Crêpes Dentelles

When I worked at Chez Panisse, we had a customer who would come for dinner several nights a week and eat downstairs in the kitchen. Jean lived by herself in San Francisco and took a cab across the bridge to Berkeley for dinner once or twice a week. When the waiters knew she was coming, they’d set up a small table next to the pastry department and she’d eat there. And because she was a generous soul, she’d treat her regular cabdriver to dinner upstairs in the café.

Other customers would come in and say, “How do I get to sit there?” I’m not sure what the attraction was, since we were all busy working, chugging water, tracing around, dishwashers hauling dishes, garbage and compost bins, but the concept caught on and eating in the kitchen became de rigeur for foodies. Oddly, for a while, whenever I went out for dinner and they knew me from the restaurant world, they’d always seat me near the kitchen, so I’d have a view of it. And I always asked if I could sit somewhere else. Who the heck wants to watch someone else work on their day off?

Jean was born and raised in San Francisco. Her parents were fur traders and they’d take long boat trips back and forth to Asia, and she and her sister would accompany them. During the long voyages, she told me, Jean and her sister would sit in the chef’s office and rifle through his cookbooks, picking out things for him to make.

Being a classically trained French chef, he was bored cooking for all the fuddy-duddys on the boat and loved recreating elaborate French dishes for the excited young girls.

gavottes

When she arrived at the back door of the restaurant, in all her largess and splendor (Did I mention she liked to eat?…), she invariably came carrying bags of treats for all of us. And the treats changed often. Sometimes there were dozens of packages of freshly-baked crumpets from a fantastic British crumpet baker in San Francisco’s Sunset district. Others times she had stacks of pink cardboard boxes from a French pastry shop which, regrettably, weren’t very good.

I never understood the appeal of caviar until the night she brought in a few kilo-sized tins of briny Iranian osetra caviar, which we ate by the heaping tablespoon. (Which I learned right then and there, is the only way to eat caviar. Which is why I can never eat it again—at least until my ship comes in.) And, my favorites, which were the boxes of Belgian chocolates from the swanky food hall of the now-shuttered I. Magnin department store.

One day she came carrying boxes of Gavottes and handed them out to all of us. As we unwrapped the gold-foiled packets, there was suddenly silence in the normally-crazy kitchen. We’d all stopped what we were doing to slide them out of their wrappers, and within minutes, the tiled kitchen floor was littered with flaky, buttery-brown crumbs. (So if you were dining at Chez Panisse sometime in late 1992 and were wondering where your desserts were, now you know.)

pouring coffee

Brittany is one of the few regions in France that isn’t known for its cheese. But what they lack in cheese-eating, they surely make up for with their consumption of butter, which shows up in all sorts of butter-drench pastries, most notably in crazy-good kouign amann.

If you want a taste of that butter, you don’t need to make the trip to the Atlantic coast (which, by the way, is worth it), treat yourself to a box of Gavottes, these rolled-up cookies of Brittany, which taste like sunny butter held together with just enough flour to keep them from breaking apart, then caramelized.

The process is pretty interesting: the batter is spread on a flat griddle and when it’s cooked to just the right temperature and consistency, it’s rolled around a knife (or another long object), then cooled until crisp.

rolled up cookies

The good thing is that you don’t need to head to Brittany to get them; they’re available in just about any French supermarket. (Although I’d skip the chocolate-covered ones. Even though it seems like a good idea, in principle, the unexceptional chocolate overwhelms the buttery crispness of the cookies they’re covering.) They’re excellent with everything, from a dish of chocolate ice cream, to a simple demitasse of dark coffee.

According the company’s website, the cookies were invented in 1893 when a woman was making crêpes and forgot about them on the griddle. So she rolled them up and let them cool, which were the base for the cookies that I, and many others, love today. Gavottes are also Breton dances, a series of movements where the locals dance around, holding pinkies and shimmying across the floor. (Video.) I’m enamored by all things Breton, especially the butter and other tasty things. But I’m not sure I want to grab pinkies and dance around with anyone. However, I am happy to enjoy their cookies.

