Having spent ample time in France, I have seen a lot of regions and eaten my way through many a local cuisine, but I have always had a very special connection with Brittany. Maybe because it was the first region I ever visited, maybe because I know this area like the back of my hand, since I’ve got a lot of friends there and have travelled it extensively. Or maybe because I am addicted to its glorious cuisine (galettes, crêpes, far breton, kouign aman etc) and the fact that you can drop into any restaurant and get the freshest, most succulent seafood and it won’t cost and arm and a leg, pick up a basket of fruits de mer early in the morning when the fishermen have just come in with their catch or eat oysters straight from the sea.
I was only 15 on my first trip to Brittany and completely hooked by the end of it… going back there at every occasion. At the start of every holiday, long or short, I would hop on the Orient Express to Paris, take the first train from Montparnasse to Rennes the next morning and be reunited with a bunch of friends there. Back then, I obviously didn’t have much disposable income, so grand eateries were out of the question. When I wasn’t staying over at a friend’s and raiding their fridge, I mostly resorted to one of the many crêperies to be found up and down the country which used to offer the regional speciality at very reasonable prices.
Now, for those of you unfamiliar with the “cuisine bretonne”, here’s a pancake crash course: Many people think “pancake” translates into “crêpe”. Well, it does. But that’s only half the story.
A “crêpe” is made with regular (wheat) flour and is enjoyed with a sweet filling. But there’s also a far more interesting incarnation by the name of “galette”, an extremely thin pancake made with buckwheat flour (blé noir, sarrasin) which will always have a savoury filling. And there are NO exceptions to this rule.
The fillings are many and varied and most crêperies will let you choose your own combinations. For the savoury galettes, you usually have a choice of butter (always salted), cheese, onions, mushrooms, ham, bacon, eggs and sometimes less traditional options like blue cheese or spinach. As for the sweet, you’ll find a simple jam or butter & sugar crpe as well as more elaborate combinations like the famous crêpe suzette, or pairings like apple and caramel, chocolate and vanilla ice cream, nuts and cream… the list is endless.
For this 23rd instalment of Is My Blog Burning (read the roundup), which calls for a piece of regional French cooking and almost coincides with the British Pancake Day, I chose to make galettes – but not just any kind: the queen of galettes, a “super-complète”. This is something you will find on every menu in any crêperie and as the name suggests, it is the Rolls-Royce of the Breton pancake and comes with everything you could possibly wish for: onions, tomatoes, ham, cheese, mushrooms and a fried egg on top.
Now, I’d like to say that my galettes turned out perfectly thin on the first try… they didn’t. I was expecting the first ones to be messy, always remembering the French saying: “La première, c’est pour le chien!” (“The first one’s for the dog”). But the third and forth were still nowhere near what I have become used to eating in Brittany. Then again, I don’t have the right equipment, let’s just blame it on that. In France, there’s no need to make your own anyway, as you can buy perfect galettes to fill and reheat at every bakery and every supermarket. Not here, unfortunately, so I’ll have to get used to pancakes that are slightly thicker then the norm. But they tasted just like the real thing and that’s all that matters.
PS: The rules for this round of IMBB call for a “verre de vin” to go with the dish. Well, I’d be an ignorant if I was to offer wine with a galette: the drink of choice is a glass of cidre, of course, an alcoholic beverage made from apples, similar to cider, but a bit more refined, shall I say. If you can’t find that, you can always have a beer.
For the galettes:
175 g buckwheat flour
400 ml cold water (preferrably sparkling)
20 g melted butter (salted)
1 generous pinch of salt
salted butter for frying
For the filling:
4 tbsp chopped onions
4 tbsp chopped mushrooms
8 tbsp grated Emmental cheese
8 tbsp chopped tomatoes
8 slices thinly sliced smoked ham (I used Brunswick)
Prepare the dough at least 2 hrs ahead.
Combine the buckwheat flours, butter, egg, water and salt in a mixing bowl and whisk with a fork until combined thoroughly to form a smooth and very runny dough. Cover and leave to rest in the fridge for at least 2 hrs.
Take out of the fridge and beat the dough with a fork for at least 10 minutes. The longer you beat it, the more it will be airated and the thinner your dough will turn out to be.
Fry the galettes in batches using a 30 cm skillet (crêpes pan, if you have one) – heat a little bit of butter, then add a ladle of dough, making them as thin as you possibly can. If you’re incredibly talented, the dough will probably yield 6-8 galettes, a “normal” first-timer will probably succeed 4… don’t dispair and always remember the French saying: “La première, c’est pour le chien!” (“The first one’s for the dog”) Fry on both sides until golden brown and reserve.
Heat a little bit of butter in a pan, add the chopped onions and fry until starting to brown. Add the mushrooms and fry until soft. Reserve.
When you’re ready to serve, heat the pan and add a galette. Sprinkle with 2 tbsp cheese, spread a quarter of the mushroom/onion mix on top, add 1 tbsp tomatoes, cover with 2 slices of ham and fold the galette on three sides to form something ressembling an envelope.
Meanwhile, in another pan, heat some oil and fry the 4 eggs until the whites have set.
Top each galette with a fried egg, sprinkle with pepper and serve with a salad on the side.