Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Crepes Suzette and a Book Review

If you've come in search of a delicious dessert, don't fret, I'm serving up Crepes Suzette in the second half of this post. But first, let's talk books.

Food for Thought is an online "book club" where members vote on a food-related book, read it, then review it online. You get bonus points for preparing a recipe from the book.

This month we read "My Life in France" by Julia Child and Alex Prud'homme. This is the book club's fourth book and is by far my favorite.

The book was written by Julia's great nephew, Alex Prud'homme, toward the end of her life. Apparently, Alex had discussed the idea for the book with Julia years before, but it wasn't until she was 91 that she decided it was time to sit down with him and get started on "the France book". Through many hours of discussions and sifting through a mountain of letters written by Paul and Julia to Paul's brother while living overseas, the story of Julia' s life from 1948 onward unfolds.

It seems Julia bounced around for some time after college, in her words "drifting". Enter World War II. I can only imagine that during that period in history, it was hard not to be drawn in some way to the war effort. Julia was. Because she was too tall to join WACs and WAVEs, she joined the Office of Strategic Services (OSS, and the predecessor to the CIA) and eventually found herself in Ceylon as the head of Registry. It was in this role that she met Paul Child, her future husband. After she and Paul married, his job led them eventually to France where Julia was deeply influenced by France, the French way of life, and most certainly by the food.

Julia tells of her first meal eaten after arriving in France, sole meuniere. It was a profound experience. More French delicacies followed and soon, she started experimenting in her own kitchen (she barely cooked up to that point.) She enrolled in the Le Cordon Bleu cooking school, and as they say, the rest is history.

Surprisingly, there is an element of suspense in the book. Although we know that the cookbook "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" was published and was a great success, you almost forget that, reading about all of the difficulties encountered by Julia and her co-authors, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle. The cookbook was 10 years in the making, and I can't help but think that less persistent folks would have given up mid-way through.

Paul was an amateur photographer and many of his photographs appear in the book. I really enjoyed seeing Julia in her early years, before she became the culinary icon she is today.

I felt like reading her book gave me a sense of Julia as a person. When someone becomes immensely famous, it's easy to forget they're human, just like the rest of us. I also enjoyed reading about her fascinating life. She led a life and traveled in a way that I can only dream of.

My only criticism of the book is the occasional use of French language that wasn't translated.

The NY Times has a very nice review of the book here.

OK, if you're still with me, THANKS! Now, onto the crepes. There weren't any recipes in "My Life in France", but I figured the recipes from "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" were fair game and couldn't resist trying the Crepes Suzette, a classic French dessert. The origins are credited to at least five different "Suzettes", from what I can tell.

OK, a quick rundown... first you make the crepes, which are basically really thin pancakes. As with all things, it takes some practice getting them thin enough and round.

You're supposed to dip each side of your crepe in the bubbling orange butter, but I had already been standing there making crepes for 30 minutes, so I skipped that step. You're then supposed to fold the crepes in half and then in half again. I went straight to the folding.

You take your orange butter...

...and cook it in your "chafing dish" (or your trusty saute pan).

Collect the folded crepes in the pan and "baste them" in the butter (my words there).

All that's left is the eatin'. I enjoyed mine with some raspberries, maple syrup, and whipped cream

And how were they, after all of that work? Delicious! It's a given that pancake lovers like me will be smitten. A word of caution, though. They must be eaten immediately. They became soggy before the second helping.

As for the recipe, I'm still waiting for permission from the publisher to reprint the recipe on my blog. However, I did find several recipes that are close. This crepe recipe (click here for recipe) from Creperie Chez Suzette is very close to Julia's. Gale Gand's recipe on the Food Network site (click here for recipe) is very close to the orange butter portion (you can use any crepe recipe, really). Note that Julia's orange-butter prepartion is somewhat unique compared to most I found.

If you're interested, you can watch a video of crepes suzette being prepared ---> here with Tyler Florence and friend. It's a slightly different method, but it gives you an idea of the finished product. If I can work up the motivation to cook up another batch of crepes (takes a long time, but can be done ahead), I might just have to try this version.

OK, bon appetit, and we'll see you next month.


Elyse said...

That book sounds fabulous. I really had no idea about Julia's background. I'm going to need to check that book out from the library, for sure. And speaking of French, these crepes suzette look fantastic!! I love the picture of all of those glorious crepes steeping in your melted orange butter. How fabulous!

Jen H said...

Your write-up is fabulous. And I love your Crepe Suzette! I so wish my day job didn't get in the way of me making a good dent in the book. I did really like it and plan to finish it while I'm traveling for Easter. Do we know what the next book is yet?

Maria said...

The book looks really good! I love crepes for dessert!

grace said...

what a fascinating life she led!
meanwhile, your crepes are delicate and perfect--nicely done! they're the perfect vehicle for all kinds of delcious toppings. :)

Flourchild said...

Oh my can I come over for breakfast!? These crepes look fabulous.
Thanks for the review on the book, Im a big reader and this one looks great!

Ash said...

That book sounds great! You're crepes look amazing!

Pamela said...

I read the book last year and I agree about the French not being translated. 'Twas frustrating. I loved all of the pictures from Paul, especially the ones they did for their Valentines. Nice crepes!

Bunny said...

I would love this book, thanks for telling us about it. You did a great review. It's so interesting to see what happens in a person's life that gives them the passion to do what they do.

Jude said...

Such a classic. Thanks for the alternative recipe suggestions and wonderful writing!

Sylvie said...

Your crepes look delish!

But no Grand Marnier? No flambeeing? The fire is half the fun! --and might keep the crepes from getting soggy so fast, since the sauce will be more syrupy and less wet.

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