Monday, 30 June 2014

Crêpes Suzette (100th post!)

Today we celebrate the one hundredth post on this blog and really, what better way to celebrate than with fire? Don't be worried by this recipe's supposed technical refinement, I've prepared this dish for countless people whose eyes have gone wide as dinner plates when I explained that I was going to flambé something. The immediate reactions tend to vary from "isn't that really complicated!?" to "what if you set the house on fire!?" to "Ohhh! Fire!" all I can say in response to these exclamations is that it really, really, really isn't that hard to do. If you follow these simple steps you too can set dessert on fire!

Crêpes Suzette has, as far as we know, been kicking around the culinary world for over a century. Sometimes garnished with the unfortunate and unglamorous name "Pancakes, Casino Style". Crêpes Suzette exists in a myriad of different forms sometimes with the final flambé, sometimes without. Historically it is difficult to attribute to anyone, being claimed by a multitude of creators and dedicated to a veritable army of Suzies, Suzettes and Suzannes. While claims to the creation of the original recipe vary, we do know that it appears in a variety of Belle Époque cookbooks including one by the ever famous Auguste Escoffier, who was chef to the Savoy Hotel of London. Interestingly enough, Escoffier's first version of the recipe does not feature the flambé which most people have so fondly associated with this delicious, if perhaps slightly over the top dessert. While it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when people decided it was a good day to light pancakes on fire, one thing we can be certain of is that it is delicious!

Pink oranges make for a nice garnish

In writing my version of the recipe I appear to have contradicted the greats *insert self-flagellation here* Escoffier's recipe as published in his 1965 edition "Ma Cuisine" calls for curacao and tangerines, I prefer the fancier Grand Marnier and the more zestable orange in addition to a nice salted butter to give us the much sought after salted caramel flavour that is ever the rage at the moment.

Now, the easiest part is just making the crêpes, simple enough! Most crêpe recipes will do in this case, here's the one that my family has used for as long as I can remember.


-1 cup flour
-¼ cup sugar
-Pinch of salt
-3 eggs
-1 ½ cups milk
-1 Tbsp. melted butter 
-1/2 tsp. vanilla (optional) 

While they can be cooked immediately, crêpes will actually cook better if they've settled a bit, with this in mind I advise letting the batter sit for around an hour, or if you're having a dinner party the next day, overnight. Though if they sit overnight, they might need a bit more milk in the morning!

Mix the wet ingredients and dry separately,  before incorporating them all together with a whisk or hand mixer. Fry in a conventional well-greased nonstick pan or if you happen to be fancier, a traditional cast-iron crêpe pans. It's best to make sure you've heated the pan (and grease) thoroughly before pouring the batter, to prevent sticking. Pour the batter into the middle of the pan and swish the pan around with your wrists to coat the entire base with batter making a perfect circle. Flip, cook, repeat.

Once you have all of your beautiful crêpes set aside it's time to make the sauce.

The sauce is really made to suit your tastes, the ingredients are: salted butter, sugar, orange juice, orange zest and an orange liquor for burning (in my case, Grand Marnier).  

In my case, I used a hefty amount of salted butter, about two thirds of a cup of (salted) butter, the juice and zest of three orange and enough sugar just to thicken it into a caramel-ish sauce. 

Simply melt the butter in a pot and cook with the orange zest in it to release the citrus oils (and flavour!), once the butter is completely melted, add the sugar and juice and stir.  Warm until the sauce coats the spoon and becomes foamy, taste and adjust seasoning to suit your personal preferences (more sugar? more salt?) I sometimes add more butter or sugar at this point, you want a rich, luscious caramel but one that is still a bit runny as it will thicken in the final cooking with the crêpe.

While your sauce thickens, measure out some liquor into a spouted pitcher or simply uncork your bottle.

Place the crêpe flat in a sturdy pan, you'll want to avoid any teflon lined pans as fire does not mix well with teflon, cast iron and anodized pans are great for this, with the benefit that the anodized ones are much lighter!

Heat the pan and prepare yourself for the pyrotechnics! You'll need either a conventional lighter and a spoon or if you're lucky enough to have one, a flambé torch.

Make sure you're being safe, turn off the fan over your stove if you happen to have one and use oven mitts if your pan handle conducts heat. Remember too that if the alcohol begins to evaporate, the flame will poof outwards when it ignites likethe flame on a gas oven or bbq tends to if the gas runs a tad before ignition so don't lean over it! While alcohol fires are low intensity, it's still good to watch out!

The most important step to successful flambéing, apart from not lighting yourself on fire, is making sure that your alcohol is hot enough to reach flashpoint, the point at which it can easily catch fire without evaporating. Keep in mind that alcohol, or at least the alcohol we're working with (ethanol) evaporates at 78.5 degrees Fahrenheit and has a flashpoint of 61.88 degrees (according to wikipedia) so you want the temperature to be between these two points when you light it up.

