Food · Traditions

Chandeleur: Celebrating French Candlemas/Groundhog Day

This is another one that the vast majority of French people just celebrate because we’re eating crepes and who doesn’t like an excuse to eat crepes. But it has pagan and then later christian meanings attached to it, so it’s been fun to learn a bit about it!

La Chandeleur (Fête des chandelles) is a religious holiday (nobody gets the day off though) that corresponds to Christ’s presentation at the temple. It is celebrated in early February, 40 days after Christmas (although I’m not sure it’s always exact) — the same time as Groundhog Day in the U.S.

There are also plenty of parallels with Groundhog Day — basically in the Middle Ages in Europe, bears were revered and early February was the end of hibernation in theory, so the bear would leave its cave to see if the weather was accommodating enough. (there was also licentiousness and the abduction/rape of girls as part of the “festivities”… charming.)

Anyway. For Chandeleur, all the candles in the home were supposed to be lit. Tradition was to not put the nativity figurines away until after the Chandeleur, which is the last piece of the Christmas celebrations. It’s also said crêpes, with their round shape and golden color, symbolize the sun, and therefore the return of spring after a dark and cold winter. 

There’s this whole ritual that started in the fifth century of flipping a crêpe with your right hand while holding a gold coin in your left, and if you do it successfully you’ll have a prosperous year. Alsom, you’re supposed to leave the very first crêpe you make on the top of a hutch/pantry all year — supposedly it’ll magically not mold (more like dry out!) and chase away misery. That’s gross though… I vaguely remember my aunts doing this but forgetting it and tossing it a week or so later. Ha.

I found some fun French proverbs and sayings for Chandeleur via about.com. Again, note the similarities with Groundhog Day in the US:

À la Chandeleur, l’hiver cesse ou reprend vigueur
On Candlemas, winter ends or strengthens

À la Chandeleur, le jour croît de deux heures
On Candlemas, the day grows by two hours

Chandeleur couverte, quarante jours de perte
Candlemas covered (in snow), forty days lost

Rosée à la Chandeleur, hiver à sa dernière heure
Dew on Candlemas, winter at its final hour

I took no pictures but I’ll have to come back and update this next year. But here’s what you’re really waiting for… Lydia’s fantastic crêpe recipe! You’re going to hate me though because when I get to adding the milk, it’s 100% eyeballing for the right texture…

CREPES RECIPE

3 cups flour
1 qt milk (ish…)
1/2 cup butter, melted (you can use boring old vegetable oil if you prefer. It tastes way better with butter though.) plus another stick for buttering pans as you cook
2 eggs
1 tsp. liquid vanilla (also good with rum, or orange flour water)
1/3 cup sugar

You’ll also need crêpe pans, and a crêpe spatula is really helpful.

crepe pan

black-narrow-spatula

What’s special about crêpe pans is that they’re thin and lightweight, which is helpful when flipping crêpes. They also need to be smooth on the inside, any kind of texture would be a pain since they’re so thin they can easily tear when you’re flipping them.

Instructions:

Mix dry ingredients, then create a well in the center and add eggs, vanilla and butter. (I suggest not using the kitchen aid on this. Do it by hand or with a hand-held beater, or you’ll get lumps.) Slowly beat and incorporate dry ingredients, then add milk until you get a relatively runny batter. It’s not nearly as thick as pancake batter, but it has to be slightly thick still so the crêpes will hold. I know, this is not helpful at all… I’ll try to calculate how much milk I really use next time I make them.

My friend Cassi found a nifty trick for not having a sopping mess of melted butter on your hands as you grease the pans: put a stick of butter in the freezer beforehand, it’ll hold up much better throughout!

Heat pans to a medium-high heat, and once they’re hot, rub your stick of frozen butter in the pan and pour in the batter (about a 1/3 cup) into pan. It needs to be THIN! It’s totally fine to pour some of it back into the bowl if it’s too thick. They cook pretty fast. Flip once and give it a few seconds on the other side, then transfer to plate. Best eaten fresh from the pan of course!

Putting butter in the pan each time you put in batter gives you a delicious crisp to the edges and just makes them all-around amazing. It is so worth it to use butter instead of cooking oil or PAM.

Some favorite toppings:

Nutella (duh!) + whipped cream
Jam
Lemon juice & brown sugar
Chestnut spread  + whipped cream + Nutella
NOT peanut butter! That is a travesty!

You can also make caramel crêpes like this: immediately after flipping the crêpe, put a little melted butter on the surface and sprinkle a little white sugar, let it caramelize (you might need it on lower heat so it doesn’t burn). This is tricky, but DELICIOUS.

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