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The Princess of Crêpes
The Princess of Crêpes - Photo by Jon Russo

The Princess of Crêpes

May 1, 2018
by Ron Skaar

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Examination of starch grains, from 30,000-year-old grinding tools, suggests that flour was made from cattails and ferns by Stone Age cooks. Mixed with water and baked on a hard, possibly greased rock, it was more akin to hardtack than the modern hot cake, flapjack or crepe.

A flat cake, made from batter and fried, was a common item of diet among Neolithic diners. Human remains, discovered in the Italian Alps from 5,300 years ago, contained ground einkorn wheat with bits of charcoal. This suggests that it was in the form of a pancake which was baked over an open fire.

Making pancakes, out of assorted types of grain, goes far back into history and includes most every culture. Ancient Greeks and Romans dined on wheat cakes sweetened with honey along with savory ones consisting of olive oil, sesame and cheese.

In the 13th Century Crusaders brought back buckwheat from the Mideast. Wheat did not grow well in the rainy cold climate of France’s Brittany region, but the buckwheat thrived. The flour created from this cereal allowed local chefs to create a round paper-thin pancake.

This all-purpose pancake wrapper, the crepe, was invented in Brittany. Here, savory buckwheat crepes are called “galettes” and usually include a salty topping. Buckwheat is a gluten-free flour while wheat flour is normally used for creating sweet crêpes.

The French originally called them “panneguet”, a very thin lacy pancake which resembled the wrinkly, fragile looking fabric crepe. In a Parisian cafe, Thomas Jefferson dined on the lacy, thin pancake and sent a recipe, he snagged from the maitre-d’hotel, back to Monticello.

By the end of the nineteenth century there were 24,000 cafes in the greater Paris area, each with its own take on cuisine and character. In 1894 Edward, Prince of Wales, and a friend dined in one of the more elegant establishments and ended their meal with a crepe dessert, finished on a flame in front of the guests.

Cordials in the pan suddenly ignited, something which had not happened before. The young waiter anxiously tasted the “burnt” concoction. The combustion had produced “the most delicious melody of sweet flavors I had ever tasted”, he thought as he proceeded to serve the astounded guests.

After Edward devoured the crêpes, finishing the sauce with a spoon, he inquired what the name of this divine dessert was. With his guest in mind the waiter quickly came up with “Crêpes Princess”. But the amorous future king, with his guest in mind, suggested “Crêpes Suzette”, securing a place in culinary history for this dessert!

Cooked quickly on both sides to achieve a lace-like network of fine bubbles, crepes are one of the most versatile elements in cookery. “One of the first things a beginning cook should master” mused Julia Child, “only their name poses a problem”.

Learning to cook crêpes was one of my earliest culinary adventures. We stopped at a friends house on the way home from school where she whipped up the batter for crêpes, in no time. After the necessary wait time (the batter needs to sit to jell) we made crêpe after crêpe and downed them doused with sweet butter and brown sugar.

You can use almost any kind of pan with a 6-inch bottom diameter, preferably nonstick, for making crêpes. They adapt to almost any savory or sweet filling and shimmer surrounded in sauce.

May 6th is nationalCrêpe Suzette day, so we honor all our Susie’s with this recipe.


Crêpes Suzette ~ Serves 6

12 - 6 “ Crêpes

1 cup milk

1/2 cup cold water

1 whole egg and 2 yolks

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1-1/2 cups sifted all-purpose unbleached flour

5 tablespoons melted butter

Place the ingredients in the blender jar in the order in which they are listed. Cover and blend at top speed for 1 minute. Dislodge any bits stuck to side with scraper and blend a little more. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Heat frying pan until drops of water sizzle on surface.

Brush pan with a little butter (usually only necessary for first crepe) and pour about 2-3 tablespoons batter in middle of pan, swirling the pan in all directions to cover bottom. Cook for about 30 seconds and turn and cook for 15-20 seconds more-this will be the “bad” side. Finish all the batter and wrap in foil to keep warm.

Orange butter:

2 oranges, grate orange rind, then juiced

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1-1/2 sticks softened unsalted butter

2/3 cup fresh orange juice from above

2-3 tablespoons orange liqueur

Cream softened butter with sugar and by droplets add the orange juice, orange liqueur and rind. Place the orange butter in pan and heat until bubbling. Dip both side of each crepe in the butter. It’s best side out, fold in half and half again, rapidly continue with rest of crepes. Garnish with additional rind and raspberries if available.

To flame:

Sprinkle folded crepes with a little sugar. Pour over them 1/3 cup each orange liqueur and brandy. Carefully ignite the liqueur with a match, shake pan gently back and forth until fire dies out.

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