Related Posts and Links

Loc Maria (Maker’s of Gavottes, crêpe dentelle cookies)

Video of Making Crêpe Dentelles (In French)

Brittany’s Butter Bonanza

Kouign Amann (Recipe)

The Best Crêpes in Paris

Crêpes Dentelle Recipe (unrolled) (Michael Laiskonis)

Kig ha Farz (Recipe)

Salted Butter Caramels from Henri Le Roux

Buckwheat Crêpes (Recipe)

Breizh Café

Online Availability

Crêpes Dentelles (The Frenchy Bee)

Crêpes Dentelles (Touch of Europe)

Chocolate-covered Crêpes Dentelles (Amazon)

58 comments

  • MMMMMMMMMMMMMM. Short of the necessary trip to France, among other obvious reasons to go there,and to buy some of these wonderful crepe cookies or their site, for which you provided us the link, any idea about where or how to find them stateside?

  • Did you say “GAVOTTES”! I am an American-expat living in Bretagne and there is the GAVOTTE factory five-minutes from my house!! They even have a factory boutique to buy their stuff cheaper than in the supermarkets. They sell big boxes of rejects for CHEAP, I mean really cheap!! The bag is inhaled in a couple of days in our house. I remember seeing Gavottes in Cost Plus in San Francisco, a big tin in Costco under the name of Delacre, and even in Starbucks in their ugly orange Starbucks packaging. My husband and I do not understand why Gavottes is not taking the world by storm. They are SOOOO GOOOOD!! It has to be the sh*tty marketing. When I visit my family every summer in the states, I go to the factory boutique and get everyone their own box of Gavottes. They go nuts over it!!

  • I like butter, kouign amann, and Gavottes. But I love the story of Jean.

  • A very beautifully told story of the woman who came to visit. I am personally always more comfortable around a bit of chaos and would love to sit and eat in the kitchen. Sometimes I think I enjoy the preparation of food just as much as the eating of it.

    What are your thoughts on caramels de Breton? I just sent some off to a friend from G.Detou. Didn’t manage to steal a bite but hope they’re good!

  • Oh, you’re so right about the chocolate covered ones. No matter how thin and fine is the chocolate, it feels rude and ungracefull compared to the flaky delicacy of the gavottes. But with subtile vanilla cream of panna cotta, the contrast of gavottes gives all it’s potential I think.

  • Sigh. I finished reading this post and wanted to just scroll back up and start all over again. Beautiful. xo

  • I will be in Paris next week. Should I pack an extra bag to bring home Gavottes? Or will I eat them all before heading home?

  • Great story David. Love it. Love it. Love it.

  • This story touched me in a very personal way. There was a time, a few years back, when I spent many evenings eating by myself in restaurants. At first it was awkward for me, because I tend to be very social around food. I also felt out of place – a young woman eating alone seemed odd to me. But one place made it seem different, and I became a regular, for reasons similar to the ones you describe in your story. The staff at the restaurant noticed me, brought me near the kitchen, and gave me just enough personal interaction to provide comfort and entertainment. They gave me samples to try, asked my opinion, let me in on jokes. And although they didn’t know the personal struggle I was going through at the time – the waiters, cooks, and owners really made a huge difference in my life. As time passed, many became and still are close personal friends. My favorite treat at that restaurant was crepes on Sunday. Thanks for bringing back the sweet memory David. I think I owe those friends a call. Sometimes food truly is love.
    -Michaela

  • I suppose British Brandy Snaps and American Lace cookies are related to Crepes Dentelles? Neither one is as delicate and as thin, but they are all similar.

    I discovered when I had too much crumble/crisp topping for my apple crumble/crisp, I was able to make a rough kind of lace cookie out of the dough (I added a few drops of milk to bring the crumble topping together, rolled it into several fingers of dough with the help of a little flour, chilled it in the fridge, and then sliced 1 inch rounds and placed them about 3 inches apart on a papered cookie sheet and baked them at 350F for about 20 minutes, turning them midway. My husband adores them–they are carmelized and delicately crunchy, melting in your mouth.

    Wonderful Jean story, more people tales, please.

  • Beautiful story. The crepes look delicious.

  • Look delish — I’ll admit, I was totally hoping for a recipe! Any clue about how one would make these treats?

  • we have these in singapore!!! tasted superb

    wow, didn’t notice it was such a delicacy, should appreciate more of it.

  • again, something I need to try! I mean the gavottes and not the pinkie dance. Though a friend did once try to teach me a few Breton moves.
    Thanks for the tasty blog.
    Can you perhaps answer a question: When in Paris a few weeks ago I had my first taste of “Baba rhum”. Is that the right name? It was a bit longer than that.
    Do you know how it is made?
    It was such a delicious dessert that I still dream of it.
    Keep it up!

  • I. Magnin! I had totally forgotten about that place, but you conjured up trips with my grandmother and swanky gifts. Thanks!

