As I predicted, moving abroad has its hurdles. I write this still awaiting my SIM card and with no bank account, not for the lack of trying. Administration in France is not easy at the best of times but add a pandemic and doors start gently closing with a perfunctory, ‘Désolé!’
Unlike French bureaucracy, that descending escalator I’m trying to climb, French eating and drinking is like sailing across the smoothest lake, a baguette in either hand. After this redundant bank appointment, Gaylord and I treated ourselves to pains au chocolat to ease that sense of helplessness. It worked. I feel much calmer.
Therefore, as I wait another week for this (swear word) SIM card I will think calming thoughts about French food.
So much of French cuisine is delicate – the fragile mille feuille and the melt-in-the-mouth macron (the biscuit, not the president); a soufflé is simply whipped air and the croissant is flaky folded pastry which breaks into shards with each bite. The crêpe is no exception.
Paper-thin and translucent, lacy and fine, the crêpe is France’s fast-food, made and filled to order. And that is when the delicacy disappears. The fillings.
Sweet or savoury crêpe?
Much like the crumpet, the English muffin, the tortilla, or any flour-based pancake around the world, crêpes can be crammed with toppings, sweet or savoury.
In the UK, our experience with batter goes a long way. We love Yorkshire puddings, toad in the hole, and of course, crêpes on Pancake day. Although batters are usually savoury for us, the idea of absconding from Nutella in favour of a savoury crêpe is certainly more French than British. We will never say no to a crêpe full of molten cheese, but add a fried egg and there’ll be a few raised eyebrows.
The Savoury Crêpe – A Complicated History
Ok, so apparently this is a tense topic.
Crêpes originated in Brittany apparently as long ago as the 13th century. It is still the home of the famous crêperies, however, there is regional divide which complicates matters.
In a few areas there are the traditionally assumed terms – the savoury galette and the sweet crêpe – while in others it is sacroscant to call both sweet and savoury a crêpe. Meanwhile, in Breton in south Brittany, they cook the buckwheat pancake – the galette de sarrasin.
When we lived in New Zealand, Gaylord would have spontaneous moments of crêpe making (do all French people do this or am I just lucky?) As we tucked into crêpes scented with vanilla and rolled with Nutella, he told me about the traditional savoury galettes of Breton. They are famous around France and while he was growing up in Paris, his mum would make these dark-toned pancakes which he would eat with anything – cheese, ham, egg. French crêperies serve the buckwheat galettes with endless varieties of toppings – cream, chicken and onions, or your own crêpe burger (which I might avoid, personally).
The other day, we ate them full of Emmental, ham and an egg, it’s bright yolk peeking through, like the sun on a cloudy day. Through the folded galette, Gaylord stabbed the yolk (slightly aggressive and murderous – like holding a pillow over a face) but then the yolk was a rich sauce filling the lacy casing.
How to make a galette de sarrasin
Ahhh the recipe… finding the ‘traditional’ recipe is a tricky business; much like the term ‘galette’, the recipe is equally as disputed and I don’t want to be responsible for any regional disagreements, guys! Some areas keep it straight-forward – sarrasin flour, water and salt. Others add an egg, others add milk, all for a bit more richness. After a little chill out in the fridge, it has the unhelpful habit of thickening which a practised crêpe-maker can notice immediately. Gaylord normally adds extra water at this stage to ensure the batter is the perfect consistency to swirl around the pan. Otherwise, your final results will be claggy and limp, a bit like a wash cloth.
Oh, and the frying pan, a good non-stick item, shouldn’t be too hot otherwise it will burn on impact, or too cold and your galette will require repeated flipping. Even David Lebovitz, pro chef and fellow Francophile, held up his hands in surrender to the galette de sarrasin. It is a recipe which destroys confidence in all cooking ability.
So with that, here is the recipe!
See it as a challenge. And a taste of France on a cold November day.
Jousting with the French administration system means I can reward myself with a galette de sarrasin (or I’ll ask Gaylord to make me one), maybe with extra raclette cheese and some crispy herb potatoes because I really need calming.
Galette de sarrasin – Buckwheat pancake
Gaylord Sztulman’s recipe
Makes 500g of batter
- 100g sarrasin flour
- 2 eggs
- 300ml milk
- A pinch of salt
- 1 tbsp flavourless oil
- Egg, ham, cheese, cooked onion, fried potatoes etc.
- Sift the flour into a large bowl. Beat the eggs together with the salt.
- Make a well in the centre of the flour and pour in the eggs. With a wooden spoon, gently stir the flour into the eggs until incorporated.
- Pour in the milk, a little bit at a time, and beat with each addition to create a smooth mixture. Continue until all the milk is added. Pour in the spoonful of oil and beat again. Cover the bowl with cling film and rest in the fridge for at least one hour.
- Check the batter – if it seems thick, add a little water to loosen. It needs to be thicker than a normal crêpe batter, approximately the consistency of Heinz tomato soup.
- Set a non-stick frying pan over medium high heat. Pour a little flavourless oil onto some kitchen paper and brush it around the pan. Bring the pan to temperature, then, with one hand, pour in a ladleful of batter and with the other swirl the frying pan, spreading the mixture to the edges.
- Cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Check the underside – if there are patches of chocolate brown it is ready to flip. As the new side cooks, quickly crack in an egg on one half of the surface. Using a fork, break up the thicker white so it cooks quickly. As it cooks, add your favourite toppings and finally some cheese. Close the galette and slide it onto a plate.
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