Somewhat a continuation of my previous post on savory Crepes.
In the crepe’s origins, buckwheat ruled, being mixed into a batter consisting purely of itself, water, and rock salt. Cooked on both sides in a thin layer, this created a very crisp, and often very fragile pastry. As time went on, the interests in southern Brittany and other areas of France learning of this dish started changing their tastes, requiring the ‘pastry’ be filled and stuffed. As it was, these buckwheat crepes would fail this task miserable, breaking in half whenever attempting to fold. Thus those cravings-driven cooks of shops and home began to add eggs, milk, and butter, softening its structure and turning the French flatbread into a French pancake, entering the second step in its evolution towards the foldable street food we love today.
As white flour became steadily more available in the 1900’s, crepe’s structure thoroughly began to change, diverging the styles between an extremely soft, all-flour version and the more traditional dark floured one (which I’ve discussed somewhat Here). This former was particularly celebrated with royalty (likely before its price dropped), and in Paris and Southern France, almost exclusively being used for desserts. It is from here that the epitome of cooking with these pancakes developed, Crepes Suzette.
Like many a classic recipe, the story Suzette’s origins abound with different versions. The most advertised, and also debated, story comes about from a certain Chef Henri Charpentier. While cooking a tableside dessert of crepes cooked in orange juice, sugar, and liqueur for the Prince of Wales, a frequent customer. By accident, the sauce caught fire in the pan, burning into a gentle flambé. With no choice other than complete humiliation either way, he served the ‘ruined’ dish, only to be met with even more love from the Prince. When asked its name, Charpentier told him it was to be called “Crepes Princesse” after the Prince, the dish automatically making it name female. Out of mock ferocity, the Prince demanded that the lady at the table, a daughter of his guest named Suzette, be honored instead.
Though interesting, much contesting has been done. Mainly the fact that, at the year this now-famous chef stated it happened, he would have only been around 14. The main issue comes in the fact that, usually, only the Head Waiter would have served tableside, and he’d be way too young for that. Though potential unique circumstances could have made it possible, especially explaining the screw-up, but it’s not likely. Of interest, it’s also rumored that the young lady may not have been a regular ‘friendly acquaintance’ and more, ummm… paid for.
A similar royal story pits a chef named Jean Reboux, who was supposedly asked to make something by a lovestruck Princess Suzette de Carignan for King Louis XV.
One of the more interesting accounts lie with another chef, named simply Monsieur Joseph, in the presence of the actress Suzanne (Suzette being her nicknamed) Reichenburg; or, as yet another account states, a waitress of the dish’s name that served the play. The chef would generously supply crepes for the cast and, to ensure they stayed warm for the performance, lit them in the fiery sauce.
Of final note, and probably the only set thing that could help explain the origin of this elusively researched dish, is a recipe in Oscar Tschirky’s 1896 New York cookbook for “Pancakes, Casino Style,” basically a complete formulation for Crepes Suzette minus the flambé. Following this in 1907, Auguste Escoffier then describes the complete version of Crepes Suzette in his famous Le Guide Culinaire.
Whatever the origins and methods (psychotic as it is to say, there’s so much more things I could type on this idea), Crepes Suzette came out too much acclaim, truly the harbinger not only of Crepe desserts everywhere but leading the charge for the flambéed dish movement. Truly one of the heights of high French sweet cuisine.
Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner
Finding the truly traditionally composition and technique, basing it on the dish during the height of its fame and not on a singular point of creation or more recent version, has proven to be a very challenging feat. In fact, with the many sources and styles I’ve found, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as One True Version of this; there are in fact multiple choices and slight variations done while still keeping it, in my opinion, ‘classic.’ I’ve thus had to narrow down which ones I prefer in this instance.
Though I should start with my first quandary in my search; see, the one thing I knew I wanted to do, and was very much a classic technique, was this thing I saw Jacque Pepin talk about in the Crepe episode of him+Julia Child. This is where he took sugar cubes and rubbed them on an orange, using them as the sugar base for the ‘classic style’ crepe, while later he also showed a ‘more modern do-at-home version’ where he made a compound butter. The odd, and really frustrating, thing was that, despite my many searches, I could never find his recipe online that included the zest-infused sugar. Only the compound butter. And no video clips of the episode.