    (The gavottes look like I should make some new swanky memories pronto)

  • David!!
    I saw you this week!
    I was bringing some fresh croissants up to the shop, when I turn to see the customers… Guess who I see?? David Lebovitz!!! At Blé Sucré!!!
    Inside me I went (YAY!!!)…
    So I go downstairs, prepare my speech “Hello…I’m a big fan, love your books..bla bla…” – (t’s Mr. Lebovitz, I don’t wanna ruin it…)
    When I came back up after a while with more croissants…You were gone… soooo sad… :(

  • Love those things! I should have brought back more.

  • absolutely beautiful post, as usual! ;)

  • Great story, David. :) Not only does the food sound (and look) delicious, but you gave us a wonderful understanding of the people. Thanks!

  • David, I clicked through to the Gavottes site — http://www.locmaria.fr/ … I’m not sure which looks more delicious — the cookies, or the photo of Jean-Pierre Nicol in the corner! Since I won’t be able to find Jean-Pierre in California, I’ll try to track down some Gavottes.

  • David, I worked at a bakery, Mary’s Bakery, in San Francisco in the late 70’s. Jean use to come in, leave the taxi idling out in front, buy boxes of treats and then off she went. I’ve heard her mentioned in other essays, not always by name, but knew it was her. This generous woman was a wonderful supporter of many small restaurants and bakeries in the San Francisco area.
    Thank you for reminding me of her this morning.

  • Wow I haven’t seen these in forever! My Grandmother always seemed to have a box and would often share them with me as a child. Now that I think about it, I never did find out where she managed to procure such goodies.

  • You have the best stories David! And any story that involves butter cookies is spectacular!

  • Thanks for sharing with us another heartwarming story. I will definitely check it out next time when I make a trip to the french grocery store. We also have this kind of dessert in Thailand, mainly made of egg and flour and cooked on griddle. It’s called Thong Moun.

  • Carol: Wow, that’s amazing that you remember her, too. And btw: yours wasn’t the less-than-steller bakery that she brought us pastries from! But I do miss those crumpets. Love that you remember her taxi running outside. She told me when she was a teenager, she’d take a cab and have a Crab Salad Louis for lunch at Swan Oyster Depot on Polk Street…she sneaked away so her parents wouldn’t find out!

    She was pretty interesting and I’d been to her house a number of times and it was full (…very full…) of a lifetime of all sorts of stuff. I loved going through her old cookbooks and she had a wonderful book on French cooking that she lent me for quite a while.

    I finally gave it back to her and hoped one day to find a copy of my own.

    Years later, after she passed away, I was in a used bookstore and saw a copy of it on the shelf. When I pulled it down and opened it up, her name was hand-written inside the binder! Perhaps it was sold in an estate sale, or something, but of course I bought it and it’s one of the most treasured books in my collection.

  • Isn’t it great that sometimes mistakes that are made can turn into something so delicous. It certainly sounds delicous anyway!

  • Ive unsuccessfully tried to find somewhere near me that sells these but the only ones I can find are the chocolate covered ones, just hope I dont have to wait till my next trip to Paris to get some – I would love to near the factory like Barbara

  • Love the story. Can’t wait to try the buttery cookies. Yum.

  • I adore this story…why are there not more people like that in the world? Generous, interesting, eccentric…fabulous.

  • Great story… I ate at Chez Panisse in spring of 1992. Could you have made the “fig newtons” that were served for dessert that night??

  • I used to be a buyer at the old I. Magnin… it was my first job out of college in the late 80s. Truly, there are no old-world stores like it anymore on the West Coast, if anywhere in the U.S. It’s a shame, really, but times – and tastes – change and if no one is buying, the doors will close. I used to find excuses to head down to the alterations department, just to listen to all the old Italian folks who worked there. Funny, the famous people who came in to shop were always really low-key. Like ripped jeans and t-shirts low-key. Half the time most people didn’t even recognize them. Love the story of Jean, and love your cookbook story more. xo, Dawn

    p.s. Liar – who doesn’t want to grasp pinkies and dance around? ;)

  • Wonderful, evocative story…the old Bay Area in all its splendor and uniqueness…thanks for sharing it, brings a smile. john

  • David,

    You’ve made me terribly nostalgic! I attended UC Berkeley in the 90’s, and couldn’t afford to dine at Chez Panisse as a student. Fortunately, I had very good friends with generous parents who treated us, and overnight I became a foodie. Shortly after I began to seek good cuisine – high and low, taking BART into San Francisco to visit various establishments, including Swan’s Oyster, Boulevard and Lapis (now closed). I love hearing stories about people going out of their way for good food.

