Celebrate La Chandeleur with Crêpes Suzettes

by ally redmond
crepes

Photo © Deirdre Rooney

Text & recipe by MFCH weekly contributor Trish Deseine

La Chandeleur, our first of two Pancake Days in France, is once again almost upon us!

In France, the land of crêpes, we are doubly blessed. Not only do we celebrate Mardi Gras by eating them – plus all sorts of crisp, fried, sweet doughnuts – but on February 2nd, exactly 40 days after Christmas, friends and families gather to flip and feast on the paper-thin panckackes in celebration of La Chandeleur (Candlemas).

La Chandeleur is not as documented as Mardi Gras – or Shrove Tuesday – and the reasons why crêpes are eaten on this day aren’t quite as clear-cut as the need to empty larders of old flour before Lent. La Chandeleur‘s feast was originally a Pagan one, to celebrate the arrival of spring, but later, in the 5th century, became associated with Christianity. It is said that Pope Gelasius I gave these pancakes to Rome’s poor, with the golden colour and round shape symbolising the sun and the return of light. I love the idea of such a hopeful day, even more poignant this year, although it does not come without its warnings and superstitions…

crepes in pan
© Guillaume Czerw

It is said that if farmers do not eat crêpes at La Chandeleur, their wheat harvest will be poor that year. To be sure of a good crop (and healthy finances), you must flip your first crêpe using your right hand, while holding a Louis d’Or gold coin in the left – and make sure you catch the pancake perfectly in the pan! The coin should then be wrapped in the crêpe and placed on top of a wardrobe until the following year, when, whatever is left of it – along with the coin – it should be given to the first pauper you encounter. This act is said to ensure riches for the entire household.

I’d be surprised if many French homes uphold this tradition today, despite tales of Chandeleur crêpes being kept in wardrobes as lucky charms, but there are plenty of sayings and beliefs around the holiday that persist. “Le soleil de la Chandeleur annonce hiver et malheur” is one, meaning that if the weather is favorable – this is bad news, and winter will be prolonged. The candles traditionally lit at Candlemas are said to ward off evil spirits and risk of fire; to celebrate, all the candles in the house should be lit.

At home with my children on La Chandeleur, with the Christmas and Galette des Rois seasons over and another month of winter to come, it was always a lovely, warm feeling to gather, cook and flip large piles of lacy crêpes together. In the Breton tradition, we sometimes would make savoury versions and galettes, too, using nutty flavoured, greyish buckwheat flour filled with ham, eggs, cheese, cream and mushrooms before making and devouring the sweet wheat flour ones with salted butter, lemon and sugar.

stack of crepes

Classic Crêpes Suzettes were also favourite dessert of mine to serve at dinner parties. Easy to prepare in advance and simply reheat (and flambée, if I was in the mood!), I find that served warm and bubbling, with a good vanilla ice cream… everyone loves them. They seem to hit that magical sweet spot between a childhood treat and a grown-up pleasure.

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Below, find my simple recipe from my book “100 Desserts to Die For” to get you all whisking and flipping on Februrary 2nd!

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