Crêpes Suzette is probably the most famous crepe dish in the world. In a restaurant, a classic Crêpes Suzette is often prepared in a chafing dish in full view of the guests. The crêpes are served hot with a sauce of sugar, orange juice, and liqueur (usually Grand Marnier). Brandy is poured over the crepes and then lit.
Crêpes Suzette were made famous in elegant Parisian restaurants at the turn of the twentieth century and have become standard French dessert fare.
The origin of the dish and its name is disputed. One claim is that it was created from a mistake made by a fourteen-year-old assistant waiter Henri Charpentier in 1895 at the Maitre at Monte Carlo's Café de Paris. He was preparing a dessert for the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII of the United Kingdom, whose guests included a beautiful French girl named Suzette. This story was told by Charpentier himself in Life à la Henri, his autobiography, although later contradicted by the Larousse Gastronomique.
“It was quite by accident as I worked in front of a chafing dish that the cordials caught fire. I thought it was ruined. The Prince and his friends were waiting. How could I begin all over?
I tasted it. It was, I thought, the most delicious medley of sweet flavors I had ever tasted. I still think so. That accident of the flame was precisely what was needed to bring all those various instruments into one harmony of taste ... He ate the pancakes with a fork, but he used a spoon to capture the remaining syrup.
He asked me the name of that which he had eaten with so much relish. I told him it was to be called Crêpes Princesse. He recognized that the pancake controlled the gender and that this was a compliment designed for him, but he protested with mock ferocity that there was a lady present.
She was alert and rose to her feet and holding her little skirt wide with her hands she made him a curtsey. "Will you," said His Majesty, "change Crêpes Princesse to Crêpes Suzette?" Thus was born and baptized this confection, one taste of which, I really believe, would reform a cannibal into a civilized gentleman. The next day I received a present from the Prince, a jeweled ring, a Panama hat, and a cane.”
Different sources (like the Larousse Gastronomique) however doubt that Charpentier, rather than the head waiter, was serving the prince, because he would have been too young.
A less fantastical version emerges from Elsie Lee's interview with him in the 1950s. There, Charpentier explained at length that "his complicated version began as the dish of pancakes with fruit sauce his foster mother made on very special occasions." The addition of liqueur was au courant among chefs in Paris at the time.
The other claim states that the dish was named in honor of French actress Suzanne Reichenberg (1853–1924), who worked professionally under the name Suzette. In 1897, Reichenberg appeared in the Comédie Française in the role of a maid, during which she served crêpes on stage. Monsieur Joseph, the owner of Restaurant Marivaux, provided the crêpes. He decided to flambé the thin pancakes to attract the audience's attention and keep the food warm for the actors consuming them. Joseph was subsequently director of the Paillard Restaurant in Paris and was later with the Savoy Hotel in London.
In 1896, Oscar Tschirky published the recipe as "Pancakes, Casino Style" with everything in place except the final flambée. Escoffier described Crêpes Suzette in the English version of his Guide Culinaire in 1907 (French 1903) the same way, also without the final flambée.
The dish was already a specialty of the French restaurant Marie's by 1898, and no matter which story one wants to believe, Crêpes Suzette became one of the most renowned dishes for more than a century.
I haven’t seen them on many menus lately, and when I do it is at “old school” French restaurants. They are surprisingly easy to prepare and are a great showstopper for your guests.
Besides, Mother’s Day is coming soon, and wouldn’t Crêpes Suzette make a grand surprise?!
This is just one of those desserts that seem, on the page as on the plate, to be labor-intensive and tricky, but in fact, are as simple to make as they are gratifying to eat.
For one thing, you can make the crepes in advance; they could sit, piled between torn-off sheets of baking parchment and well wrapped in the refrigerator, for a good three days without coming to any harm.
But I must admit to taking, more than once, an even quicker route: using good store-bought crepes. Once they're immersed in the sweet orangey syrup, they will not betray their prefabricated origins.
Yield: 4 - 6 servings
Time: 20 minutes
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
Finely grated zest of 1 orange
10 tablespoons unsalted butter
⅓ cup superfine sugar
8 to 12 crepes
⅓ cup Grand Marnier
In a small saucepan, combine orange juice, zest, butter, and sugar. Place over high heat and bring to boil; reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until syrupy, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat, and set aside.
Fold crepes into quarters, and arrange in a circular pattern, slightly overlapping, in a nonreactive skillet or another shallow flameproof pan. Pour warm syrup on top (reserve syrup pan), and place over low heat until crepes are warm, about 5 minutes.
Warm liqueur in the pan that held the orange syrup. When crepes are hot, pour liqueur on top; carefully touch a flame to surface to light it. Serve immediately, spooning crepes and sauce onto each plate.