Many other searches, both in classic books and traditional recipes, yielded something surprising; this Compound Butter method, where one mixes sugar, zest, and orange juice (with perhaps other ingredients) together, using to very quickly and easily melt in the pan and/or over the crepes before flambé-ing (Jacque melted it in a broiler), it just kept popping up. It wasn’t just something made up in the last couple decades, but perhaps a link to the classic high restaurant style, likely inspired by finishing savory pan gravies for meat with herb-butters.
So our first choice is to do this, or build our own syrup from scratch in the pan, usually achieved by combining orange juice, zest, your sugar, and butter(either in the beginning or later) and reducing down, perhaps with some of the booze. I prefer the latter method, just because it feels like I can develop more flavors, and there’s this calm, classic feeling of building your sauce one bit at a time that I fell in love with when making French cuisine.
At some point we need the crepes to mix and soak with this sauce. But when we flambé, do we leave them in the pan, or are they transferred to a serving dish, and flambé the booze on the side to pour over? Both are seen and done in front of guests to add flare, the former being developed exclusively in restaurants as they cooked the sauce and crepes on a pan in front of customers. As such the flambé would happen in the same pan, to keep things simple, and transferred to plates from there. The latter is just as often seen in recipes, so it was a tough choice for me; ultimately, since I had no restraints like restaurant table-side service, I thought it’d be fun, plus it gives me more of a chance to light all the booze directly and not risk the crepes potentially muddling the fire up in the beginning.
Though that also leads into one quick decision; most of the recipes that call for this have the liquor heated in a separate, empty pan. Which is fine, but after your crepes are soaked and transferred, there’s all this sticky, delicious sauce left in the bottom and edges of your pan. So I just dump it in the same pan while hot to scrape up as much of the remaining, and even more developed, flavor that I can. Then I make a show of it.
Our final method articulation lies in something that I never would have considered until I started actually looking at recipes: Caramel. Seen with Jacque and certain others, there are a few recipes that sprinkle sugar on top of the sauced crepes at the end before the fire, or before broiling, meant to have them caramelize like a crème brulee. Other recipes, however, have started off their sauce making by, instead of just dissolving sugar in orange juice, cooking the sugar as-is until it just browns, then building the sauce. This flavor of caramel, also a tie in to certain aged tastes in the cognac spirit and liqueur, is thus a newly interesting and required component to the final flavor. I of course have to attempt it in the simple and classic sense of brulee, but I would love to try the other method to really get the richer flavor in some other time.
Speaking of liqueur, that is one last thing I want to talk about before ending my tirade. Though something about Grand Marnier just feels right to me, I have seen plenty of excerpts mentioned using Cointreau, another cognac-based orange liqueur. A such I think any Orange Liqueur, just so long as it used COGNAC as the base, is acceptable; but no Triple Sec or Orangecello or whatnot, my apologies but that just isn’t a true and proper Suzette sauce. Following that, whether or not one also adds a bit of Cognac or other decent-quality Brandy to the mix… up to you. I’ve seen many recipes that just use the liqueur, but I do like the flavor developed by mixing the two. Mainly I would suggest, if you want to try it, mixing them beforehand, tasting to get the exact ratio that you like (mine was very Grand Marnier centered with maybe only 30% Cognac in it) before starting to cook your Suzette.
That way everything is just right to start your perfect Suzette recipe.
80 grams (ish) Sugar Cubes
1 Stick Cold Butter
¼ cup + 2 Tb Grand Marnier
3-4 Tb Cognac
4-5 Large or 6-8 Medium-sized Crepes (recipe follows)
- Taking your Sugar Cubes, one at a time, carefully but thoroughly rub each side over the skin of one of the Oranges until it changes color and grabs its aroma.
- Crush cubs into grain, also scraping off any sugar that’s stuck to the orange, and reserve your orange-sugar on the side.
- Zest the other Orange, and Juice both citrus fruits.
- Combine these with Salt, all but 2 Tb of sugar, 2 Tb of Grand Marnier and 1 Tb Cognac in warm sauce pan.
- Heat, on medium, to boil, stirring to dissolve and letting cook 5-15 minutes, as needed, until reduced by about half into a syrup.
- Remove from heat, roughly chop cold Butter and toss in, stirring until fully melted and emulsified in.
