might think, we don’t need a fancy crepe maker, just a pan (of course, it’s better to have a flat one, but a regular one does the job). In less than 30 minutes, everyone is sitting at the table with a pile of crepes in the middle, looking forward to feast.

I remember when in high school I used to go eat at my friend’s place during lunch break, and although her mother had planned some healthy regular meal, we would decide at the last minute to make crepes: prepare the batter, make crepes and eat them in less than an hour to be able to go back on time to class. And it really wasn’t a big deal.

Today, when my son asks me to make him crepes, out of the blue, I don’t have any problem with it, because I know it will take me 5 minutes for the batter, and some more time to actually cook them, but I’ve always enjoyed standing up in front of the stove and flipping crepes. (I know, this part may not be fun if you are alone in the kitchen while all the others are eating, but it’s like at a barbecue, when you are in charge of the meat and some friend joins you to chat in front of the grill). So, you got it - having crepes for the afternoon, the famous French goûter (the afternoon snack), or in the evening, as an improvised cheating dinner, is really part of daily life.

Salty and sweet

Another important fact is that crepes are not always sweet. I guess you associate it with Nutella, whipped cream, salted caramel, ice cream etc. But when a French family decides to have crepes for dinner - yes, I said dinner! - then they get one or two salty ones - that means a crêpe with something salty in it (ham, cheese, fried egg), and then a sweet one for dessert. Maybe more. Don’t make a face - I can assure you salty crepes are really tasty! And by the way, that’s the reason why I don’t put sugar in the batter - because I use the same one for both kinds of crepes!

If you’ve ever traveled to France, you may have seen “crêperies” on the streets.

Crêperies as for restaurants of crepes, not that little open booth. You can actually sit there, and have a full meal made of crepes. You’ll start with a crêpe with Bolognese sauce, or smoked salmon and goat cheese, or onions and mushrooms inside. Not only that, but you will drink cider (not hot cider, cold cider!). And there are only crepes on the menu - possibly a green salad if they are nice people (you know, lettuce with vinaigrette). But that’s it. I actually recommend you to visit the Bretagne area, there you will find hundreds of crêperies because it is the specialty of the region. But even in Paris or other cities throughout France, you may find some.

plain simple crepe
Pic: Mockup Graphics on Unsplash

Of course, in restaurants, the crêpier (the chef) has a better recipe than mine, and the batters for salty and sweet crepes are not the same. At home, we keep it simple. As I said, salty crepes are usually with ham, cheese, and sometimes a fried egg. As for the sweet ones: don’t even imagine the big Nutella/Banana/Whipped Cream/Almonds crepes.

At home, we prefer them simple.

At home, we prefer them simple: sugar, jam, Nutella, crème de marrons (chestnuts purée). As for me? Well, my favorite one is a plain crêpe, on which I just add a tablespoon of sugar and a drizzle of lemon juice. I know, not really healthy. But anyway, crepes are not supposed to be healthy. They are supposed to be easy and fun to make, simple and tasty. That's how we like them in France.

N.B.: By the way, it’s crêpes in French, with the little hat on the “e”.

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