Thursday, February 2, 2012

Candlemas/Chandeleur and Heart Crepes

In a French university, students swarm around a stand like blue morpho butterflies do around ripe bananas. The rules for the queue are the same that applied in my high school for a bake sale: if you push a little more to get to the counter, you´ll get your crepes faster. Plus, if you´re small, you just might be able to fit next to the last person on the edge of the counter, much like an extra last-minute dinner guest crams into a corner at the dining table. 
Inside a couple of stands, there´s a "crepe sale". A few of the classmates donned aprons; they swirl crepe batter around in a couple of skillets. Another heats up sliced apples, sizzling in butter, to make "Crepes au Pommes". Still another collects the coins and takes the orders from the clients. There is an impromptu sign offering many kinds of flavors: nutella, apple, preserves, mushroom or ham and cheese savory crepes, among others... Instead of placing the filled crepes in a paper cone, they slap them on paper plates to deal them out to the customers, like cards.

Chandeleur, or Candlemas, Crepe Day in France
This festive crepe sale might very well have taken place on February the 2nd, or the Chandeleur (Candlemas). Many centuries ago on this day, the Virgin Mary went to the temple in Jerusalem to be purified, forty days after Jesus was born; the young boy was thus presented in the temple.  The French celebrate this day by making and of course eating crepes. The golden disks symbolize the sun
Golden disks symbolize the sun
that begins to appear in the springtime, which is what the Romans originally celebrated on this same day, before the festivity turned into the Chandeleur. The Celtic and Roman pagan rites by Candlemas, and torches were taken into the town to conmemorate the day. 
On this day, cooks are supposed to place a coin on their left palm, and use their right hand to maneuver the skillet handle and flip the crepe. If they are successful, this will grant them good luck and prosperity during the entire spring season!

History of the Crepe
The Ancient Romans concocted the Alita Dolcia, a fried food vaguely similar to current pancakes. Today´s pancakes and crepes evolved in the Middle Ages. 
The crepes (from the latin word crispus that means curly, like its edges indeed are) originated in Brittany, where they make sweet crepes like the ones featured in this article today, and savory crepes made with buckwheat flour that are called "galettes" (which means pebble, what it used to be cooked on) and often feature a sunny-side up egg on top. They are now habitually eaten all over France.

5 crepes (1/2 of Alton Brown´s sweet crepe recipe:
For the liqueur stated in the recipe, choose rum
1/2 lb. of strawberries
Juice of half a lemon

About Crepes: If you want to make savory crepes as well for Candlemas, you could opt for the plain crepe version, which is more versatile, so you don´t have to make two different crepe recipes. However, if you want a sweet crepe that tastes good all by itself for dessert, (such as prepackaged crepes sold for a snack in a gas station or supermarket) without a filling, you should choose the sweet version and place liqueur in it. 

Mix the ingredients stated in Alton´s sweet crepe version (1 egg, 6 tbsps. milk, 1/4 cup water, 1/2 cup flour, 1.5 tbsp. butter, 3 3/4 tsp. sugar, 1/2 tsp. vanilla, and 1 tbsp. rum) with a wire whisk, in a small bowl. Heat the skillet at medium heat, placing a little bit of melted butter, which will suffice for all of the crepes. Remember that the first crepe is the hardest, so don´t despair if it tears a little, or doesn´t turn out as well. Measure 1/4 cup of the batter and pour quickly into the center of the skillet, then drop it quickly aside and swirl the batter to cover the bottom of the skillet. As soon as bubbles surface, try unsticking the crepe from the sides with the spatula. If the bottom of it looks golden, it´s time to turn it over. 

Wait only a few seconds, then take it out of the pan, as the second side takes much less time to cook than the first side. Continue with the rest of the crepes; don´t add any more butter, as it won´t be necessary.
This "bat-heart" is why I decided to use a template

To cut the crepes into a heart shape, print a template if necessary:  Fold a crepe in half, place the folded template on top (if you need it) and use the shears to cut the heart shape. Open it up, place it on a plate, and decorate it with cut strawberries that have flower shapes. To make it even more romantic, place one heart on top of another.
Like the ´80´s song: Two of Hearts

To cut the strawberries follow these instructions. Flower 1: Take the tip of the strawberry and make four incisions that don´t reach the top of the strawberry (if they reach the top of the strawberry, the pieces will be completely cut off), leaving a center square. Those four incisions will create four flexible petals around the strawberry core. Flower 2: Make three or four incisions lengthwise on the strawberry. Take the top of the strawberry and twist lightly to turn it into a fan.

Second Crepe Heart with Strawberry Coulis Center: Fill 2 crepes with a tablespoon of nutella each, and roll them. Place the rolled crepes, one on each side, and bend into a heart shape; each one will shape one half of the heart. Take the strawberry coulis (instructions below) to fill the empty space in the center, on the plate. Take the decorated flower strawberries and place to further adorn the dish. 

Strawberry Coulis 1: Place the hulled, halved strawberries with the juice of half a lemon in a blender and puree them for a few seconds.
Strawberry Coulis 2: Place the hulled, chopped strawberries with the juice of half a lemon in a skillet, and heat for a few minutes. Puree them in a blender, or beat in a bowl with a mixer.


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