Complete History of French Crepes
When you fully understand the history and backstory of something, it gives it an entirely new meaning to you.
Understanding your fellow coworker’s childhood and the experiences that they have had in their life changes the way you treat them from day to day.
Understanding the importance of a historical site and what a particular place can mean for a country or a people gives you a new reverence for that location especially when you are present there.
Understanding a particular type of food, it’s history, it’s story, why it was made, how the original consumers ate and made it and what it meant for them can almost transport us back in time to that moment.
Learning the history of crepes is no different. They have an extremely rich history, and some can argue that they not only changed a region but also a country and maybe even a continent!
So, join us on this journey as we explore the history of crepes, but be warned: this WILL affect the way you enjoy crepes! For the better of course. ;)
First, we will start with the crepe origin.
Crepes originated in the North West region of France known as Brittany, near Britain where it derives its name.
Brittany as a region, is surrounded on three sides by the Atlantic Ocean. This area has become well-known for its sheer cliffs and rocky and open plains.
Back in the early 13th century, during the medieval times for reference, it was extremely difficult to grow many crops in Brittany because of the rocky terrain.
As you can imagine, this was the cause for a lot of very bland food! Imagine a day where each meal consisted of porridge, cabbage, little to no fruit, and if you were lucky or very wealthy, maybe some salted meats at best!
That image is far from the crepes overflowing with creamy Nutella and sweet strawberries we associate with France!
It wasn’t until the introduction of buckwheat that this region truly began to take form and influence the rest of the country.
Buckwheat is a strong, durable grain− and we are not referring to the loveable character from the fan favorite movie “The Little Rascals”.
With buckwheat growing throughout the land, we will soon have our very first crepes, or galettes as they would be known.
As the early Bretons (those people from Brittany, France) discovered the power of the gluten-free buckwheat, we get the birth of the crepe… but this wasn’t just any crepe: it was a galette!
What is the difference between crepes and galettes you ask?
Great question! According to those most loyal to the fabulous crepe history, including the Brotherhood of the Galette (yes- it is a real thing, and we will get to them soon), galettes are the savory, while crepes are the sweet.
So, a crepe with egg, ham and cheese is technically a galette, not a crepe! That said, we aren’t going to call the crepe police if you get them mixed up.
Now a galette was made with just a few simple ingredients: buckwheat flour, water, salt, and egg!
So, if you ever have the sudden urge to go back to 13th century France, just whip yourself up one of these delights and you have a one-way ticket!
We'll even show you how if you keep reading!
Now back to this Brotherhood of the Galette.
You probably didn’t believe me, but there is a group of people in the northern most part of Brittany so dedicated to the history of these first galettes, that they have formed a very prestigious brotherhood just to preserve that history and enjoy these original, French delights together!
We know what you’re thinking, “how do I get in!?”
We have wondered the same thing and once we find out, we will send everyone applications!
For now, you can find more information on this amazing and faithful brotherhood by checking out this video done by Great Big Story!
So now that we have our flour and our recipe, we need to know… how were these first crepes made?!
How It's Made
As legend has it, there was a maid in Brittany in the process of moving some buckwheat porridge when she stumbled and spilled some of this “batter” onto a hot metal pan.
Upon spilling the porridge it immediately cooked on this hot pan, resulting in the first crepe!
It’s hard to say whether this legend is true, but if it is true, we all owe this maid big time!
Once crepes had been established, people began cooking the first crepes in the exact the same way that we make ours on the CrepePro!
The early Bretons would take their large, flat metal pans− typically made of cast iron or carbon steel− and heat them up in the oven or over a fire.
Once they were heated, they would then pour their batter on the hot pan and use a French device called a “rozell” to spread the batter across the pan to create the flat pancake.
This is the same tool that we include in the CrepePro kit, only we typically call it a “T-Handle” for its shape, or a “batter spreader” in English.
The French would then flip the crepe, to cook both sides, typically using a long wooden spatula.
Crepes in France are still largely made this exact same way!
I guess those early Breton’s were onto something, because if it ain’t broke then why fix it?
That is why we developed the CrepePro!
We strongly believe that this is the best way to make authentic, French crepes because that is how crepes were originally invented and made.
So, using a CrepePro really is getting back in touch with the historic and traditional way of making French crepes.
And you can truly feel that each and every time you use the pan!
We may have different styles and fillings now in the 21st century but the original recipe and original method for making crepes still survives and lives on with the CrepePro today!
To experience the authentic French way of making crepes, click the link below!
So, with our first crepes now cooked golden and thin, we need to know: what could possibly be worthy to go inside such a creation!?
Original Crepe Fillings
Here we are going to take a look at the 3 of the most traditional and famous crepe fillings that have been used throughout France since the birth of the crepe!
First, we will start by taking a look at our buckwheat flour “galette” crepes and how they were filled!
