The pancake trade certainly isn’t what it used to be. In grand restaurants, crêpes – aux fruits de mer, Suzettes, soufflées – were a central part of the culinary repertoire and an essential player in the performance art of the gueridon. In the 1970s, they became an increasing part of the bistro menu (a blend of stodge and sauce that I never found very appealing) and made a bid for fast-food immortality in the form of the crêperie. However, the crêpe, although endowed with many of the same virtues as the pizza, such as speed of service, low cost, multiple variations on a single theme and impeccable European credentials, never matched the success of its rival and is now rarely seen.
I am usually to be found bemoaning the disappearance of one thing or another, but in the case of the crêperie, I don’t think I’ll bother. They simply weren’t that good. One of the problems of the pancake trade is that it struggles to match the perfection of the freshly made pancake, straight out of the pan and rolled up with sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice, as it is produced at home on a Shrove Tuesday (this Tuesday coming, now that you mention it). My 13-year-old son, spoilt by a diet of Krispy Kreme doughnuts, Byron hamburgers and every known confection under the British sun, is still a sucker for a good pancake.
I am not sure he would appreciate a crêpe soufflée. But if he is a sucker for a pancake, his father remains enamoured of a soufflé, and a soufflé in a pancake remains for me a nice piece of showmanship. I had fun making these – it had been a while – and what was especially surprising was that they remained buoyant and airy even through an extremely long examination at the end of the photographer’s lens.
Rowley Leigh is the chef at Le Café Anglais
Rowley’s drinking choice
None needed really, with the alcohol in the pancakes, but a demi-sec champagne would cope admirably.
Crêpes soufflées Grand Marnier
Basic pancake batter
200g plain flour
2 whole eggs + 2 egg yolks
1 tsp sugar
grated zest of a lemon
3 tbs cooled melted butter
For the soufflé and caramelised oranges
4 egg yolks
150g caster sugar
30g plain flour
1 tsp fecule (potato starch) or cornflour
6 egg whites
2 tbs Grand Marnier
Sift the flour and a pinch of salt into a bowl and beat in the eggs, milk and water. Continue beating until it forms a smooth batter, then add the sugar and grated zest of the lemon and slowly stir in the melted butter. Leave to rest for half an hour.
Heat a frying pan and add a tiny film of oil – any excess should be poured out – or brush with a little softened butter. Pour a small quantity of the batter into the pan and tilt from side to side until the batter covers the surface. If the batter is slow to spread, dilute it with a little more milk or water. Let the pancake cook for a minute, until it is a good spotted gold and brown colour, and then loosen it at the edges with a palette knife before turning, or tossing, in the pan. After another half a minute, slide the pancake out of the pan. Make seven more pancakes, stacking one on top of the other.
Finely grate the zest of one of the oranges and add to the milk in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Whisk together the egg yolks and 50g of the sugar in a bowl, and then add the flour and fecule, sifted together. Pour the simmering milk into the mixture in a stream, whisking well. Pour the mixture into the pan and bring back to the boil, whisking constantly. Continue to cook and whisk the mixture for a good couple of minutes more before pouring it into a bowl. Dust the surface with icing sugar and cover with a film of buttered paper or cling film and leave to cool.
Peel the zest of the two remaining oranges, trim away any pith and cut into very thin strips. Place in a small pan of cold water, bring to the boil, drain and refresh in cold water. Add another 50g of sugar to the pan with 100ml of cold water and bring to a simmer. Add the orange zest and poach gently until tender and candied in the liquor. Lift it out of the syrup to drain.
Remove the pith from the oranges to reveal the flesh, and remove the segments from between the walls of the pith. Bring the syrup in which the zest was cooked to a rolling boil and reduce until it begins to caramelise. As it browns, drop in the orange segments and remove from the heat.
Put the egg whites into a large, preferably metal, bowl with a pinch of salt and whisk, slowly at first, building up momentum and adding half the remaining sugar in a slow stream, until the egg whites are stiff and glossy. Stir in the rest of the sugar. In a separate large bowl whisk together the thick soufflé base and the Grand Marnier to make a smooth paste. Add about a fifth of the beaten egg whites and whisk vigorously. Add the remaining whites and very gently fold in to produce a light and airy mixture.
Place a large spoonful of the mixture on to a quadrant of each pancake. Fold each in half, then fold again and place on a sheet of greaseproof paper on an oven tray. Bake the crêpes (the folded crêpes will keep for up to an hour in the fridge before baking) in a medium hot oven, 180°C, for 12-15 minutes until they are puffed up and feel reasonably firm in the middle. Dust with icing sugar and serve with orange segments in their caramel sauce, with a little candied zest as decoration.