We used to have pancakes once a year at home, on Shrove Tuesday, when the squeezy Jif would appear at the table and my mum would stand at the stove, grumbling about what a fuss they were to cook. English pancakes were never a breakfast thing. I only remember them with the backdrop of a cold February evening, rolled up tight with lemon and sugar, a little damp, a little thick.
A couple of Saturdays ago I broke tradition and cooked them for brunch. It was all because of Tiphaine really, my lovely French coworker, who gave me a hand-written recipe for crêpes – the English pancake’s superior cousin.
I’d asked her what her favourite childhood meal was, and like a good Breton she told me it was crêpes. More so now that she’s been in London for sometime, because they remind her of home and weekend breakfasts. It’s funny how moving away from a place draws us closer to the simple foods we grew up with, and more often than not, to one of our national or regional dishes.
Anyway, I can see why Tiphaine chose these. They’re light and lacy and – I’m happy to report – foolproof. Even for those people who don’t own a low sided frying pan so always end up with crispy edges. And those who can’t for the life of them flip a pancake. Speaking of flipping, fun fact: on La Chandeleur you must toss your crêpe using your right hand while holding a gold coin in your left. If you have a successful toss, you’ll be rich – if not, dommage!
But back to the crêpes in question. Not only were they delicious, but I now have a handwritten family recipe to stick into my notebook, and that’s what really matters – especially now that I’ve left my job and am branching out into the solitary world of freelance copywriting (!) It’s always nice to be reminded of someone while eating something delicious.
There’s something to be said about passing on a recipe (actually, there are many things but I’ll save them for my MA). In a way, sharing a family recipe symbolises the untidy passage of time. Those hand scribbled notes aren’t heirlooms, but postcards from another life. They tell the story of nations, regions, families – of kitchens and tables. And within their crossings out and curly serifs are memories.
Old photographs capture something unobtainable and old, but recipes are functional, lovely things. They hold the promise of deliciousness (even if they don’t always deliver). So I know that in 20 years time, when I turn to Tiphaine’s crêpe recipe on a Saturday morning – egg stained and dog eared as it’ll inevitably be – I won’t be nostalgic for the past, but thinking of the table with which it’s intrinsically tied. And most wonderful of all, wondering what’s for tea.
Crêpes (from Tiphaine’s maman)
Makes around 30
2 dessertspoons of oil
50g melted butter
a pinch of salt
a small glass of rum liqueur or vanilla extract (optional)
1. Pour the flour in a salad bowl and create a well. Add the eggs, oil, butter and the salt.
2. Mix gently with a whisk while gradually adding the milk. The mix needs to be liquid but slightly thick (editor’s note: aim to make it the same consistency as single cream)
3. Add some more milk and/or water, or some beer (half a glass) if the mixture is too thick.
4. Add the flavouring (optional)
5. Let the mixture sit for an hour
6. You can add sugar if you like (around 80g for 250g of mix)
7. Put a non-stick pan on the hob and pour in a few drops of oil. Cook the crepes on both sides on a low heat.