It sounds like a crazy MasterChef challenge: flipping a pancake with one hand, while tossing a coin with the other - but it all comes down to an ancient tradition.
Shrove Tuesday, or Pancake Day as many of us know it, is the day when crepes are eaten, and it's all in the name of prosperity.
In France especially, thousands of families will be indulging in this delicious and amusing coin-tossing activity, which symbolises renewal, family life, and hopes for good fortune and happiness in the future.
So, with my French husband as chief flipper, I decide to put him to the task of providing our family with good fortune for the following year - as well as getting to the bottom of this delicious custom.
Traditionally, the day was known as `La Chandlieur', a Pagan celebration of the candle symbolising purification. Candles were lit and crepes were eaten.
Then in the 5th century, the pope started giving the pilgrims who came to Rome crepes to eat to celebrate the presentation of Jesus to the temple.
Crepes marked the end of winter and meant that it had been a good season with plenty of extra wheat to make the thin pancake. The people had food and it was a symbol of abundance.
In rural France, crepes also signified allegiance: farmers offered them to their landowners.
By the 15th century, Shrove Tuesday was celebrated using a gold coin, (a Louis D'or), to symbolise wealth and prosperity. It became customary in France to touch the handle of the frying pan, and make a wish while the pancake is being flipped, holding a coin in the other hand.
Today the festivity continues but it's more in the name of fun for children and a good show for guests - as I was about to witness.
There's a general rule when cooking crepes that the first one is never good - as the pan needs to heat up really well.
Luckily, for the point of prosperity we followed this rule, as it took `mon cherie' a good 10 attempts to catch both the crepe and the coin.
Our test crepe was quickly delivered to the bin but any family dog will happily dispose of mishaps.
The one thing that is guaranteed with the flipping-crepe-and-coin show, before the prosperity, is many laughs and squeals from les enfants.
Finally, with the promise of good fortune and happiness sealed, we were able to return to the more enticing custom of flipping for the stack of thin, golden brown crepes to be devoured.
Happy Shrove Tuesday, and Bon Appetit.
TIPS FOR CREPES
- Crepe batter should be prepared in advance so it can settle before use
- Wheat or buckwheat flour may be used and either milk or water to mix
- If beer is used to mix the batter, it rises slightly
- The batter must have a pouring consistency
- Using a proper crepe pan, that has a very low outer rim, helps in the cooking and flipping. You should be able to find these at any good kitchen shop
- Crepes can be cooked ahead of time and stacked, under foil, in the oven on a very low temperature. If you're cooking on demand, you may find consumption is quicker than the speed of cooking
- Crepes can be served as savoury or sweet
Mix 500g (4 1/2 cups) sifted flour with 5-6 beaten eggs and a large pinch of salt. Then gradually add 1 litre (4 1/2 cups) of milk, or, for lighter pancakes, 1/2 litre of milk and 1/2 litre of water.
The batter may also be made with equal quantities of beer and milk.
Finally add 3 tablespoons of oil (sunflower, peanut or olive). Leave the batter to stand for 2 hours.
If needed, add a little water to dilute before cooking.
Add a little butter or spray oil on the hot pan and pour about 1/2 cup of mixture in the middle of the pan, and then turn it to spread the mixture so it's about 3mm thick and reaches the edge of your pan.
Cook for about 40 seconds or until it's golden brown on the underside, then flip it to the other side - use a spatula, or even your fingers, or just flip it in the air.
Savoury fillings usually start with a simple bechamel in which other flavours can be added. Tasty options include ham, mushroom, Roquefort, seafood and spinach with added grated cheese.
Spread a little filling length ways in each crepe. Roll up and place several lined up in an oven proof dish and heat in the oven for 15 minutes.
In our household there is a rule that one savoury crepe must be eaten before a sweet one.
Sweet options are limitless, the most simple but delicious being lemon and sugar - rolled up and eaten immediately.
But jam or Nutella are great, too. Sliced banana's with brown sugar is delicious. Sliced apple that has been lightly browned in a pan with sugar is fantastic - or use peaches and nectarines still in season.
For sweet crepes, follow the above recipe, but also add 1 tablespoon of vanilla-flavoured sugar or a teaspoon of vanilla essence with a tablespoon of caster sugar. If you really want to impress adults, add a generous dash of rum, Cognac or Grand Marnier.
One of the most famous pancake desserts is Crepe Suzette, which can be flambeed at the end for a real light show.
Prepare the basic (savoury) mix, and add the juice of 1/2 an orange and 1 tablespoon of Curacao.
Make a pile of crepes and stack, ready for when you want to serve.
In a frying pan, heat 50g (4 tablespoons) of butter with the juice of an orange, its rind, 1 tablespoon of Curacao and 50g (4 tablespoons) of caster sugar.
After this turns into a syrup, take a crepe, fold in quarters and return one by one in the frying pan and heat them.
Arrange them in a warm dish, slightly overlapping.
The flambeed effect can be done by adding a large dash of alcohol to a hot pan and lighting it with a match to burn the alcohol. This does take practice and care needs to be taken - tie back long hair.
* Recipes adapted from Larousse Gastronomique.
By Julia Carlisle, AAP