Friday, April 27, 2012

Love, Time, Crêpes Suzette, and Eggs, William S. Burroughs

Joan Crawford invites you to her 1936 dinner party.  According to Photoplay magazine, Joan will be serving Crêpes Suzette for dessert.

     Lately, it seems, I and everyone I know is spiritually, if not actually, in need of dessert – something sweet and sprightly to articulate whatever good feelings and (now that it’s full spring) buds of hope still reside inside.    I don't often feel this way; I’m fairly optimistic by nature.  Dessert pangs mostly visit me when I’m enervated or, for some reason, emotionally bereft.

     Therefore, when I reached for Joe Hyde’s Love, Time and Butter (New York, Richard W. Baron, 1971) in the bookshelf this afternoon, I was guided by an inchoate impulse to find a dessert worth sharing, i.e., one for group contemplation, as much as actually tasting.

     So I chose Hyde’s recipe for the luxurious classic and favorite, Crêpes Suzette

     I’ve mentioned previously that I am almost completely un-nostalgic.  There are so many things I would prefer to forget if I could.  But I will never forget the time my parents gave a large afternoon party in our home that was catered by Mr. Hyde, who was extremely well known during his career as a chef and teacher and  renowned for his omelettes and crêpes.   That was a wonderful memory.  HERE (link)  is a very nice biographical story about Joe Hyde from, all places, Sports Illustrated, published in 1971 when his reputation was firmly established as one of the "go-to" party and event chefs.

Joe Hyde teaching students.

     And here is the recipe from Hyde’s felicitously named book:

    “Henri Charpentier claimed to be the inventor of this classic.  I visited him in his tiny reservation – the only restaurant in Redondo Beach, California.  A very charming man.

Henri Charpentier (1880-1961)

Serves 6 or 7

Crêpe Batter

1 cup flour
¾ cup milk
½ stick butter, melted
1 tablespoon sugar
2 eggs

     To make the crêpe batter, mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl with 1/3 cup of milk. Whisk or beat the mixture until it is smooth. Add the rest of the milk or as much of it as it takes to achieve a mixture of the same consistency as heavy cream.  Heat a frying pan (about five inches across the bottom).  Holding the pan off the heat, pour 2 tablespoons of batter into the middle of it.  Tip and slowly turn the pan to permit the batter to coat the bottom evenly.  Crêpes have to be very thin, so there must be no excess batter floating around the surfaces of the crêpe; if the pan flares out, let this excess run up along the sides, or just pour it back into the bowl.

     Return the pan to medium heat  Within 20 seconds, the underside of the crêpe will be brown.  Take the pan from the heat and turn it upside-down over a table.  Tap the edge of the upside-down pan against the table and the crêpe should fall out.  Use a spatula or your hand to put the crêpe back into the pan with the opposite side down.  Better to let them get a little black than not brown at all.

     The crêpes can be made far in advance and once cool can be kept, covered, in the refrigerator. 

Suzette Mixture

½ cup confectioner’s sugar
¼ pound butter
4 oranges
1 lemon
1/3 cup Grand Marnier
2 tablespoons Kirschwasser
2 tablespoons Cognac

     The suzette mixture is what the crêpe will eventually cook in and soak up.  It can also be made in advance, and kept in the refrigerator. Mix the sugar, butter, the grated peel of 2 oranges and one lemon together in a bowl.  Squeeze the oranges and the lemon and strain the juice into a little pitcher.  There should be about a cup of juice.

     When ready to serve, fold the crêpes in half and then fold them again so that they have a quarter-moon shape.  Arrange them on a platter.  Now at the table at dessert time, there is a plateful of folded crêpes, a little bowl full of the butter mixture, a pitcher with the juice in it, and another pitcher into which you have measured the Grand Marnier, Kirsch and Cognac.  This dessert is flamed, served hot, and can be cooked at the table in an electric frying pan.  Turn on the pan to 400 degrees and put in ½ of the juice and ½ of the butter mixture.  Put in the crêpes side-by-side, and before they have absorbed all of the liquid, turn them over with two forks or a pair of food tongs.

       Add the rest of the juice and the Suzette butter mixture.  When all this has been absorbed by the crêpes, pull the plug and pour in the liquid.  Keep your head to one side and approach the pan with a lighted match.  When the flame dwindles and the simmering stops, there should be almost no liquid left.  What there is will be thick and syrupy and should be spooned over the crêpes as they are served.  This cooking process takes no more than 15 minutes. It can also be made in a chafing dish.”

Crêpes Suzette aux citrons

     Henri Charpentier’s claim to be the inventor of Crêpes Suzette is heavily disputed.  Interested readers should consult this article (link) for a summary of suppositions regarding the dish’s origin, including the so-called “Suzanne Reichenberg” theory. 

Suzanne Reichenberg (1853-1924)

     I don’t think the precise history is terribly important, but the lore is fascinating and full of places I’d like to have been and things I’d like to have seen. 

Crêpes Suzette aux framboises

     I only know that Crêpes Suzette are delicious and have given me great enjoyment since I first tasted them, that my father worked hard to succeed at becoming skilled preparing them for dinner parties (which gave him tremendous pleasure and pride), and that they were the nightly exclamation points concluding Pink Floyd's midnight Roman dinners following their daytime work scoring and recording the soundtrack for Michelangelo Antonioni’s odd and "of its time" (I wonder what it would be like to view it today?) Zabriskie Point

Pink Floyd ca. Zabriskie Point

     There will definitely be more on Henri Charpentier posted here in the future.  He was a fascinating character and a blogger’s delight because he named many of the dishes he devised for his restaurants in honor of intriguing yesteryear celebrities.  One of Charpentier’s most  mysterious creations dates from the early 1940s and probably originated at his luxe Chicago restaurant, Café de Paris, in the Dearborn Park Hotel

      It appears on page 426 of his book Food And Finesse, The Bride’s Bible, and is called Eggs, William S. Burroughs.

William S. Burroughs, sometime Chicago resident.


  1. Love this post - I'm a big fan of Joan Crawford's Crepes Suzette recipe - Jenny from Silver Screen Suppers

    1. Jenny -- Thanks so much for your note. I really enjoyed this post also. It summoned up a lot of interesting (and delicious) memories. For years, I spent part of every week in Chicago on business and the Charpentier/Burroughs connection amazed me. I visited and really love Silver Screen Suppers also and the Shellac Sisters too. They made my day. Coincidentally, I recently saw published in a US magazine a small grouping of Joan Crawford recipes, which I saved because they all looked good to me. Greetings from Berwyn, Pennsylvania, just outside Philadelphia. It's a beautiful autumn day here. Regards, Curtis Roberts