I learned recently that my culinary mentor, Madeleine Kamman, died in July 2018. At the time, the event went unnoticed. But when I got word, the news flattened me.
Madeleine was the tigress who taught me to trust my palate, who set my benchmarks. She valued methods, flavour principles, terroir, the ineffable link between place and taste. Her intensive hands-on cooking classes, market tours and restaurant outings in France did more to make a discerning cook out of me than the formal classes and apprenticeship that preceded it. Her seven books, among them The Making of a Cook, occupy prime real estate in my library.
She was a fierce feminist, a historian, Michelin-trained. Her high standards and remarkable palate were prized by her protégés, but viewed warily by some of her male counterparts. Her schools – in France, the Napa Valley, Boston – were attended by chefs looking to benefit from her grad-school-level master classes.
On the trip to France in 1985 to attend her cooking school in Annecy, indelible memories formed. Madeleine in the market, her nose crinkling as she examined a cluster of berries. Madeleine showing me how to butterfly a veal loin, caramelize fruit, reduce a sauce. Madeleine peering at my nine-month-old son in the high-spring sunlight, telling me that ratatouille was an ideal food for a child his age. Madeleine in a Chanel suit, chastising her coterie of North American students – me among them – for our informal clothing, totally unsuitable, she insisted, for the elite restaurants where we were to dine.
When I was not in class, my then-husband and I wandered the narrow streets in the old quarter, across footbridges, beside canals and creeks. We found the crepe maker’s cart beneath a plane tree.
He ladled a spoonful of batter onto a metal disc and smoothed it, flipped it, then folded the crispy circle in half, then quarters that he secured in a parchment round. From a steaming small pot, he scooped fat apple slices. Another pot held chocolate ganache, and a ceramic bowl was heaped with whipped cream.
He handed the first paper-wrapped cone to my husband, the cream and chocolate tangled skeins across the cinnamon-flecked apples. Thirty seconds later, a second cone materialized. We sat down on the bench, licked chocolate and cream from our hands, tucked warm apple into our son’s mouth, and bit into the crepes, leaning out past our knees as you do when things are messy and juicy and drippy in a good, cheerful, street-foodish kind of way.
In deep winter, those apple crepes make the most of the slim pickings we have on the fruit shelves in the prairies. I think of the unquenchable Madeleine every time I make them. So first we eat, and then we mourn her passing.
Buckwheat Crepes with Apples
Adapt this by using pears instead of apples, peaches in summer, with dried fruit as you fancy. The crepes will keep a week in the fridge. Batter: about 20 8” crepes. Filling: about 8 crepes.
Buckwheat crepe batter:
½ c. all-purpose flour
2 T. buckwheat flour
1 c. milk
¼ c. melted butter
salt to taste
additional butter for the pan
Stir together the flours, then whisk in the eggs. Slowly stir in the milk, then strain. Rest the batter for 30 minutes. Whisk in the butter and salt. Heat an 8” cast iron or well-seasoned sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add a bit of butter, melt it, then ladle 1 T. batter into the pan. Swirl to spread it. Cook for 1-2 minutes. Flip and cook for another 30 seconds. Transfer to a plate. Repeat. Stack crepes on the plate.
¼ c. chopped dark chocolate (I like Lindt)
¼ c. whipping cream
Melt on medium power in the microwave, stirring once or twice, about 3 minutes. Stir well, adding more cream if too thick.
2 c. apple cider
½ c. sugar
1 c. water
1 lemon, orange or lime, zest and juice
2 whole star anise
1 tsp. whole allspice
2 slices fresh ginger root
1 stick cinnamon
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 tsp. peppercorns
8 whole cloves
4-6 apples, peeled and sliced
¼ c. dried sour cherries or cranberries
Combine all ingredients except the fruit in a pot. Bring to a boil, then simmer until the syrup has acquired flavour and spice. Strain, discarding the solids. Add the fruit, cover with parchment paper and a snug lid, and gently cook on medium heat until tender, about 20 minutes, depending on degree of ripeness. Remove the fruit, and reduce the liquid’s volume to about ½ cup, of syrup consistency.
To serve, spoon the fruit into each crepe. Top with syrup and ganache. Garnish with whipped cream or ice cream. Serve immediately.