February 2nd marks La Chandeleur: the festival of candles. And there’s only one way to celebrate the last of the Christmas festivities – with a traditional French pancake. Sweet or savoury, it’s your choice!
While the religious meaning of the event is to commemorate the end of the 40-day purification period following the birth of Jesus, its wider meaning today is to mark the midpoint of winter. The round shape of the pancake is said to symbolise the sun, making it the perfect way to celebrate.
A brief history of pancakes
Practically every country around the world has their own version of a pancake, each with its own origin. In India, there’s dosa. In Russia, there’s blini. In China, there’s jianbing, and in the Netherlands, poffertjes. But France is, perhaps, home to some of the most famous pancakes in the world.
Yet despite the fame, tracing the origin of the French pancake isn’t easy. Some believe in the tale of the 13th-century Bretonne housewife who accidentally spilled porridge onto a hot surface. Others believe that pancakes have been around much longer, dating back to the time of Pope Gelasius I.
Wherever – and whenever – the French pancake developed, one thing’s for sure: it’s delicious. The only thing you have to decide is whether you want to whip up a French crêpe, a galette or both!
Crêpes vs. galettes
France is renowned for two types of pancakes: the crêpe and the galette. In stark contrast to fluffy American-style pancakes, they’re ultra-thin, made with just a small amount of batter. Crêpes are also made by combining flour with dairy products such as eggs, milk, and butter, though galettes use only buckwheat flour, water, salt and egg. In fact, crêpes and galettes are very different things.
Crêpes are super thin pancakes made with wheat flour, with some sugar added into the batter to make it beautifully sweet. In France, they’re served as desserts, and come filled with all sorts of tasty treats. A recent survey found that most French people prefer their crêpes topped with sugar, while spreads and jams, salted caramel, and chocolate are also hugely popular flavours.
Galettes are also very thin pancakes, but are made with buckwheat flour, making them a savoury alternative to crêpes. They can be served as a meal or snack, and can be filled with all sorts of foods, ranging from French cheeses to meats, vegetables, and even fish and seafood. Perhaps the most well-known galette filling is the classic ham and cheese, but the sky’s the limit.
Just to make things tricky, Brittany – often said to be the home of the French pancake – has a different way of looking at things. In some parts of the region, galettes are smaller, thicker pancakes, more like a blini. Both sweet and savoury pancakes are known as crêpes. Sweet pancakes may be called crêpe froment (wheat) or crêpe sucré (sugar). Savoury pancakes are known as crêpe sarrasin or galette. (buckwheat).