The Mysterious Dame
There may be no dish that better demonstrates the sense of mystery and charm that surrounds the naming of French culinary inventions than the world famous Crêpes Suzette.
The most popular tale has it that Henri Charpentier, a fifteen-year-old assistant waiter at Monte Carlo's Café de Paris, came out with the dish in 1895, when he was serving crêpes for the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII of England. The crêpes were precooked in the kitchen, but were heated in a chaffing dish with liqueurs in front of the guests. Charpentier, who later became a world famous chef, wrote in his memoirs: "It was quite by accident as I worked in front of a chaffing dish that the cordials caught fire…I tasted it. It was, I thought, the most delicious melody of sweet flavors I had ever tasted…" He wanted to call the dish Crêpes Princesse, but the Prince asked that the dish be named after a young lady present at the meal, apparently a daughter of one of his friends. And so Crêpes Suzette was born, a dessert that, as Charpentier put it, "would reform a cannibal into a civilized gentleman."
There are, however, alternate versions. One story has it that Suzette was not a young and innocent girl, but one of Edward's mistresses, and the dish was invented not in Monte Carlo but in the fashionable spa of Baden-Baden. Yet another tale has Suzette as a well known courtesan for whom Charpentier named the dish when he was head of the kitchen of a well-known Paris restaurant. A chef named Joseph Donon claimed that he invented the dish for a German actress, Suzanne Reichenberg, but others argued that Donon did nothing more than supply the daily allotment of pancakes for a theater production in the Comedie Francaise, in which a maid named Suzette was serving pancakes. It has also been claimed that crêpes Suzette was created by the chef Jean Reboux for King Louis XV, at the behest of Princess Suzette de Carignan, who wanted to win the King's heart.
For the sauce:
1 tsp lemon rind, cut very thinly
1 tsp tangerine rind, cut very thinly (note: although purists may insist to the contrary, orange rind may be substituted)
1 tsp sugar
2 drops vanilla extract
1/2 cup butter
2 Tbsp each of kirsch and Grand Marnier liqueurs
For the crêpes:
2 1/2 cups flour, sifted
pinch of salt
4 whole eggs + 2 egg yolks
1 3/4 cups milk
1 Tbsp Curacao liqueur
2 drops vanilla extract
1 Tbsp butter, heated until light brown
1/4 cup melted butter, for cooking
1/4 cup sugar
In a jar combine the lemon and tangerine rinds with the sugar and vanilla extract. Let stand tightly covered, for at least 24 but not more than 48 hours.
Prepare the crêpes: Sift the flour into a large bowl and make a well in the center. Add the salt and then add, one at a time, the whole eggs and egg yolks, working the batter with a wood spoon until the mixture is well distributed. Add the milk, Curacao, vanilla, and browned butter and work together until the batter is completely smooth. Cover and let stand at room temperature for about 1 1/2 hours.
Before cooking the crêpes, check the batter. It should have the consistency of light cream, just thick enough to coat a wooden spoon. To cook the crêpes, butter a 7" crêpe pan or other low heavy skillet of the same size with some of the melted butter. Heat until a drop of batter dropped in the pan sizzles. In order to test the consistency of the batter and check the heat, make a first crêpe by pouring 2-3 Tbsp of the batter into the pan, turning the pan quickly so that the bottom is evenly coated, keeping in mind that the crêpes should be extremely thin. Cook over a medium flame until the crêpe is browned on the bottom and, with a metal spatula, turn and brown the second side. If the batter is overly thick, thin the mixture by adding milk a teaspoonful at a time.
Proceed to make the remaining crêpes, adding butter to the pan only if the crêpes begin to stick. If the crêpes are to be used immediately they may be piled one on top of the other. If they are to be stored, separate each layer with waxed paper, cover and refrigerate until ready for use. Just before final preparation, fold each crêpe so that it forms a triangular shape.
Make the sauce: In a heavy skillet melt the butter and, when it begins to bubble add half each of the kirsch and Grand Marnier. When the mixture is warm carefully flame the liqueurs. As the flame dies down add the lemon and tangerine mixture. Bring the sauce to the boil and into this place the crêpes, turning once.
Transfer the crepes to a pre-warmed serving plate. In a small attractive saucepan gently heat the remaining liqueurs. Bring the crêpes and the liqueurs to the table, pour the liqueurs over the crêpes and flame again. Serve while flaming. (Serves 4-6)