rowing up in Texas, I had a mother, who, while driving us kids somewhere during thunderstorms, would sometimes thrill us by veering off onto side roads to search for the pot of gold at the end of a spectacular rainbow. What a mama.
And it was in keeping with her devilish nature to grab us one day in February (when we were probably pestering the dickens out of her or pummeling each other with my brother’s ancient boxing gloves) and take us off to search for a groundhog.
A what? I remember thinking, Oh, a groundhog, a little pink piglet burrowed in a hole somewhere who might actually be lured out with one of mama’s chocolate chip cookies.
All we knew was that if this piglet saw his (her?) shadow it was a clear, sunny day. (We were all in for six more weeks of winter.)
Wait a minute! Pigs in holes?
But mama soon set me straight and we were off in search of woodchucks, a member of the marmot family, whose predictions were famous among local barns if not most of the world.
I am reminded of these delightful childhood outings to find our furry friends because here in France, February 2 is also a very big day called Chandeleur, or Candlemas and includes the consumption of buttery crêpes with myriad of fillings to celebrate the beginning of spring.
Originally a wild Greco-Roman day of pagan worship of the god Pan, the holiday lost its satyr significance when more conservative Christians changed the theme to the less exotic lighting of candles to ensure spring’s prosperity, hence the name.
I suppose that if a sexy groundhog could frolic Pan-like with a mate, light a candle and serve crêpes, it would be for him a perfect day as he watched the world sink into six more weeks of winter.
For me and the French, the crêpe is the queen of pancakes. I manage to eat them right out of the skillet with a little butter and salt, or even without the butter and salt. And in Collioure, where we spent three glorious summers to live on two beaches with the ancient Château Royal de Collioure at out our window and the smell of the sea wafting in, a jolly Frenchman and his wife from Marseille set up their summer crêpe stand on the quay, just a few steps from our apartment.
Each night after dinner when we took our seaside walk, we stopped for a crêpe with brown sugar, chocolate ganache, or plain sugar and Grand Marnier.
Arroser bien! cried Monsieur Grenier to his wife (“splash lots on top”), as she gave us an enormous Grand Marnier bottle so we could bathe our pancakes in booze.
For a month, the four of us, two cooks and two clients, ate one crêpe each per night. But one summer, the Greniers were nowhere to be found.
We hoped we hadn’t done something that led Monsieur and Madame to retire to their ocean-view condo on the côte d’azur. Perhaps their cooking and our pancake bingings had led them to decide the time had come to settle into another phase of life. But we were smitten by the village and soon bought a home so we could stay for longer stretches, and we now live here all year, no thanks to a certain virus.
But with the departure of our diligent friends, we were, alas, left on our own to recreate their wonders.
And we can, and so can you.
Perfect crêpes à la Suze
- 1 cup and 2 tablespoons flour
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- pinch of salt
- 3 eggs
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 2 tablespoons melted butter
- Dash of Cognac
— Sift the flour, sugar, and salt.
— Beat the eggs and milk, stir into the flour until smooth. Add the melted butter and Cognac and let sit for 30 minutes at room temperature.
— Heat a small spoon of butter in a well-seasoned 10″ skillet, and spoon in a soup ladle of crêpe batter rotating the skillet to cover the bottom with a thin layer of batter. Let cook for 30 seconds or so, watching the edges of the pancake.
— When the edges look curly and browned, turn the crêpe and cook on the other side for 30 seconds.
— Stack the crêpes on a heated plate until use, or serve each one as it is ready, spreading with caramel, melted bitter chocolate ganache, or brown sugar, folding each in half, then in half again to form a quarter circle. The ones with only sugar get a generous splash of Grand Marnier.
— Melt 1 cup sugar plus 2 tablespoon water over a medium to low fire.
— When the sugar is golden brown, add 1/2 cup heavy cream very slowly down the side of the pan, whisking constantly to make the caramel. You may need a bit more cream, depending on the consistency you want. The cream must be added slowly as it cools the sugar and hardens it quickly, so you must give it time to warm and blend with the sugar to make a sauce. This is also delicious over ice cream.
— In a heavy pan, on low heat, melt 2 bars (8 ounces) of Lindt or Valrhona 85 percent chocolate and ¼ cup sugar, stirring in 1/2 to 3/4 cup heavy cream as it melts and becomes very shiny and smooth.
— Stir well with a wire whisk, add a pinch of salt. Remove the pan from heat immediately.
If it is too thick, add a bit more cream
The trick: If the chocolate becomes heavy and separates, add more warm cream, beating well, until smooth. You may also add warmed Cognac, little by little, to thin the sauce, but cream is best.
Oh, and one little detail my mama never mentioned: There are no groundhogs in Texas…