- Take your pre-cooked Crepes and lay in pan, one at a time. Let briefly rest, flipping over to coat both sides in the orange sauce.
- Fold into quarters, picking and hanging up to let any excess syrup drip, and transfer to a heat proof casserole, broiler, or other such dish.
- Repeat with remaining crepes until they’re all used up or almost all syrup has been absorbed, whichever comes first.
- Move pan back to stove to start heating up. While this is happening, sprinkle the remaing 1-2 Tb of Sugar over the folded crepes in a thing and even layer.
- Once pan is hot, the thin layer of sauce is bubbling, start the flambé process. Very quickly, dump in your remaining alcohol (if using a Gas stove, off-heat), briefly stirring and swirling to pick up and deglaze the leftovers of sauce.
- Light with flame (match, blow torch, gas stove, etc) and pour the ignited liquid over the crepes.
- Wait until the fire goes down, the edges have browned and sugar is dissolved (and hopefully somewhat caramelized), and serve.
- Transfer hot crepes onto plate, spooning extra sauce remaining in pan over the top.
- If desired, serve with fresh or candied fruit, ice cream, or whatever desired. Enjoy
1/3 cup Sugar
1 Tb Buckwheat Flour
1 Tb Melted Butter
1/3 cup Water
2 Tb Grand Marnier
Zest of 1 Orange
1 ¾ cup AP Flour
2 ¼ cup Low-fat Milk
- In a bowl mix Sugar, Buckwheat, Butter, Water, Vanilla, Grand Marnier, Salt, Orange zest, and Eggs together.
- Sift flour and add, alternating, with the Milk, mixing well and until smooth.
- Let rest for at least an hour and get your crepe-making equipment and station prepped and ready, brushing surface with an oiled paper towel.
- Heating your pan, stone, etc to a medium-high-ish heat, scoop a small ladle of batter just outside the center.
- Very quickly, spread/swirl the batter around in a thin layer, getting as even a circle as possible.
- Once edges start to brown and curl lightly, or it lifts easily and is evenly browned on the bottom layer, lift and quickly flip to its other side.
- Let cook until it browned, remove from pan and stack with other crepes between wax or parchment paper for later. Optionally, one can sprinkle with preferred fruit, sauce, jam, or other filling right after flipping, folding or rolling to serve hot.
The only things of note for the next time I make this is one: a little too boozy, but in the best ways (it by no means ruined the flavor, I just think a little less would allow the orange sauce to shine further); note that I originally used over ½ cup of alcohol when cooking but as you can see pared it down to 1/3-ish for the recipe. And secondly, I’m a bit saddened the sugar on top didn’t caramelize as intended (I doubted it ever would in ANY person’s recipe/attempt, but thought I’d try), but again was still delicious, added a bit extra something. Maybe next time I’ll actually caramelize some of the sugar in the pan I build the orange sauce in?
Besides those slight adjustments, our suzette was simply heavenly. Depth and richness pervaded from the aged cognac-based spirits, with flavors of orange both fresh and developed, hanging around a syrupy sauce that clung to the fully tender and soaked French pancakes. It made me drool as I ate and I licked the plate clean. Something tells me my family will force me to make it again, not that I’d mind.
Truly I can’t think of any better partner than pouring yourself a simple, straight up shot of ice-cold Grand Marnier, or whichever cognac-based orange liqueur you used. No need to make cocktails, or get something rare and unique, just let yourself enjoy the deep flavors that actually pervade what is this complicated liqueur, all while appreciating the same flavors and more in your dessert.
Though one could also use it as an excuse, in the same vein, to have a sipper of Cognac, either the same you used here or, ideally, an even better and longer aged beauty, kept at room temperature or a touch lower (no heating your cognac! Bad dog!). Then again, I’ve found Armagnacs (cognac’s not-so-smooth, very aromatically fire-y cousin) that bring a noted nose of oranges to the party, making it a fun substitute if you can find the right bottle.
If we did want to walk outside those alcohols that were used in the recipe, I will admit there’s a part of me that for whatever reason craves an Australian ‘Sticky,’ their richly fruity and caramel-y fortified dessert wines, especially the ones made from Moscato. The syrupiness and richness and alcy body just feel like they’d be a nummy match.