Dessert with Drama – The Amazing Crêpes Suzette

Crêpes Suzette

Credit: Or Hiltch

Crêpes Suzette is a dramatic dessert consisting of a thin pancake base generously drizzled with caramelized sugar, butter, orange juice, and orange zest. It is liberally topped with Curaçao liqueur or Grand Marnier and lit upon serving, so that the creation is set “aflame” or, as the French put it, “flambé.”

The First Crêpe Suzette

Legend has it that this dish was accidentally created by an assistant waiter named Henri Charpentier, who was preparing a dessert for the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII).   In his memoirs he says that the cordials on the table accidentally caught fire along with the dessert. Upon tasting the dessert, however, Henri decided it tasted delicious and he served it to the prince. The dessert would have been named Crêpes Princesse for the prince but, in a fit of chivalry, the prince asked that the name be changed to Crêpes Suzette in honor of a pretty guest in his party.

While this story has been disputed by food historians, it nevertheless provides the food enthusiast with an interesting and romantic tale.  Since its first appearance in 1895, this dessert has remained a favorite for occasions when an extra special touch is necessary to bring a meal to its end.

A Version for Every Chef

Author and celebrity chef Jacques Pepin’s recipe calls for orange butter in a Food and Wine post. He prepares this by combining 6 tablespoons of butter, ¼ cup of sugar, and orange zest in a mini food processor. While the machine keeps working, he adds orange juice gradually until it is totally incorporated.  The article on Crêpes Suzette makes mention of the artistic way Pepin presented his masterpiece. “While restaurants traditionally make the buttery, orange-flavored sauce for this famous dessert tableside from start to finish, Pépin finds it easier to prepare largely in advance when entertaining. He flambés the liquor in front of his dinner guests and pours it over the platter of crêpes while still flaming.”

Food Network’s article, Crêpes Suzette, describes the way Bobby Flay makes his Crêpes Suzette. His pancake batter contains orange liqueur (he recommends Grand Marnier) a bit of vanilla, orange zest, and clarified butter. Then, he puts together a sauce made with 1 ½ cups orange juice (freshly squeezed), 3 tablespoons of sugar, orange zest, orange liqueur, 3 peeled and sectioned oranges, and vanilla ice cream.

In Smithsonian Mag’s Julia Child Makes Crepes Suzette, hopeful cooks are given a quick but truly enlightening demonstration of how Julia Child makes the crepes are made on a non-stick pan. The crepes are subsequently soaked in a sauce made with orange juice, sugar, and brandy, then folded in triangles before being given a final drizzle of sauce and sugar. The triangles are arranged on a plate, and then set aflame in front of guests on the table.

In Nigella’s article on Crepes Suzette, Nigella Lawson promises that her version will be equally delicious, but less difficult to make. She says, “This is probably the queen of retro desserts and deservedly so. My version is a speeded-up and simplified one by virtue of using shop-bought crepes. But there is no need to feel this is a cop-out. For one, they can be incredibly good but, more pertinently, by the time they’ve been doused and soused, not to mention, flamed, the idea that you could discern their origins is laughable…”  Her secret? Readymade crepes!

If you make time to watch one or two of the available videos on Crepes Suzette, you will see that it is not hard to make. It may take a bit more effort to put together than a pan of brownies, but the dramatic end result is very much worth it.

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