The Fascinating History of Crêpes
Crêpes have become a beloved food all over the world, but their origins are shrouded in mystery. These thin, delicate pancakes have been enjoyed for centuries, with their history dating back to ancient times.
From the streets of Montparnasse in Paris to the breakfast tables of America, crêpes have become a beloved staple of cuisine. In this article, we'll explore the fascinating history of crêpes, tracing their journey from their early beginnings to their current popularity around the globe, and why Brittany is so important for crepe we know and love today.
A Brief Introduction to Crepes: What Are They and Where Did They Come From?
Crêpes are made from a simple batter of flour, eggs, milk, and butter, and are cooked in a hot skillet (called a billig in Brittany) until they are light and crispy. While crêpes are commonly associated with French cuisine, they can actually be traced back to ancient times. The term crêpe is a French word that comes from the old French term “crespe”, that originates from the Latin word “crispa” or “Crispus”, meaning “curled”.
Historians trace the origin of the crêpe back to 7000 BC. At that time, it was a fairly thick cake made with a mixture of water and various crushed grains. A flat, hot stone was used to cook it.
In Brittany, the crêpe made its appearance around the 12th century. Buckwheat, brought to France from Asia after the crusades, was used to make this thin round layer of batter. Buckwheat found a home in Brittany where it thrived in the rugged climate. Savory crêpes prepared with buckwheat flour were a staple of the Breton people's diet.
In the 19th century, there were significant advances in technology in the rural areas of Brittany, leading to improved living conditions for farmers. However, the collapse of the previously strong textile industry, for the weaving of linen and hemp, led to the closure of factories and the emigration of thousands of Bretons to Paris. They brought with them culinary traditions like crepes to the City of Lights.
Bretons opened restaurants that were popular with Parisians but also tourists from around the world. Today, some of the best crepes in Paris can be still found in Montparnasse, the neighborhood which Breton immigrants first settled.
But what about sweet crepes? Do you know the history of the crepe Suzette?
The history of the Crepe Suzette
What is a sweet crepe? Usually reserved for dessert, it is a made from wheat flour (not buckwheat), eggs, milk, butter, salt... and sugar!
Have you ever heard of crepe Suzette, one of the most famous crepe dishes in the world? It was created by a 14-year-old assistant waiter named Henry Carpentier in 1895, by mistake, at the Cafe Paris in Monte Carlo, while he was preparing a dessert for the future king Edward VII of England. The dish became a sensation in Parisian restaurants at the turn of the 20th century, and it consists of hot crepes served with a flambeed sauce of sugar, orange juice, butter, and liquor, usually Grand Marnier.
The Prince of Wales loved the dish so much that he asked Henry to name it after one of his guests. At first, Henry named it "Princess" after a young woman he saw, but the Prince didn't like that idea. They eventually settled on "Suzette" instead, and the rest is history.
Crepes Suzette were made famous in elegant Parisian restaurants at the turn of the 20th century and have become standard French dessert fare.
Crepes Around the World: Different Variations and Traditions
Crepes are a beloved dish around the world, and different regions have their own unique variations and traditions when it comes to making and eating them. In France, of course, crêpes are a staple food, both sweet and savory.
The traditional Breton savory crepe is made with buckwheat flour and filled with ingredients like ham, cheese, and eggs. Sweet crêpes, on the other hand, are often filled with Nutella, fruit, or whipped cream.
In Russia, the equivalent of the crepe is called a blini. Blinis are often made with buckwheat flour, but can also be made with wheat flour or other grains. They are typically served with sour cream and smoked salmon, or with caviar and butter. Blinis are often enjoyed as a celebratory food, especially during Maslenitsa, a holiday that marks the end of winter.
In Japan, crepes are a popular street food that have taken on a life of their own. Unlike the thin, delicate crêpes of France, Japanese crêpes are often larger and more substantial, and are filled with a wide variety of ingredients, from fresh fruit to ice cream to savory meats and vegetables. They are often rolled up like a burrito and wrapped in paper, making them easy to eat on the go.
In Mexico and other Latin American countries, crêpes are known as crepas. Crepas are typically served as a sweet dessert, filled with ingredients like dulce de leche, chocolate, or fresh fruit. They are often topped with whipped cream and powdered sugar, and make for a decadent treat.
You find something similar to crepes in many cultures around the world : Dutch poffertjes, Indian dosas, Chinese jianbing, Greek tiganos, Norwegian pannekake, Argentinian panqueques, South African pannekoek, and the American pancake.
Whether you prefer the classic Breton crepe or the unique variations from around the world, there's no denying that crêpes are a delicious, health and versatile dish that can be enjoyed in many different ways.
How to become a master crepe maker?
Have you always dreamed of becoming a crêpe maker, of making your own crêpes?
L'Atelier de la Crêpe, an international crêpe school, also offers short, fun, and practical training courses to individuals in the heart of Saint-Malo.
They offer culinary demonstrations and practical workshops for half a day, always followed by a tasting. With the expert advice of our experienced artisan crêpe makers, their "tricks of the trade" and know-how.
From January 2, 2023 to July 28, 2023
From August 21, 2023 to December 31, 2023.
is an organization established to create, facilitate, promote, and sponsor wide-ranging innovative and collaborative cultural and economic projects that strengthen and foster relations and cooperation between the United States of America and the region of Brittany, France.