    I think I know why Jean wanted to sit in the kitchen. If she was eating alone, the people in the kitchen were her company. In some ways, it’s like that old TV show Cheers, a place where everybody knows your name. It’s comfortable, and she probably wanted to be close to her friends.

    It’s so touching the story of you finding Jean’s French cookbook at a used bookstore. What a treasure! You must have been destined to have a physical reminder of her. Isn’t that cookbook so perfect given what you’re doing and where you are living?

    Best,

    Christine

  • This is so wierd, right after reading this post I was seeing what was on TV and suddenly, I see your face on the discovery channel, with this really random portuguese voice dubbing what you were saying (I’m portuguese) and then Pim was there and I was completely flabbergasted. Strange moment of the day, I would say!

  • Patrons like Jean are so vital to small business success. Any kind of business. The relationships, connections, loyalty, sense of community and word of mouth recommendations etc…. that is something I think we all need and is seriously lacking in today’s culture. In most American cities you can do nearly all your errands from your car, and that is if you don’t do them online or by delivery! Fast food, bank, dry cleaners, post office, grocery pick up, car wash, gas…. and that whole time we are on our cell phones or tweeting!

    When I was kid my favorite shop was the stationary store. They had everything paper related, Office Depot could never live up to that place. The old man who ran the shop used to show me how all the order slips and assorted forms worked, carbon paper was like magic to the five year old me. I played restaurant like nobody’s business. I’d dress up like the diner waitresses I thought were so glamorous and take orders in my “cafe” in the basement. With that order pad in hand all my customers were impressed, even my stuffed animals.

    Big box and chain stores/restaurants never give a community that kind of connection. We have a million new high tech ways to stay connected, but in reality we have never been more disconnected from each other.

    Cheers to Jean and all those like her, and thanks for sharing that story. I hope I think of you both every time I open that rectangular gold foil package.

  • What a great story! I wonder what ever happened to Jean….that seems like the type of person you’d miss once they couldn’t be there anymore (for whatever reason).

  • You just brought back memories of my trek on the Camino De Santiago this spring. Part of the way I walked with a wonderful woman of 79 from Bretagne who one night danced the Gavotte for us by herself, just as they were doing in the video you shared with us. Thank you for that delight.

  • Thought since I’d mentioned the camino and Irene who danced the gavotte that I should at least include my blog of that trip in case folk are interested. I do tend to go on and on about the food after all.

    http://www.knittingthecamino.wordpress.com

  • Another great story of another wonderful character in your life. Thanks.

    I’ve been trying, pretty much unsuccessfully, to take Gavottes back to the U.S. when I visit, wanting to share their crispy goodness with family and friends. However, be warned, these fragile cookies do not travel well so if you buy them as gifts, just skip the step of packing them up and go ahead and eat them yourself; it’s a little embarrassing when the person who receives the gift unwraps the gold foil and finds a small pile of gavotte shards. That’s not to say that the person isn’t grateful but it can get messy and dangerous. Inhaling gavotte shards is not advised.

  • “Years later, after she passed away, I was in a used bookstore and saw a copy of it on the shelf. When I pulled it down and opened it up, her name was hand-written inside the binder! Perhaps it was sold in an estate sale, or something, but of course I bought it and it’s one of the most treasured books in my collection.”

    Incredible. That sounds like something meant to be! How touching that the book found you. :) I love the story of Jean and how cool to read Carol’s memories of her, too! What a small world we live in…

  • Wow – What a fantastic story. It’s so lovely that you got to know so much about Jean. And wonderful photography as usual and a fun tie to the Breton goody! Thank you for providing so much pleasure with every visit to your blog.

    Have a great weekend! I curse you as the first two weeks of South Beach have me refraining from any cookies — FOR NOW.

  • I want to be Jean!! I’m going to aspire to it, anyway. I am going to SF next month for one day on the end of a business trip and already had my plans for Swan Oyster Depot, but now I will definitely order crab louis in her honor.

    Now I have to go fill my house up with wonderful things and write my name in all my cookbooks.

    Loved this piece, really so very charming and thoughtful.