Now that your pan is heated, throw in your crêpe. Coat it carefully in sauce and fold it twice to form a triangle-like shape.

This is where the magic happens, turn off as many lights as possible without compromising safety!

Torch Method: Lower the heat to low, and add the alcohol, pouring it onto the folded crêpe and the pan. The heat left in the pan will heat the alcohol almost immediately to our desired temperature. At this point, if you have a torch it's easy-peasy, turn it on and light the liquor directly, swish it around to ventilate and the fire will flare up.

Lighter Method: This is a tad trickier but not at all impossible just be ready to coordinate. Uncork your bottle and be ready to pour some into the pan. For the actual ignition I've found it easiest to fill a spoon or ladle with liquor before heating the bottom with a lighter to warm it. Once warmed, let the flame crawl over the top into the liquor, catching fire. Immediately pour a dash of liquor from the bottle into the pan as it begins to evaporate, add your flaming spoonful of liquor to the pan where you see the largest accumulation of alcohol poured from the bottle. When it catches, as with the torch method, swish your crêpe back an forth making sure it flares up.

Flip the warm, sugary, boozy delight onto a plate and serve up garnished with orange slices, vanilla ice cream, fleur de sel, a wedge of salted butter or simply enjoy as is!


Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Wholesome Vegan Oat Scones

Lets face it folks, you all know that I am not vegan, will not be a vegan and do not plan on being vegan anytime soon. Its a well known fact that while I may routinely torment myself with an overdose of academia and the occasional bout of physical exercise, I'm far from perfect and enjoy life with a hefty helping of epicureanism, one which sometimes traverses into the realm of nearly bacchanalian  hedonism. I take my toast and waffles buttered, my cheese on everything, and have trouble looking at a pig without seeing adorable bacon held up by ham. Lamb and foie gras are moral dilemmas which inexorably end in favour of my stomach and no bottle of wine should go uncorked.

Perhaps because of this, I view vegans and vegetarians with a mixture of incredulity and admiration. Admiration for their nearly monastic dedication to a clean, environmentally sensitive lifestyle, incredulity because I know that if you wanted to take my brie from me you'd have to pry it from my cold, dead fingers.
Having vegan and vegetarian friends has catered to what I can only describe as my Catholic guilt complex, on the one hand I long for the freedom and guilt free lifestyle that comes from “eating clean” on the other hand, I can’t help but think that I wouldn’t want to wake every morning to veganism as a bedfellow. In an attempt to bridge the gap I've tried to limit my consumption of meat and animal products. A close friendship with friends of cleaner dieting persuasion has led me to pursue vegan recipes with renewed fervor as an endeavor which I can only describe as both challenging and rewarding!

Now on to the scones.  Yesterday, I was invited to an interesting event: vegan high tea. This lovely experience, celebrating my dear friend Mitchell’s return from Africa was catered by his wife Kat who does an impressive job of making veganism bearable. Her cashew sour cream cucumber sandwiches are legitimately better than the real deal and veggie pate has delightful umami that fills an otherwise substantial void in the British tea experience. My contribution to this tasty meal was vegan scones with strawberry rhurbarb compote. The scone is a surprisingly mutable baked good, and reacts well to veganification. I had subbed butter for shortening or coconut oil before without breaking much of a sweat. What makes these scones actually innovative is the choice of flour. Upon returning home from the grocery, I found myself sadly lacking in white flour. This lack of nutrient free fluffy goodness led me to pursue other more wholesome options, with what I might say were rather tasty results! I grabbed some wholewheat flour and introduced some oatmeal to my coffee grinder and this recipe was the result. Flatter than the usual scone (something which could likely have been countered with a few more solids and colder fat, my shortening having been very warm) the scones remained a good vehicle for jammy goodness and held their own on the tea table.

Without further ado, here are nearly healthy vegan scones!
-1 1/4c oat flour (oatmeal, meat coffee grinder, coffee grinder meat oatmeal)
- 1 3/4c wholewheat flour
-nutmeg to taste
-5tsp baking powder
-2 tsp salt
-1/2c sugar+1tsbp
-½c vegetable shortening+1tbsp
-1.5c. soy milk

“La démarche” is simple enough:
Preheat oven to 400

Combine all dry ingredients, including the sugar into a large bowl, mix well

 Add the shortening

Incorporate into the dry ingredients with a fork or pastry knife until somewhat pebbly in appearance with pea-sized lumps.

Add the soy milk, mix quickly until flour is just integrated, drop in dollops onto a cookie sheet
Bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes