Cuisson á la Maison 09/12/2009Posted by brendan in La Vie en Paris, Leçons Culturelles.
Tags: bretagne, buckwheat, crêpes, cuisine, france, gelettes, paris
If you asked someone to name three French foods one response is guaranteed to be crêpes. These thin pancakes are as much a cultural symbol as berets, the Eiffel Tower and wine, and much more prevalent than questionable attire or hulking steel sculptures. Tormented views on class structures have prevented my early adoration, even after every third-rate coffee shop with a griddle began frying them up.
Paris is thick with crêperies, from fancy full service restaurants to over-priced stands crawling with tourists. Last spring Robin hauled our jet-lagged carcasses through the city streets and propping us up for vegetarian crêpes and cider. It was delicious, not horribly expensive and the proprietor talked about the organic origins of our meal.
More recently we celebrated Armistice Day by crowding Julie’s apartment and smearing Nutella everywhere, which was mostly disgusting. This second event coincided with Shannen’s arrival in Paris, jet-lagged and wide-eyed but sharp enough to pick up a box of crêpe mix for our house.
Experiments with French cuisine went shockingly well. Nothing was burnt, batter didn’t stain the floor, fillings gelled as though we knew exactly what we were doing. Beth dug through the fridge for cheese, spinach and mushrooms while Shannen relied on lemon and sugar, then Nutella and bananas. I was impressed and excited at the possibilities. Our kitchen rotates through a variety of dishes regularly but the foundations of rice, pasta, lentils and couscous can be painfully routine.
The box mix was fine, but between the inflated cost of packaged foods and a loathing for the packaging which presents them I thought it would be best to learn how to make the batter from scratch. We’ve got mixing bowls and wooden spoons, and the raw ingredients seem common enough. However I didn’t realize there’s an important decision to be made before hitting the store.
Crêpes originated in Bretagne, the historically Celtic region of northwestern France. One of the agricultural staples is buckwheat, a crop which flourishes in the difficult soil. In addition to several varieties of cake the Bretons created galettes, thin pancakes which could be filled with whatever was handy. The introduction of wheat flour resulted in a sweetened batter which was filled with fruits, honey or anything which could be considered dessert; these became known as crêpes. When wheat prices dropped and white flour was suddenly affordable, the batter became fluffier and the dish spread throughout the country eventually becoming as common as pizza is in America.
Julie had over-prepared for her Armistice Day crêpe party and we reaped the benefit of her overzealous cooking, making hearty meals the next day. Shannen’s box mix was most certainly flour-based, and while both were noticeably sweet the savory fillings didn’t suffer. However buckwheat has a high protein content with complete amino acids, is high in folate and B vitamins, and provides something called rutin which I’ve never heard of but supposedly helps your blood flow.
You can see the conundrum. Flour is common and cheap, but I haven’t found a large bag of buckwheat ready to blend. My immediate impulse is tradition or death, not wanting to sully my hands with some bastardized, Franco-fied variation of the recipe, but is it worth the additional time of searching and, presumably, higher cost?