La Chandeleur | February 2

 

crepezOne of the pleasures of writing and cooking for this blog has been discovering the common threads between familiar holidays and those we’d never heard of before. Our next culinary celebration is a perfect example: La Chandeleur, or Pancake Day, in France.

La Fȇte de la Chandeleur is another post-Christmas holiday, falling exactly 40 days after December 25th, and it is a kind of mashup of Groundhog Day and Epiphany. Its name comes from the French word for candle, chandelle, making it another much-needed winter celebration of light, and its English name is Candlemas. The food of the day is crȇpes, the delicious thin pancakes that can be eaten either sweet or savory. As with Groundhog Day, La Chandeleur’s superstitions revolve around the weather: “Si la chandelle est belle et claire, nous avons l’hiver derrière,” or “If the day is pretty and clear, winter is behind us.” If there’s snow on the ground, another 40 days of winter are in store. Also, if you hold a gold coin in your dominant hand and flip your crȇpes with the other, you’ll guarantee a year of good luck.

The French take this day pretty seriously, handing out hundreds of crȇpes at schools. Since our children won’t be getting those during their school day, it seemed like a lovely opportunity to serve them for dinner–and dessert–this evening.

For some inspiration, we paid a visit to our local crȇperie, The Fox & The Crȇpes, named after The Fox and the Grapes, the Aesop fable from which the term “sour grapes” originated. But no sour grapes here, just delicious homemade sweet and savory crepes prepared to order. We opted for one of their signature crepes, The Windsor, a Banh mi-inspired crepe stuffed with shredded chicken, pickled carrots and daikon, cilantro, mint, cucumber and sriracha mayo. We can’t wait to try this one in our own kitchen.

foxcrepeinterior

The basic recipe for crȇpes is simple, and endlessly variable. The hardest part is perfecting the technique, but if you’re willing to throw the first few out, you’ll get the hang of it. Like all skillet foods, these are best fresh out of the pan, but you can certainly make a stash while you’re at it, then reheat later in the oven in a foil-covered dish. We’ve made buckwheat crȇpes, or galettes, in the past, with smoked mozzarella, ham and a quivering egg in the center, though for today’s recipes we opted for a dessert option: Apple Caramel Crȇpes. Whatever version you choose, accompany them with some hard cider, preferably from Brittany, if you want the full French experience.

In part because our buckwheat galettes aren’t especially photogenic, we’re also giving you an amazing and much prettier Italian crȇpe variation for a main course: manicotti, from Jeannine’s grandmother’s recipe. These are delicate crepes filled with ricotta and spinach, then smothered in tomato sauce.

 

manicotti5

Manicotti

This dish made frequent appearances at Jeannine’s family’s holiday table, since a celebration that didn’t start with a pasta course, preferably with red sauce, was pretty much out of the question. But the “pasta” here is actually a quickly made crȇpe that makes this dish light as air. We make the tomato sauce from scratch, but feel free to use store bought if you are short on time. Serve two crȇpes per person as a main course or one as a starter.

For the sauce:

3 tbs olive oil

1 medium onion chopped

4 garlic cloves, minced

2 28-ounce cans of tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)

1 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

freshly ground black pepper

fresh basil, chopped

 

For the crepes:

2 large eggs

1 cup milk

¼ cup water

1 cup flour

3 tbs melted butter

pinch of salt

 

For the filling:

1 lb. fresh ricotta

1 large egg

¼ cup grated parmigiano reggiano

½ cup chopped fresh spinach

½ tsp salt

1 cup shredded mozzarella

pinch of nutmeg

Make the sauce

Heat oil in a large saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and garlic, stirring until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, salt, pepper, sugar and simmer, uncovered for about 30 minutes. If using whole tomatoes, break up with back of spoon or potato masher. Add fresh basil, season to taste with salt and pepper.

Make the crȇpe batter

In a blender, combine all of the crȇpe ingredients and blend for about 10 seconds. Place the crȇpe batter, covered,  in the refrigerator while you make the filling. The batter will keep for a couple of days stored this way.

Make the filling

While the batter chills, combine all the crȇpe filling ingredients in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to assemble manicotti.

Cook the crȇpes

Remove batter from fridge and stir briefly. Heat butter (enough to coat bottom of pan) in an 8-inch nonstick pan over medium heat. Pour about 3 tbs of batter into pan, lifting and swirling batter to evenly coat the bottom of the pan. Cook for about 30 seconds or until underside is lightly browned, then carefully flip and cook for another 30 seconds or so. Transfer to plate and make another 8 or 9 crepes with remaining batter. Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Assemble manicotti

Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce in baking dish. Spread 3-4 tbsp of filling down the center of the crepe. Roll it up and place seam side down in baking dish.

manicottistep

Repeat with remaining crȇpes and filling, arranging crȇpes snugly in a row in a dish. Spread some more sauce and freshly grated parmigiano over the manicotti then bake for 30 minutes or until the sauce is bubbling and the edges of the crepes start to brown.

Serves 4 as main course or 8 as first course.

applecrepes
Apple Caramel Crepes

We adapted this recipe from one served at The Fox & The Crepes, a cafe in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn. Be sure to use a crisp apple that will stand up to the cooking. We like Granny Smith or Mutsu.

For the crȇpes:

2 large eggs

1 cup milk

¼ cup water

1 cup flour

3 tbsp melted butter

1 tbsp sugar

 

For the apple filling:

4 apples

2 tbsp lemon juice

½ tsp cinnamon

2 tbsp butter

2 tbsp sugar

 

For the caramel sauce:

4 tbsp butter

⅓ cup light brown sugar

¼ cup corn syrup

⅓ cup heavy cream

1 tsp calvados (optional)

In a blender, combine all of the crepe ingredients and blend for about 10 seconds. Place the crepe batter, covered, in the refrigerator while you make the apples and caramel.

Make caramel sauce

In a small saucepan combine the butter, brown sugar and corn syrup. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for a couple of minutes then add cream and calvados (if using). Simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

Make apple filling

Peel, core and slice apples. Place in sautee pan with lemon juice, butter, sugar and cinnamon. Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes.

Make and assemble crepes

Make crepes in small nonstick pan following directions from previous recipe. To assemble, spoon warm apples into center of each crepe and fold both sides over it. Drizzle caramel sauce on top. For dessert, serve with vanilla ice cream.

Serves 4

 

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