Flaming coffee! How to make cafe brulot at home

At Galatoire’s, cafe brulot sells itself. All eyes turn as a server places the small silver punch bowl of spicy, spirited liqueur table-side. He ignites the brew. Then, he lifts a full ladle of it, pouring streams of fragrant, flaming liquid over and over again as he blends the flavors.

Shelly Landry stands beside a table at Galatoire’s after brewing a fresh batch of cafe brulet, or “flaming coffee.” (Photo by Frankie Prijatel, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) 

“When people see the process, then they want to order it,” said Shelly Landry, a server, who recently demonstrated the process for us in the French Quarter restaurant’s dining room a couple of days before National Coffee Day (Sept. 29). After the extravagant prep, Landry doused the flames by lifting a silver pitcher of hot coffee and pouring some into the still-blazing bowl. The hot, spiked coffee mixture was then ladled into demitasse cups for sipping.

When asked how often he’s made cafe brulot, Landry, who started at Galatoire’s as a dishwasher when he was 15 and has been a server for 27 years, responds: “about a million times.”

Brulot gets its name from the French word brulee meaning burnt. Think, creme brulee, a custard topped with a layer of crunchy, caramelized sugar.

If you want to try to make cafe brulot at home, keep in mind that you are playing with fire. So, use caution.

Landry recalls being nervous the first few times he prepared the drink, but he said he learned from the “old guys,” meaning the posse of longtime waiters who serve their regulars and a tourist crowd at the storied Galatoire’s.

Along with Galatoire’s, New Orleans restaurants such as Antoine’s, Arnaud’s, Brennan’s and Commander’s Palace are famous for offering the table-side preparation. Here is Galatoire’s recipe, with prep tips.

Along with the drink ingredients, you’ll need a flame-proof bowl and ladle as well as matches or a lighter.

Galatoire’s Cafe Brulot
Serves 6

1 orange

12 whole cloves

1 lemon

3 cinnamon sticks

2 ounces brandy

2 ounces orange liqueur, such as Grand Marnier

2 tablespoons sugar

6 cups brewed French-roast coffee, kept hot

Carefully peel an orange, creating a long, continuous coil of peel. Stud orange peel with cloves, and spear one end of the coil with a fork. Set aside. Cut lemon peel into 1/4-inch curls. Set lemon aside. (Reserve the flesh of the orange and lemon for another use.)

In small saucepan, combine lemon peel, cinnamon, liquors and sugar over low heat until very warm and sugar dissolves.

Note: The mixture must remain warm so that it will ignite to create the brulot; cold alcohol will not flame.

Once ingredients are heated, pour the liquid into a brulot bowl or a stainless steel bowl that has a flat bottom. Scoop mixture into a ladle and ignite it with a lighter or match.

Once ladle is lit, slowly lower it to liquid in the bowl. Hold fork with the dangling clove-studded orange coil over ignited bowl.

Using extreme care, stir the flaming liquor with the ladle and then lift and ladle the liquid over the orange coil as you hold it over the bowl. The flaming liquid will spiral down the coil of orange peel and cloves, back into the bowl.

Once you have poured the flaming liquor down the coil several times to incorporate the flavors, remove the orange peel from the fork and put it in the bowl.

Slowly pour in hot coffee into the brulot bowl, while stirring to extinguish flame.

Ladle small amounts of the coffee mixture into demitasse cups to serve.

Note: While it will not make as striking a presentation, an option for the home cook is to simply cut the peel from the citrus fruits and remove the pith instead of cutting the peels into elaborate coils. The pieces of orange peel can then be studded with the cloves.  

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