Galettes are pancakes, only better. Because in Brittany they make them with buckwheat flour and serve with savoury toppings.
Galettes, crêpes, pancakes
Runny batter fried in a pan: why should it need clarification? And yet, the troublesome Americans and the stickler French both have their own interpretations.
If truth be told, the American version of pancakes, little fritters of eggy mix served for breakfast with maple syrup, are probably the closest to the original meaning: a cake cooked in a pan.
But since we Europeans are never willing to grant the Stateside any originality credits, we insist that they imported English pancake/French crêpe recipe and forgot to add enough water to the batter.
Crêpes or pancakes as we know them in the UK are thin and flat (as a pancake), consumed for dessert through the year or anytime on Shrove Tuesday.
So what really is a galette?
Galettes are pancakes native to Brittany, made with buckwheat flour and usually savoury fillings.
To avoid confusion with galette des rois (New Year’s Day cake) and galettes bretonnes (biscuits), the French specifically call them galettes au sarrasin. Sarrasin is buckwheat but it’s also sometimes called blé noir, black wheat.
So if you want your buckwheat pancake treat while in Brittany, look out for galettes sarrasin. Or galettes blé noir. Or crêpes sarrasin, occasionally. I know: it’s clear as mud. No wonder the French don’t get fat.
Made with buckwheat flour, galettes are more savoury than wheat crêpes and so better suited to savoury fillings of, classically, ham, cheese and an egg.
How to make galette batter
Unlike for crêpes, buckwheat pancake batter is made with water rather than milk. Some recipes want to add buttermilk, some (mine included) enrich the mix with some melted butter while yet others instruct to spread butter on the pancake before preparing it to be served.
I think it’s simple street food with the roots in poor man’s fodder so it should be kept fairly austere. The small addition of butter to the batter (apart from allowing me to admire my silly alliteration) makes frying somewhat easier and the breakage lower.
The batter is better (hehe – you knew you had it coming) if rested for a few hours and best after an overnight sejour in the fridge.
It needs to come back to room temperature before frying on the next day but that’s easy: nobody in their right mind would want to fry galettes for breakfast, would they? Breakfast is a croissant not a crêpe.
Frying galettes can be controversial. First of all, most Breton households will probably have a crêpe maker if they are serious about it.
Otherwise, those who imagine you can fry galettes as you would crêpes will be in for a disappointment and beacoup breakage. Unlike crêpes which need to be fried in a scorching hot pan barely brushed with oil, galettes like lower heat and butter (it’s better for the batter you see).
Another difference is the frying-serving approach. Crêpes are easy: discard the first one, fry a full stack then serve them flambé or filled and reheated under the grill. Not so galettes.
The hardcore Breton method (le dur bretonnais) has them fried only on one side, toppings put on top (as you would with toppings), and the edges only nonchalantly folded over.
Even though it is completely impossible for the batter not to be cooked through during that process, the fussy Anglo-Saxon palates will balk and demand a flip.
Hence the technique described in my recipe: semi-hardcore (demi-dur) but authentic enough, except losing the nonchalance of the folding as the galette will be firmer if cooked on both sides. Also, it is not very practical when cooking for a crowd.
One galette at a time is fine for a not very busy street vendor whose queue are orderly and patient. But at home, with hungry gobs waiting for dinner? Not so much.
Therefore, feel free to cook a batch of galettes, frying them approximately a minute on each side with a flip and keeping them warm and pliable on a plate, wrapped in a clean tea towel.
Just before serving, reheat each galette in a hot, buttered pan, add the fillings and fold over the edges.
You can form a square or the approximate shape of a hexagon which (unlike David Leibovitz’s belief) is a six-side shape and the semblance for the geographical shape of France.
What fillings for galettes?
You can fill your galette with anything you like, as long as it’s ham, cheese and egg. That’s a joke of course which I hope you’ll forgive, together with my silly mock-French translations, but it is indeed the classic.
Once the galette is in the pan, be it being cooked or reheated, scatter shredded ham around the surface.
Sprinkle grated cheese in a circle leaving the centre free to crack an egg into. You can smear the white over the cheese to speed up the cooking.
Almost immediately or as soon as the white is set, fold the edges over into a square, penta-or hexagon leaving the yolk exposed. Slide it onto a plate and the feast for one is ready.
Of course, there are plenty of filling variations. You name it, it goes: spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes, saucisse or ratatouille – with an egg cracked in the middle, or not.
I could virtually live on galettes when in Brittany, if it wasn’t for their excellent oysters and mussels.
More pancake recipes
This is an easy recipe for wheat pancakes (crêpes) with delicious spinach filling. Making the batter is a doddle but the skill of frying and flipping successfully might be your next challenge!
American style buttermilk pancakes, with optional blueberries. Easy buttermilk pancake recipe, the mix takes only a minute to make. Served with bacon and maple syrup for an indulgent weekend breakfast.
Buckwheat banana fritters for delicious and gluten free breakfast. Smashed bananas in buckwheat pancake batter, and a drizzle of honey is a must!
More Breton recipes
Breton butter biscuits (sablés bretons or galettes bretonnes) are Breton shortbread so delicate it melts in the mouth. These Breton butter cookies are easy to make and very satisfying.
Gateau Breton is French butter cake, Brittany's finest. It's an enormous shortbread, a gigantic jammy dodger, the impossibly buttery double tart.
Kouign amann is Breton butter pastry, similar to croissant but with added sugar and extra butter. My recipe is a cheat’s kouign amann, easier to make and not quite as calorific as the traditional pastry from Brittany.