I ate my pancakes a full 10 days before Shrove Tuesday this year. Does this put me in credit, I wonder? Is there one in the bank with St Peter now? Two, perhaps? Ten days is a good bit of Lent overtime, surely. The problem is that I ate them with so much booze, sugar and disregard for the common proprieties of the Day of Rest, that I fear I will be going only down, with just a short pit-stop to attract Twitter opprobrium for my extravagance on the way.
I was eating Crêpes Suzette, you see, the pancake abstemiousness forgot, and I was eating it amid the tailcoats and marble of The Ritz dining room. Yes, they cost a fortune. Yes, I could have attempted them myself. Yes, I had to wear a tie. But it is my indulgence and I'll do it anyway I like, thanks very much.
At any rate, you sort of need to be in a grand hotel to do Crêpes Suzette. You need the high ceiling to cope with the flambéing of the Grand Marnier and the cognac. As the Ritz's manager Luca Cagnin points out, “health and safety wouldn't let you do it otherwise”.
As he rolled the large wooden chest over, with its raging gas hob, and poured in the sugar with a flourish and stirred the butter round the pan, before adding the orange rind and the spirits, I did wonder if eyebrows would be singed. The flames leapt 4ft, but agility and practice meant that Cagnin didn't need to pencil his brows back on before the next service.
It is testament to the wisdom of the executive chef John Williams that you can get these crêpes here. His chefs produce food with the virtuosity of the true professional.
It is hard to be sure of the origins of the Crêpe Suzette but the best story is the one told by Henri Charpentier in his autobiography, Life à la Henri. He claims that, in 1895, he was preparing the then-unnamed dish for Edward VII, merely a corpulent Prince of Wales at the time. The scene was the dining room at the Café de Paris in Monte Carlo: then only 14 years old, Charpentier approached the table and began to prepare the syrup for the already-cooked crêpes.
He had done it hundreds of times. But he decided to add some cognac, as flambéing was the done thing back then, and WHOOSH, it lit up like a Scouts' bonfire on 5 November. The prince gobbled all the pancakes and sauce. On being told they would now be known as Crêpes Princesse in his honour – “Prince” not being an appropriate epithet for a pancake, apparently – he demurred. “Will you,” said the prince, “change Crêpes Princesse to Crêpes Suzette?” And thus they were named, in deference to his dining companion.
It is impossible to know how much credence to give this story, but that same plump prince grew into a fat king and a pile of Crêpes Suzette will certainly help you with that.
In taste, they travel that thin line between “oh god, this is good” and “oh god, this is a bit much”. They are sweet and sticky but the rind of the orange and the airy hit of the booze pull it back from the nadir. I ate three. I am a little fatter now, a lot poorer, but much happier.
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