Saturday, August 6, 2011

Crepes Suzette - The Princess of Pancakes

Originally published March 22, 1984

Pancakes, in one form or another, have been a universal delight since man first discovered that if he mixed crushed grain with water and baked it, he would have a new kind of food.

Under more elaborate conditions - and a host of different names and fillings - they have been enjoyed around the world for centuries. In Mexico, it is the peasant tortilla; in China, the crisp egg roll, while we in America prefer them for breakfast, swimming in melted butter and male syrup; the Russians like theirs as blini, a delicious appetizer topped with caviar and sour cream.

But of all the pancake recipes in the world, the greatest - crepes Suzette - originated in France. The legends of the origin of this famous dish are as varied as the recipes for making it. The Kitchen Mouse’s favorite story is that chef Henri Carpentier was preparing crepes in liqueur for King Edward VII when the dish accidentally burst into flames. Chef Henri, not at all abashed at his misadventure, carried the flaming pan in which the crepes were immersed to the table, and when the fire had died out, he served the little pancakes to the King and his party.

Edward pronounced them delicious and asked what they were called. “They have just been invented, sir,” Henri replied, “and they shall be called Crepes Princess.” The King smiled but shook his head. “Where is your gallantry, Henri?” he asked. Then, indicating the young daughter of his host, he announced “They shall be called Crepes Suzette, in Mademoiselle’s honor.” Whatever you call them, these paper-thin pancakes are wonderfully easy to make. They can be prepared hours or even the day before you plan to serve them, as their flaming sauce calls more for showmanship than for culinary skill.

You will need a good crepes pan made of cast iron or lined copper; a heavy non-stick pan will work too. It should be the size of the ultimate pancake, about 5 inches across, for the batter should be creamy and thin that it will run ragged over a larger pan. And your pan should have rounded or sloping sides so that you will be able to turn the pancakes over with you spatula without tearing them.

Season your (iron or steel) crepes pan before using: fill it with vegetable oil; bring the oil slowly to simmer; remove from heat and let the oil-filled pan stand until the oil is cold. Then pour the oil out and wipe the pan clean with a cloth or paper towel. To keep your pan in prime condition, wipe it with oil, never with water, after each use and your crepes will never stick.

At least once in their lifetime every gourmet cook who wished to should serve Crepes Suzette, if only to keep from being impressed by the ten-to-twenty dollar variety offered in restaurants. They are not difficult to make and nutritionally they rank above many desserts. Since the liquors are added for flavor and the alcohol is evaporated or burned off, this dish should not offend temperance-minded persons.

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