Brittany, Home Of the Crêpes

Brittany, Home Of theCrêpes

By Marie Nicolas

Buckwheat flour,fromwhich galettesare made of,was introduced in Francecenturies ago. Of Asian origins, buckwheat – sometimes called black wheat,was brought back from the crusades in Europe and spread its seeds in a few French regions. The seeds were however found to be growing best in Breton soil thanks to Brittany’s temperate climate.

It is said that the Bretons – people of Brittany, would not have survived the 15th century famine if it weren’t for the Duchess Anne of Brittany.She apparently insisted that buckwheat seeds were to be planted all over the region bringing a life-saving boost to thepeople. Buckwheat flour was then mixed with water and a bit of sea salt and spread on a hot round iron plate called billig in Breton language. Before the era of electricity and bottled gas the billig rested on a small tripod and was placed above a wood fire. My mum often told me that she saw her own grandmother making crêpes and galettes this way. This is how the art of crêpes making survived, passed down from mother to daughter for generations.

Once known as the meal of the poor because they were first eaten as bread, galettes bretonnes are today world-famous. The hand down process operated so well thatthe recipe travelled around the world, making crêpesBrittany’s most famous culinary export over the years. Todayit is not unlikely to come across a crêperieamong other local restaurants in Tokyo, Sydney or Buenos Aires. Why such a success? After all, crêpes are made in their own version everywhere in the world regardless of their flour base: they are called tortillas in Latin America, chapatis in India, rotis in Malaysia or pancakes in North America. But why do crêpes bretonnes win over so many hungry tummies? Surely the recipe being very simple and the filling options being endless have something to do with their success…

The art of filling

“Une complète s’il vous plait!” Here is something you will only hear in a crêperie. A complète means a savoury galettestuffed with a fried egg, a slice of ham and shredded gruyèrecheese. And your meal will indeed be complete! Thecomplète is the most common order for savoury crêpes thoughyou also have an extensive range of other ingredients to fill your savoury crêpes with. While modern times bring new tendencies in galette stuffing -sausage, tomato, mushroom, goat cheese or scallops and cream, my grandmother’s favourite remains a mere paper-thin buckwheat flour galette consumed with cold fermented milk, just the way she used to eat them when she was a child. The crustier and thinner the better!

In Rennes, the capital of the Brittany region, thegalette-saucisseis the city’s pride and joy: a hot sausage wrapped into a galette and eaten like a hot dog. Very popular in any festival and local market, a song has even been created by the fans of the Rennes football team and became a true anthem!

As for regular white wheatdessertcrêpes, fillings go from a typical beurre-sucre (butter and sugar) to nutella, jam, honey, fresh fruit, any kind of ice cream or salted caramel spread, another ofBrittany’s specialty. To top a crêpesmeal, a strong-dry apple cider is traditionally served in a small bowl called bolée.

For those of you who expect me to revealmy recipes here, I am sorry to disappoint you but they will remain a family secret. I can however give you a helpful tip-off: the key to any delicious crêpe or galette would be….heaps of sea salt butter! Anyone who is willing to taste an authenticcrêpe bretonne needs to know this. A true Breton will highly disapprove if he or she feels like you haven’t used enough salted butter for your crêpes.Yes, even for the sweet ones.

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