In Season: Acacia Two Ways: Beignets & Crêpes

I was de-budding the grapevines in Noëlla's plot Chez Charles, when my neighbor Pierre-Philippe popped over to say hi. Pierre-Philippe and his wife Marie-Claude are a charming couple that moved from Paris to the countryside 20 years ago. They have been extremely generous and welcoming as we settle in to our new home, and some of our first new friends in the village. 

Here's an example of how giving these two are: a few months ago my friend Juliette and I went to Pierre-Philippe and Marie-Claude's house to have a coffee and chat about working for them to prune their small plot of Cabernet vines. An hour later we left their house, not only with a pruning gig, but with a tiny plot of Sauvignon that Pierre-Philippe claimed he "didn't want to deal with anymore." So now you know what kind of people we're dealing with- not only the super-sweet kind, but also the winning-at-life kind. 

So when Pierre-Philippe came up to me in Noëlla's vines (which border his property) and told me he was planning on picking some Acacia bunches from his tree to make Acacia Beignets I knew it was a good idea- before even knowing what they were or how to make them. 

"Pierre-Philippe is going to make Acacia Beignets today," I told my fellow vine worker- with a tone that let on that this was a totally new concept to me. "Oh cool!" she said, clearly aware that this was a thing. Later that night I told Ben about this new-to-me recipe. He knew what these were, too. I felt like that time I listened to a Sparklehorse album for the first time- at least five years later than I should have- and wondered, "Why didn't anyone tell me about this earlier?" 

I wasn't left out of the loop that much longer as Pouillé's most popular beignet started turning up on every table we spent a spell at that weekend. Why, I asked myself, were Acacia Beignets everywhere all of the sudden?

Because, like most things you find in the wild I'm learning, there is a very specific time when Acacia flowers taste just right. It was Acacia time. The lilacs had started to fade and brown at the edges, leaving the stage for the bright white bunches of Acacia flowers, that attracted bees and beignets lovers with their sweet, floral, come-fry-me smell. 

By the time I got back to the Acacia tree, the 120 milliliters of rain we had endured over a period of three days had taken their toll on these fragile flowers- leaving them a little lackluster and less fragrant. Determined to get a second chance at this local specialty, I adapted to the Acacia once I got in the kitchen, making a batch of beignets that fell a little flat, followed by a stack of crêpes that hit the spot. 

You can adapt to the state of your Acacia bunches using either recipe- fresh, sturdy bunches are perfect for beignets*, while late season Acacia harvests seem better suited for crêpes. Below is the crêpe recipe, which I think is advisable for a French late May/early June.

*If you want to make beignets, make the same batter, cover your bunches with the batter (after it's settled) and fry them in about 3-4 cm of neutral oil (canola, vegetable, etc.) Arrange them on paper towels or newspaper to soak up the grease and serve warm, sprinkled with powdered sugar. Any flowers that fall into the batter or off the bunch can be used in crêpes made with left over batter once you've finished the beignets. 

Acacia Crêpes

Makes about a dozen

Ingredients

2 cups (500 mL) milk

2 medium sized eggs

1 cup (135 grams) all-purpose flour

2 tbsps melted butter

1 tbsp orange blossom or rose extract (optional)

3-4 tablespoons butter

About a dozen Acacia bunches

Powdered sugar

Preparation:

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the milk and eggs. Stir in flour until smooth. Add melted butter and orange blossom or rose extract (if using) stir until combined. Let the crêpe batter sit, covered with a dish towel, for at least 20 minutes. 

Melt butter in a pan on medium it, make sure the bottom of the pan is coated (use a paper towel to distribute the butter evenly). While waiting for the pan to heat up, remove the Acacia flowers from their stems and stir them into the crêpe batter. 

Pour batter into heated pan, just enough for a very thin layer- try to only have about 4-6 flowers in each crêpe or else it will be too heavy. Cook for 3-4 minutes on one side then flip and cook until golden on the other side. Continue until all batter is used. 

Serve crêpes warm and sprinkled with powdered sugar.