Pancakes are great.
Yes they truly are, it’s the local fast food of Nantes and Brittany, you can have pancakes (or crepes and Galette as they are called here) all over the place, they are cheap, delicious, and served quickly.
You can have them savory (for the Galettes mainly) or sweet (for the crepes), and one would traditionally drink a bowl of cider with it.
The main difference between a Galette and a crepe is that the first one is made with buckwheat flour, while the second is made with normal flour. Don’t tell any Breton that a crepe and a Galette are the same thing or you could hear them talk for hours about the enormous (for them) and subtle (for me) differences between the two.
Crepes have their national day on the 2nd of February, the day is also known as “la Chandeleur” or candlemas.
Farmers used to flip their crepes on the pan that day, by throwing it in the air, and a crepe which would turn on the pan without breaking or falling on the floor was taken as a sure sign that the next harvest would be successful. Basically you flip your flour (pancakes are mainly made with flour) to foretell if you will have flour the next year.
To this day this tradition is being upheld and if you flip your crepes properly with the right hand while holding a piece of gold on the left hand, you will be lucky and successful for the next year, otherwise, well you will be unlucky until the next Candlemas..
Before his Russian campaign, Napoleon celebrated Candlemas, and this man who had Europe at his feet put his destiny in the hands of a pancake. He flipped one pancake and said, “If I turn this one, I will win my first battle!!!” And it all went fine.
Then came the second pancake and again: “If I turn this one, I will win my second battle!!!”, and it all went fine.
Then came the third and the fourth… And all was fine.
Then came the fifth… And this one fell on the floor and rolled onto the ashes.
Napoleon nonetheless went on his Russian campaign with an army of more than 600 000 men. It was called la Grande armee, the Great Army, and was the biggest army ever assembled in Europe, and Russia was not supposed to be able to defeat it. And indeed everything went according to plan and after a couple of battles Moscow was taken on the 14th of September 1812.
However, the Russians had not left any food or provisions in Moscow, Then, to top it all, Moscow started burning. When he saw this and realising that his army was Isolated, in winter, and without proper supplies in the heart of Russia, Napoleon cried out: “It’s the fifth pancake!!!”
The Great Army was forced to leave Moscow on the 18th of October to retreat back to territories held by Napoleon.
Constantly harassed by Russian troops, undernourished and enduring freezing cold, the Great Army came back home devastated.
To this day the French will still call a crushing defeat a “Berezina,” in reference to the crossing and the battle of the Berezina river during the retreat, in which so many people lost their lives.
Only 30 000 men came back: 200 000 men died either in battle or of hunger, cold or diseases. The rest deserted or were made prisoner.
Now that was one angry and evil pancake.
My pancakes are nicer, but then I am no Napoleon.
And here is a basic recipe for making pancake (crepes) batter for about 4 people:
– 250 g of flour
– 2 eggs
– 500 ml milk
– bit of salt and oil
Mix it all together, leave it to stand for a bit and then prepare your pancakes, on a slightly oily pan under a reasonably hot fire.
Pour a ladle of batter on the pan and swirl, so that you have thin layer on the top fo the pan. wait a minute or 2, than flip over using a palette knife, or throw it in the air, and hope you catch it back properly, or suffer the consequences. cook it for a further 30 seconds to a minute and add honey, chocolate sauce, fruits, lemon and sugar, caramel sauce, ice cream, or anything else you fancy on top of the crepes, and eat while it’s hot.
And good luck with the flipping.