  • mmm… gavottes! i used to get them in hong kong, so if any of you are in this part of the world, they should be widely available

  • David, what a beautiful story. I can almost see Jean with her sister, legs dangling from a stool, with their big eyes glued to the pages of these cookbooks. Is this woman still around? Do you know if she still frequents the restaurant?

    I have not had gavottes in a couple years and you have stirred the craving, I love eating these! They are one of the first things, along with the yogurt, that we purchase from the super marche as soon as we arrive into Paris. Have never tried chocolate and now I know to stick to the original ones. Thanks for a very charming and lovely post.

  • I’m sure you already know this, and I can’t remember its name, but there’s a French pastry technique where you crush-up crèpes dentelles and mix them with, I think, butter, sugar, chocolate, etc., to be used as a base for mousse-like cakes, often chocolate. The patissier Jean-Pierre Thuillier uses it in his ‘Triomphe’.

  • …And those Pepperidge Farms and M&M ad’s on your home page…I hope you’re getting a pile of cash out of them…

  • My husband worked at that crumpet shop when he was a teenager–he is a plumber now so the kitchen didn’t leave a lasting impression on him:)
    I just told him he quite possibly cooked for David Lebovitz!–he was a little less excited than I was about this info :)

  • The Gavottes sound great, and the story of Jean warms my heart, but what I really want to know is if there is still a crumpeterie in the Sunset! If such a thing exists, I’d be there in a heartbeat…

  • I remember the crumpet place. I ate there many times when I lived in the City. It closed when the landlord decided someone else could pay more rent. The owner said he would try to find a commercial kitchen and sell his crumpets and sell them to groceries, but I never saw them anywhere – and they wouldn’t have been the same as fresh off the grill.

  • Omgosh those Gavottes are pretty common in Singapore – my family and I have them all the time! (: Love the story btw.

  • I love this story of Jean.

  • Been a lurker for the past year but I can’t help but post a comment on Jean’s story. Beautiful, beautiful story. And Gavottes!! It still irks me that half of a large tin can of Gavottes was wasted in my house Someone in my house had a good intention of putting away the can to avoid the temptation of consuming the whole can in one day. Needless to say, the can was completely forgotten after a week. Fortunately, we have a store in Little Saigon area of San Jose where I can buy Gavottes much less than what I would pay for if I were to order online.

  • What a very beautiful post! And so many of the comments too.
    Thanks for putting a smile on my face.

  • How powerful your description of Jane, continued with Carol’s comment and your answer…. Someone’s existence continues after death as long as people remember one with fondness and love, I think….
    Husband is Breton, and for the last ..uuuummm…. years I only cook with butter, salted, please..and enjoying it1 (don’t ask about the torture to keep the line!), and, funny enough, we are going to Bretagne this week, so I’m going to enjoy al sorts of gavottes. Maybe I’ll try to make some myself!

  • I really needed these this past Christmas when the Daring Bakers made the French Yule Log! I ended up using some other sort of cookie that really fell short. A few months ago, though, I saw them in the local Williams Sonoma store while I was checking out the overpriced-yet-still-desirable merchandise. They have a few shelves of specialty foods, including some imported European biscuits.

  • Iranian caviar is the best! I was lucky enough to have it once because I interned at this lousy restaurant owned by Persians.

  • Many years ago I spent part of a summer with my grandparents in Brittany. I remember going to the Saturday market (in Concarneau? Quimper? Benodet?) and watching a woman make crepes dentelles fresh to order, on a slanted rectangular griddle. She ladled the batter across the top edge of the griddle and spread it across the surface as it flowed down the slope. After a moment she scored the batter vertically and deftly rolled the cooked crepes down the griddle around a narrow spatula.

    It’s been a long time since I was seven, but I still remember that taste, hot and buttery and crisp and sweet. I wonder if anyone still makes them the old-fashioned way?

  • David, Don’t know if you go back to old posts and then to the new comments but today, while waiting for my photos at Costco, where chanterelles are $9.99 a pound for the month of November (they get them in from Canada, only in November, and we just eat all that we can think of with chanterelles, mostly eggs , pasta , and fish) i saw chocolate covered gavottes by Loc Maria, which was about $9.99 a box. I was in Paris in October and brought back a box or two from the Monoprix, but not the chocolate, but there, in my Costco, a little bit of Brittany. Of course from reading the comments these are the ones that are not the tastiest, so of course they are in Costco!!!
    When in Paris I bought the pimandes from DaRosa. I’m in love. Any ideas on how to make them? I guess I would candy a roasted almond, then dust with a cocoa with a hint of chili????What do you think.