You may not know it yet, but there is a resident Francophile at 2 Cooks. When Phoebe suggested that our nascent French speaking group celebrate the French holiday Chandeluer, a holiday that involves crepes, I was intrigued.
I did a little internet research on the holiday, which is based on the Christian holiday known to Anglophones as Candlemas that takes place on February 2nd. It basically has to do with the presentation of Jesus at the temple and the purification of the Virgin Mary. Somehow, the French have translated that into a good luck holiday featuring crepes! The idea is that each guest cooks a crepe and must flip it using their non-writing hand while holding a piece of money in their writing hand. If they flip it successfully they get good luck for the year. People are also supposed to keep a crepe in the cupboard for the year to ensure their luck.
Phoebe, who celebrated this holiday while she was living in France, also explained that the hosts make the crepe batter and the guests bring the crepe filling. The idea was so fun that it grew and instead of limiting the fun to our francophone circle, we decided to invite our friends and make a night out of it.
So, Chandeleur Brooklyn-style was created. True, it took place in late February, but who doesn’t need a little more light, luck and crepes in New York in February? I sent out an invitation instructing guests to bring the filling of their choice, savory or sweet, and let them know that active participation, ie. flipping their own crepes, was an important part of the event. Then I watched Julia Child’s French Crepes 1 and 2 from early episodes of “The French Chef” to study up on technique (available on Netflix, sadly not on Youtube!). Despite what more modern cookbooks claim, Julia was adamant that you don’t need a special crepe pan and that a good, non-stick skillet will do. In anticipation of the party I found a great Calphalon non-stick 10″ skillet at Century 21 for $19. Sweet.
Knowing that some guests could not eat dairy products, I found two crepe recipes, traditional and vegan, and had two frying pans going at the party, one dairy and one dairy-free.
Traditional Crepes (from thanks to Mark Bittman):
1 cup all purpose flour
1 1/4 cups milk, more if needed
2 Tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
The morning of the party I put all the ingredients into the food processor and turned it on until they were well blended (a few seconds). I added a little extra milk so that the mixture would be thin and pourable. Then I poured it into a bowl and let it sit covered in the fridge. Letting the batter rest at least an hour is key to good crepes, as it allows the wet ingredients and the flour to blend. For the party I initially tripled the recipe, but when that wasn’t enough Cheryl and Nate were nice enough to make a late night egg and milk run and I admit, I cut the resting time a little bit short.
Vegan Crepes (with thanks to the Vegetarian Epicure)
1 Cup Chickpea Flour
1 Cup All Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoon Salt
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Cups Warm Water
Blend ingredients together and let rest. You can also use a whisk if you have no blender or food processor.
Thoughts on cooking crepes
I won’t give a full on crepe tutorial but here’s a few tips:
While Julia Child suggests cooking your crepes in butter, I used canola oil cooking spray and it worked great. Less greasy, less messy and non-dairy as well.
Make sure the pan is hot and that you don’t use too much batter. Swirl your batter around after you pour it in to get a nice round crepe.
Wait until your crepe is cooked all the way through (aka it’s “dry”) to flip it.
Fill and eat immediately, yum!
I was worried I was going to end up with 13 jars of Nutella and nothing else, but fortunately, our friends are a creative bunch and thought of some fantastic flavor combinations. The entire table was set up with plates for guests to set their filings on and I also left counter space with a cutting board and a knife on it so guests could do any prep they needed.
Marisha came over early and SMH gave us a cooking lesson on making a bechamel sauce recommended by her mother. It was over the top delicious and very French as it may be vegetarian, but it was loaded with dairy.
Mushroom and Swiss Bechamel (with thanks to Marisha’s Mom)
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
1 Cup Heavy cream
Grate your cheese and set aside.
Saute mushrooms in olive oil and set aside.
Melt the butter and then whisk in flour, stirring constantly for about 3 minutes until the flour is cooked and the mixture turns tan. Whisk in the milk a little at a time. Whisk vigorously until the mixture thickens then stir in the cheese until it melts and then the mushrooms. Add salt and pepper to taste. Heavenly.
Chickpea Curry (with thanks to L.J. and the Vegetarian Epicure)
3 cups [pressure] cooked chickpeas and reserved liquid (Or just use canned)
1 tbs butter or oil
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp cayenne
3/8 tsp ground cloves
3/8 tsp cinnamon
3 cloves minced garlic
1/3 tsp ground ginger
salt to taste
lemon or lime juice to taste (I used half a lime)
chopped cilantro to taste
Melt butter/margarine (or heat oil) in saucepan over low heat and stir in spices.
Drain chickpeas from pot/pressure cooker, saving liquid, and return to pot. Stir in spice mix and enough reserved liquid to just barely cover them. Mash a few beans with fork or masher.
Cook over medium heat for about 20 minutes or until sauce thickens. Remove from heat.
Stir in lemon juice, throw on some cilantro. Taste and correct seasoning.
Other filling flavor combinations that were winners
Goat cheese, arugula and tomato
Strawberries, nutella and creme fraiche (or vanilla cream, or whipped cream)
Walnuts, sour cream and brown sugar (Phoebe’s favorite)
As an educator by trade my favorite thing about the party, besides stuffing myself with crepes, was that everyone really got into making their own crepes. It can be hard to facilitate participatory cooking activities, but once I demonstrated to a few guests how to properly cook and flip a crepe everyone began teaching each other and it became a great social activity for the evening. While I was prepared for a fun party, Chandeleur Brooklyn exceeded my expectations and was truly a memorable fete. We plan to host it again next year, perhaps even on the correct date!