February 28, 2006
Happy Pancake Day!

crepes.jpgComing back from the grocery store this evening, I sorely regretted that I hadn't thought to bring the camera with me. I could have taken a photo of a footprint in a soggy white pavement. "Snow?" you would have thought. But although it did snow briefly this afternoon, it was not snow on the ground. It was flour. And whipped cream. And eggs.

We have a grade school (maternelle) and a high school (lycée) down the street from us. And although Paris does not boast a Carnival as impressive as Venice or Rio, the students here know how to live it up on Fat Tuesday. The little ones, like our mini-Critic, dress up in fancy costumes. And the big ones run around throwing flour, eggs and whipped dairy products at one another. I am always rather trepidatious about picking my way through the crowd on days like today, trying to look like someone who enjoys a good joke but doesn't want to be the victim of one.

And what did I buy at the grocery store? Milk, eggs, ham, chicken, mushrooms and oranges for a pancake feast, of course! And in honor of the recent Is My Blog Burning? edition, I decided to make one of the dishes an authentic French Traditional Dish: Crêpes Suzette.

As requested by Laura of Cucina Testa Rossa, the host of this edition of IMBB?, I did try to research the dish before starting. There are conflicting stories, however. If you Google "crepes suzette history" you'll mainly find the story of 15 year old Henri Charpentier who was working the Café de Paris in Monte Carlo in 1895. The legend has it that Prince Edward, future king of England, was entertaining friends there when young Henri through chance or design (stories differ) made a flambé orange and butter crêpe. Charpentier wanted to name the new dish Crêpe Princesse in honor of the Princess of Wales, but the future king instead requested that he name it after the daughter of one of the guests at the table, little Suzette. The Larousse Gastronomique notes dryly: "In actual fact, at that date Charpentier was not old enough to be the head waiter serving the prince...Elsewhere, Léon Dauder, in Paris vécu (1929) speaks of pancakes called Suzette which in about 1898 were one of the specialities of Marie's Restaurant..." Henri Charpentier went on to become chef to the Rockefellers, though, so perhaps the Larousse is being snooty on that account? In any case, they have gone on to become a classic of French cuisine.

To tell the truth, I am not overly fond of orange-flavored foods and so have avoided them for most of my life. But when I made them tonight I have to admit they were mighty tasty. The slight bitter edge of the orange zest was nicely balanced by the crunchy sugar crystals on the outside. And the rich butter really did bring out the best in the delicate pancakes.

However, man does not live by desserts alone. We also had lovely chicken and ham crêpes to start. Below are the recipes, which serve two.

For the crêpe batter:
2 eggs
1 cup milk
2/3 cups flour
1 Tbs melted butter
a pinch of salt

Beat the eggs and flour and salt and gradually beat in the milk and butter until you have a smooth batter. Allow the batter to rest at least half an hour and preferably two hours. To make the crêpes, pour a scant quarter of a cup onto a hot crêpe or frying pan and either swish the pan around or use a little rake to spread the batter evenly. Turn after a minute or two (when the crêpe lifts easily from the pan) and cook for another minute before removing to a warm plate.

Filling One: Ham and Chicken

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 slices of prosciutto ham or equivalent
5-6 mushrooms
2 shallots
2-3 Tbs butter
1/4 cup parsley
1/2 glass cream sherry
2 Tbs flour
1/2 cup milk
splash of white wine
salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a frying pan. While it is melting, cut the chicken breasts in thin strips. Fry them in the butter over a fairly high heat so that they begin to brown and even stick a bit to the bottom of the pan. While they are cooking, slice the shallots in thins strips. Toss them in with the chicken and start washing and slicing the mushrooms. Add the sliced mushrooms and while they begin softening shred the ham in small pieces. Add the ham to the mixture and give it all a few good stirs. By now the chicken should be cooked and the onions and mushrooms starting to soften. Add the sherry and a deglaze, picking up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Stir in the flour and cook for a few minutes, stirring to eliminate lumps. Stir in the milk and let it cook for a few minutes, thickening. Add the wine when and if the filling starts to get a bit dry. And taste for seasoning. Reserve until the crêpes are ready for filling, stirring in the parsley (chopped) just before you do, so that it's just barely wilted.

suzette.jpgFilling Two: Suzette

1 orange
20 grams butter, softened
a few Tablespoons of Grand Marnier
2 teaspoons sugar

Zest the orange using a gorgeous microplaner like the one Barrett got me at E. Dehillerin in Paris. Slice an end off the orange and squeeze a couple of tablespoons of juice over the butter. Add the zest and mix well. Once the crêpes are made, spread the zest butter over half the crêpe and fold in quarters. Garnish with a slice of orange, rind removed. Warm the Grand Marnier and pour it over the crêpe. Light it, turn out the lights and wow your guests. When the flames have gone down and before they dig in, though, sprinkle a little sugar over the crepes. The crystals will add a nice texture and with the slightly bitter rind the sugar will be welcome.

And maybe all that vitamin C will briefly make you forget about the cold you've been harboring since November of last year...and the big flakes of snow that are drifting past your window on this last day of February.

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Posted by Meg in Sussex at February 28, 2006 3:12 PM Print-friendly version

I lok forward to street crepes every time I visit Paris. I saw one of those electric crepe griddles at M. Hillard's. I'd have take it home if it hadn't been so large and heavy and worked on the wrong sort of electricity and my wife would have killed me and -

I think of crepes suzette as a very "Julia Childs" dish along with Steak au Poivre, and Coq au Vin.

Posted by barrett on February 28, 2006 at 4:52 PM

Mini Critic's outfit turned out AWESOME, Meg! You've missed your calling--should've gone into costume design!
I'm ringing you next time I need a brilliant costume idea.

Posted by Taina on March 1, 2006 at 1:47 AM

Thanks, Taina! As usual, I put off the actual work until the very last moment, which is why only the very front of the headband is beaded! ; )

I'm not looking forward to the day when he joins the flour-throwing brigade!

Posted by Meg in Paris on March 1, 2006 at 9:17 AM

The mini-Critic's outfit is grand, but I like the smirk even better!

I miss a wonderful crepe restaurant we used to frequent in Mexico City... Ham and cheese was a favorite, then the Cajeta and Pecan one for dessert!

Posted by Monica on March 1, 2006 at 10:14 AM

Monica, I made Cajeta and Pecan crepes based on Rick Bayless' recipe about a year ago and never got round to writing it up. They were FANTASTIC. A lot of work, mind you, making the caramel sauce. But it was completely worth it once a) I tasted it and b) the compliments started coming in!!

I really should get that book out again one of these days, as I haven't had a bad recipe from it!

Posted by Meg in Paris on March 1, 2006 at 10:52 AM

Send picture, please.

A proud Grandma.

Posted by Meg's MOM on March 1, 2006 at 1:11 PM

Proud Grandma, if you click on the phrase "fancy costumes" you'll see a photo. His dad took much better ones (he was grumpy because he was hungry when took the photo - note the piece of bread in his hands) where he was smiling more. I'll try to post them on the .mac site later this week!

Posted by Meg in Paris on March 1, 2006 at 1:27 PM
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