Ham Egg and Cheese Crepe
The most famous and original crepe filling is ham, egg, and cheese on a buckwheat crepe!
These crepes are made just how they sound: starting with an open buckwheat crepe, the chef will crack an egg in the middle, leaving it sunny side up and allow it to cook.
Then Gruyere or other Swiss cheese is usually added on all sides of the egg, followed by 2-4 slices of ham on top of the cheese.
After adding the ham and cheese, the crepe is usually cooked for an additional 1-2 minutes to get that nice melty cheese!
Then each side of the crepe is folded on top of the ham surrounding the egg and creating a square shape with the yolk visible in the middle.
These are extremely simple crepes and their simplicity and timelessness only add to their deliciousness!
One thing that must be noted is that while these crepes are a very common breakfast food here in the United States, they would almost always be eaten for lunch or dinner in France, rarely ever for breakfast!
To see how it is done, check out this video from Justine with Everyday Gourmet. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CK8T7v0NZ8Y
Lemon Sugar Crepes
When our original Bretons were in the mood for a sweet crepe, the most classic sweet crepe they made was the lemon sugar crepe!
Another very timeless and simple crepe, this crepe is made by first removing the crepe from the heat and folding the crepe in half to create a half circle.
Then taking a freshly cut lemon, squeeze 7-10 lemon drops on the crepe and spread the lemon juice over crepe by using the unsqueezed lemon half.
This should give the crepe a perfect lemony flavor!
Now before all the juice is absorbed, sprinkle granulated sugar over the whole crepe. Either roll or fold the crepe and enjoy!
We like to top these crepes with some powdered sugar as well for the extra aesthetic and taste!
The last crepe we’ll highlight is a very famous and well-known crepe in France called the “Crepe Suzette”!
This is a crepe that is made by first mixing some room temperature butter and orange zest in a separate bowl until the two are fully incorporated.
Following that, quickly add some granulated sugar, freshly squeezed mandarin orange juice, and an orange flavored liquor such as Triple Sec.
Continue to stir the mixture until all ingredients are incorporated and then let them sit in the refrigerator for 10 minutes.
After your “Suzette” spread has rested, begin to heat up crepes on the crepe pan, you will spread the “Suzette” butter spread all across the crepe and let the butter completely melt.
Once all of the butter has melted across the crepe, then fold, remove from heat, top with additional orange zest and any extra butter, and enjoy!
To see this full process check out Stephane from French Cooking Academy’s video here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vF_zZssIl8w&t=583s
Those were 3 of the most original and traditional French crepe fillings! If you haven't tried these crepes then that is an absolutely must!
Fast forward to today, we now have hundreds if not thousands of crepe fillings that are used, and you have the freedom to develop your very own which is one of our very favorite aspects about crepes!
Now that we know that crepes originated in Brittany and then quickly spread across the country of France and all through Europe, it’s important to ask ourselves, how did crepes arrive in America?
Stay tuned, because this will be the next stop on our journey!
Crepes In America
After the development of the crepe in the 13th century, they quickly began to spread across all of France and into most parts of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.
But somewhat surprisingly, it wasn’t until the early 1900’s when crepes were first introduced in America.
A well-known French chef by the name of Henri Charpentier was the man who brought them here to us and he deserves a special spot in our American hearts for such a noble deed!
He originally came to New York and started his own restaurant around 1906.
His first restaurant was called “Original Henri Restaurant and Bar” and this is where it believed that the first crepes were served in America!
Henri was especially famous for whipping up a mean “Crepe Suzette”! What we would have given to be able to eat there back in 1906!
It is crazy to think that just over 100 years ago the first crepes were being introduced here in the United States and now you can hardly go to a Denny’s or iHop or any number of other “American” breakfast restaurants for that matter, without seeing at least one form of crepe on the menu!
Given the speed the crepe has spread around the globe, it won’t be long before the CrepePro becomes a staple in each and every home! ;)
Thank you so much for taking this journey back in time with us to learn about the history and origin of the crepe!
Did it change the way you will eat crepes forever?
It really is amazing to see how much of an impact some “spilled porridge on a hot pan” has caused throughout the world!
There is even a holiday named in the honor of crepes! It’s on February 2nd in case you are looking for any and every excuse to celebrate with crepes like we are!
Knowing the history of the crepe on your plate give us a much better appreciation when we comprehend the journey that crepe has taken to be there!
In addition to loving the history, we also love that crepes can be so individual and artistic!
We have said it before and we will say it again, each crepe is like a blank canvas and you are the artist with the only limitations being your own imagination (and any dietary restrictions of course! No Nutella for you nut-allergy people!)
So get creative! Surround yourself with the people you love and have a history AND an art lesson, in the form of making deliciously, beautiful crepes!
You won’t regret it! Bon Appetite!