On Crêpes Suzette, Sun City and Saint Germain

When we were little my dad, and hero, was the quantity surveyor and project manager for the iconic Sun City hotel complex.  In case you aren’t sure what this means, basically, it was a very important job!!  It still gives me chills when I remember how my father was in the helicopter when he and hotel magnate Sol Kerzner flew over the land and selected it to become the biggest hotel centre on the African continent, a place that people traveled to for leisure, business and entertainment. During the height of the hotel’s development, our family moved into the hotel for the holidays. The hotel was not yet open for business, but all the people involved on the project were living on site and so Steve, my brother, and I became the first and youngest guests to reside at the main hotel.

Me and Steve, way back when…

I invite you to imagine Eloise, the little fictional resident of the Plaza Hotel in New York, only this time, it was Karen and Steven in Sun City, South Africa. We had free reign of the place and it was a dream playground for children. Each restaurant was flexing its culinary muscles in preparation for the grand opening and we would slip into different restaurants for meals and grandly say ‘charge it’ and the waiters would humour us even though in reality there was never a bill attached. I recall very clearly going to the bowling alley and playing Tenpin Bowling like we were the king and queen of all the skittles. There was a place, a kiosk really, that made jam doughnuts. It was like a little hole in the wall, but they were the best doughnuts I have ever tasted, and I dream of them till this day.

From this little kiosk, we would wander along to a five-star restaurant, a place that was the epitome of French culinary excellence on the southernmost tip of Africa. ‘The Silver Forest’ remains one of the most ‘fancy’ French restaurants I have ever dined at, like the Tour d’Argent of Paris. It embodied a royalty-posh-elegance genre of a world gone by. Picture silver-service, posh waiters who seemed to be imported from France pushing fillet mignon to the table on a silver server. The waiters took their little patrons very seriously: ‘How is our service guys?’ they would ask, with a twinkle in their eye, as they lavished their most generous waitering skills on me and Steve.

Steve and I would go to the Silver Forest with one item on our minds – their crêpes suzette.  They would prepare the crêpes and bring it out to our table where they would pour the Grand Marnier over it and flambé it in front of us. The interaction of fire display and the soft, delicate layers of crêperie plus the fact that Steve and I were treated as little guests of honour, renders these crepes as one of the most beloved experiences of my childhood. Of course, we told the waiters that they were brilliant and that their crepe suzettes were the best we had ever had (truth be told, they were the first we had ever had). I still dream about them, alongside the jam doughnuts – we were non-discriminating in our culinary tastes.

About Saint Germain:

On a little corner, next to the church, on the left bank of Paris, in Saint Germain de Pres, opposite the iconic salons of Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore, there is the most perfect little crêpe stand. More than half a century ago, the likes of Hemingway, Sartre and de Beauvoir gathered at these landmarks to talk poetry, politics, surrealism and existentialism. Their literary inspiration hovers like a muse – I once sat at Café de Flore by my self and the writing flowed from me into my little journal. It was that day I decided that I must write my stories of food, life and world. One could almost say that if the poetry and philosophical genius of Hemingway and Sartre could be bottled in a batter, it would become these very crêpes. And so this crêpe kiosk become a much loved and necessary stop we would make whenever we would come to Paris, to sample these soft, tasty and most perfect crêpes suzette.

The stand is manned by someone who dons the uniform of creperie like one imagines a priest dons his cloth – with seriousness and devotion. When I would go there with my parents, we would order our crepes with marron, chestnut puree and grande marnier and enjoy them, taking in the soft air of a Paris autumn or spring. Then, when I had my girls, shortly after they were weaned, Saffron and Scarlett were of course introduced to the crepe stand on the corner of Saint Germain. From the array of choices on offer, they chose Nutella and banana. Even in the presence of our two adorable daughters, the chef of crepe suzette remained staid and reserved. No matter how much adoration we lay at the bucket of his batter, he would remain stiff and held back. Then one time, we lay down our bags at our hotel and came straight to him for a crepe. He looked at me and then the girls and said three words upon which I knew we had been accepted into his inner world, ‘Nutella et banane?’ He knew us, he remembered us, we had arrived!

Crêpe and Nutella heaven!

Since lockdown, I have been in a crêpe suzette state of mind. I aspire towards the authenticity of the French orange butter pancake which needs to be a perfect balance of paper-thin, yet intact, soft, yet with a slight crisp edge. Like other foods we have been eating, these crepes suzette remind me of a time when we could visit Paris and stand on street corners eating while watching the crowds. They take me back to Café de Flore where the poets and philosophers wondered how we would ever emerge from the tyranny of Europe in the thirties. They remind me of my childhood when Steve and I became the little guests of a vast hotel complex and where for a few weeks, French waiters stood to our attention and made us crêpes suzette every day.

Life moves through so many vagaries. It’s important to remember that this too shall pass. Making crepes make me think of a time when I could show my girls the world. Right now, for me, memory is a taste and nostalgia gives me hope!

Crêpes Suzette Recipe

Did you know that crêpes suzette were created by mistake?
While serving dessert to the Prince of Wales (Future King Edwards VII of England) in 1895, Henri Charpentier, a 14 year old waiter at Monte Carlo’s Café de Paris, accidentally set the crêpe sauce on fire. Initially, he was most upset, but upon tasting the sauce, he discovered it was delicious!
The Prince of Wales agreed, and asked to name it after his companion, Suzette.

Crepe Batter Ingredients:
– 250 g flour
– 3 eggs
– 250 ml milk
– Pinch of salt
– Juice of 1 Orange
– 1 Tbsp Grand Manier
– 2 Tbsp melted butter

Orange Butter Ingredients:
– 50g butter
– Juice and Zest of one Orange
– 1 Tbsp Grand Manier
– 4 Tbsp Caster Sugar

Method:
1. To make the crêpe batter: combine crêpe ingredients, and let the batter stand for 2 hours at room temperature before cooking.
(Don’t skip this step! It allows the gluten in the flour to relax and hydrate properly, meaning you get light and fluffy non-lumpy crêpes. This is THE secret of making good French crêpes)

A tip from Julia Child: You can also flavour the crêpes with some Grand Marnier or orange liqueur to enhance the flavours and sweetness of the crêpes

2. To make the Orange butter, mix butter, juice and zest of 1 orange, Grand Marnier and caster sugar together.

3. Make thin crêpes in a heavy-bottomed frying pan. Remove each one from the frying pan and set aside.
* Pro tip: Add some melted butter to the batter just before cooking to prevent sticking. Don’t grease the pan at all – This makes sure the crêpes are tender

4. Coat each crêpe with a little of the orange butter, and fold in four (in half, and then in half again.

5. Return the crêpes to the frying pan one by one to heat.

6. To serve: arrange in a warm dish, slightly overlapping

How to Flambé:

Remove the pan from the heat, add the Grand Marnier and ignite the sauce carefully with a long handled match / lighter (I lit a wooden chopstick so I wouldn’t burn my fingers!)

Carefully bring the flame to the sauce, while hot, and the flames will appear for a few seconds. Once the alcohol has burnt off they will disappear.

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