It’s funny isn’t it, how one of the best British traditions is actually French? Maybe only the Brits and the French will see the irony of this because, well, we hate each other. In a brotherly-sisterly kind of way. We often get offended by the other’s behaviour and stop talking to them for a while. We say catty things behind each other’s backs. But then, when push comes to shove and one of us is invaded or something, the other will be the first to charge in the defence brigade. And so, I found out the French have a Pancake Day too – La Chandeleur – and oh yeah duh, my Pancake Day is a day of eating a lot of French crepes. Commonalities with your truest enemy is disconcerting. (By the way, did anyone else know that the British motto is in French? We really should update that.)
Anyway, what with all this Frenchness surrounding a beloved day on the British calendar where adults and children alike delight in making all sorts of pancakes, I’ve decided to throw aside my dignity and make caramel beurre salé for my crepes this year. Could anything be more French?
It also doesn’t hurt that caramel beurre sale slathered all over a crepe really is quite delicious.
Caramel Beurre Salé
Hear me out: Nutella in a crepe has had its heyday. I know, I know, I like Nutella as much as the next guy and a Nutella crepe from a little creperie stand in Paris, yes, is a mouth-watering, chocolatey handwarmer, but please, it’s time we all move on.
Which is why I am here flaunting a pot of caramel beurre salé like I’m on one of those home shopping channels. I made three batches of it in the last couple of weeks. The first crystallised (naturally), the second was far too dark because I wasn’t paying enough attention, and the third – just like for Goldilocks – I found to be perfect. So perfect indeed that I couldn’t keep it for crepes alone. Once I grew bored of spreading peanut butter on a rice cracker as a mid-afternoon ‘healthy’ snack, I simply dipped that polystyrene excuse of a wafer in the jar of caramel beurre salé. Oooh yeah, caramel beurre salé can make anything taste delicious. Even a non-entity of a food like a rice cracker (we urgently need to do a food shop).
Caramel beurre salé tore up the internet a few years ago but you’ll probably know it better by its name in English: salted caramel (or a literal translation, salted butter caramel). I hope I don’t come across as too pretentious by using its French name, dear reader. It’s just, I have no excuse, I want to don my beret and purse my lips in that disapproving way the French have mastered. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery as they say. I can almost feel the indignant ‘Bahhhh!’ pushing at my lips as if there’s a little French person in there eager to set straight anyone who dared question whether caramel beurre salé and Pancake Day are synonymous. Bah ouais! (Loose translation: Well yeah).
Crepes for Pancake Day
Gaylord made the crepes. He always makes the crepes. His top three skills include driving, impromptu singing, and crepe-making. He is and always will be the crepe-maker in this house. There’s the swish and sizzle as he swirls the batter around the hot frying pan, twisting the pan up and around like he’s tying a complicated knot in the air. He sets it down on the heat and slowly the crepe draws itself in defensively, but soon enough, he flips it over. The underside is all freckled in dark brown beauty spots.
Is there a trick to making good pancakes? I consult my crepe-maker: Gaylord rests his head on his hand thoughtfully. Rest your batter for 30 minutes, he says, but not in the fridge. It needs to be at room temperature otherwise the heat contrast between the cold mixture and the hot pan can result in burnt crepes. You heard the man, folks.
He always makes my pancake first. I stand there expectantly, plate in hand and he slips the crepe, steaming and smelling of vanilla, on to it. I then dunk my spoon into the sticky, gooey caramel beurre salé – it’s heavy, weighing down my wrist. A satisfyingly big blob hits my crepe and I spread it out to the edges. Then I scatter it all with berries – all I have are frozen mixed berries as it is February, but the heat of the crepe will defrost them, I tell myself. They are sprinkled on top and I fold my crepe into quarters.
Before Gaylord’s finished cooking his own, I have eaten most of my crepe. The berries balance that sticky sweetness, the salted caramel melts from the residual heat and drips down my hand and on to my plate, and I am ready for him to cook me a second.
Below are the instructions on how to make an easy French crepe for Pancake Day. All the ingredients of which are already in your cupboards which means you could eat them everyday if you wanted! Eat twice as much to celebrate both days of pancakes and cover them in caramel beurre salé. On these two days, I like to think the two countries are extending their hands over that tiny strip of water between us. We’re friends really.
French crepes, berries and caramel beurre salé
For the crepes
- 250 g flour
- 4 eggs
- 450 ml milk
- 4 tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla
- Pinch of salt
- 50 ml unsalted butter melted
- oil for greasing
For the caramel beurre salé
- 250 g sugar
- 30 ml water
- 15 ml liquid glucose
- 140 ml double cream
- 90 g salted butter
- Fresh or frozen mixed berries to serve
For the caramel beurre salé
- Take a saucepan with a metal surface (a pan that isn't non-stick) so you can see the colour of the sugar as it caramelises. Fill it with the sugar and give it a jiggle to level it all. Add the water and glucose then set it over medium heat to melt the sugar.
- Keep a pastry brush and a small pot of water on hand to brush the sides of the pan to prevent any rogue sugar crystals dropping into the caramel. Swirl it all around the pan as it dissolves then keep your eye on it as it comes to a simmer.
- It will sudden start to darken so once it is an even amber colour remove the pan from the heat and add the cream to stop the caramel from cooking. It will bubble and spit so be careful. You may need to return the pan to the heat to melt the caramel again.
- Once the caramel sauce is homogenous, add the salted butter, cut into cubes. Stir to melt the butter then when all is thick and glossy pour into into a clean jar and set aside to cool.
For the crepes
- Melt butter in a pan and meanwhile mix the flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl.
- Make a well in the flour mix – crack in the eggs, pour in the melted butter and vanilla, and stir together to create a thick batter. Slowly add milk as you stir to form a smooth, thin batter.
- Rest the batter for 30 mins.
- Place a non-stick frying pan over medium heat and add a dribble of oil. Wipe it around the pan with kitchen paper. Once hot, pick up the pan and pour in a ladleful of batter, swirling the pan around to ensure the batter flows all across the base.
- Place the pan back lowering the heat slightly and wait until the crepe is set and coming away from the edges of the pan. Slide a spatula underneath the crepe and flip it over to cook the other side until lightly golden. After 1 minute or so, check underneath to see if it's cooked through.
- Place the crepe on a plate and spread with the cooled caramel beurre salé. Top with berries then fold up and eat.
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