With hot cross buns already getting stale on the shelves, and mince pies surely months from now, plum pudding and pancakes are the only two foods I can think of that unite the nation alone. one day a year. While pickier folks claim to find Christmas pudding too “heavy,” I have yet to meet anyone, regardless of religious affiliation, who would shun a Shrove Tuesday treat. Why we dare not pop them at Easter as well, or on beautiful September mornings, is a mystery to me.
Pancakes are a very versatile food: French crepes, Indian dosas, even Ethiopian injera all fall under the same delicious banner. As Ken Albala, author of a gloriously comprehensive “global history” of things, explains, “any starchy batter…cooked in a small amount of fat on a flat surface” counts. But in Britain, as any schoolboy knows, modern pancakes are descended from those specifically designed to consume fat before the onset of Lent, which means they tend to have more eggs and butter than, say, the fluffy American stack or blini. russian squatting
A stack of pancakes Photograph: Geshas/Getty Images/iStockphoto
Interestingly, the oldest recipe for pancakes as we know them comes from an English cookbook, Good Huswifes Handmaide for the Kitchen (1594 edition), but it’s even richer than the modern incarnation: a pint of “heavy cream”, 5 egg yolks, “a good handful of flower” and 2 or 3 tablespoons of beer, seasoned with plenty of sugar, cinnamon and ginger.
Albala assures me that “the result is a hideous mess” at these proportions (“one can only imagine that the author was careless or had gigantic hands”), but once I’ve added enough flour to make it a more manageable consistency, I I managed to create something of a pancake from the mixture. It’s so lusciously rich it’s almost impossible to flip it over, which is clearly not a good thing at all: tasty, but more of a go-to for a roasted peacock and sack cup than one for the modern kitchen.
The 17th century ushered in more sober tastes: Gervase Markham’s 1615 recipe calls for two eggs, a “quite a bit of plain water,” cloves, mace, cinnamon, and nutmeg all beaten together, “making make the food thicken like you think with fine wheat flakes.” (No one can accuse these old school food writers of being prescriptive.) Spices aside, it’s pretty boring stuff; rubbery and heavy. Cream can be taking things too far, but milk is a must.
Telegraph food writer Xanthe Clay uses melted butter in her dough to make up for any loss of flavor caused by cooking them in vegetable oil. Meanwhile, BBC Good Food adds a bit of vegetable oil. The former makes for a better-tasting pancake, but since I quite like the nuttiness of browned butter and the slight crunch of a simpler batter (best foil for crispy sugar and lemon juice), I decide not to include either. I take a tip from Xanthe though, using an extra yolk to give the pancakes a depth of flavor without that slight hardness that the egg white imparts.
Resist or surrender?
Resting the dough, like soaking rice or washing mushrooms, is one of those ideas I’ve always lazily chosen to ignore; After all, what kind of busy executive has time to make their pancake mix half an hour before they plan to eat? Gordon Ramsay says “there’s no need”, Nigel Slater and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall disagree: and suddenly the idea seems almost appealing (even if Nigel insists on calling them crêpes).
I make two batches of dough and let one sit for 30 minutes while I make and gobble up the other. The first batch isn’t a disaster, but the second batch is clearly more uniform in texture; Hugh suggests this is because the starch has had more time to absorb the liquid and air bubbles to disperse.
Although Hugh and Good Food magazine advise cooking pancakes over moderate heat, I prefer to follow in the footsteps of Professor Peter Barham, a physicist and adviser to Heston Blumenthal, to get the pan very hot, because I like my pancakes thin and crispy; you can download it. before cooking if you prefer a smoother finish. Roll out the dough as thin as possible for delicately lacy edges, and treat the first pancake as an experiment; it usually goes wrong, which is a good excuse to treat it as a cook perk. As Nigel so wisely observes, “It could be argued that the perfect crepe is always the first of the batch… Baked hot and hissing from the pan, drizzled with lemon and a thick layer of sugar: this is the pancake that pleases the whole family.” mouth if not the eye.”
Benefits aside, these are also good wrapped around a creamy seafood filling, stuffed with spinach and ricotta, and gratin or, if necessary, slathered with whipped cream and chocolate sauce. I’ve even heard whispers that the sky won’t collapse if you do them tonight, as well as next Tuesday…
Pancakes with sugar, honey and lemon Photo: Douglas_Freer/Getty Images/iStockphoto
about 8 years ago
125 g plain flour
Pinch of salt
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
225 ml of whole or semi-skimmed milk
1. Sift the flour into a large bowl and add a pinch of salt. Make a hole in the center and pour the egg and yolk into it. Mix the milk with 2 tablespoons of water and then pour in some with the egg and mix.
2. Whisk the flour into the liquid ingredients, gradually bringing it to the center until you have a smooth paste with the consistency of double cream. Whip in the rest of the milk until the batter resembles more of a cream. Cover and refrigerate for at least half an hour.
3. Heat butter in skillet over medium-high heat; you just need enough fat to grease the bottom of the pan. It should be hot enough that the dough sizzles when you hit it.
4. Spread a small ladle of batter in bottom of pan, stirring quickly to coat. Remove any excess. When it starts to set, peel off the edges with a thin spatula or spatula, and when it starts to turn color on the bottom, turn it over with the same instrument and cook for another 30 seconds. (If you’re feeling arrogant, you can also throw the pancake away after loosening it: Grasp the handle firmly with both hands, then pull the pan up and slightly toward you.)
5. Pancakes are best eaten as soon as possible, before they get rubbery, but if you’re cooking for a crowd, keep them separate until ready to serve by layering them between pieces of kitchen paper.
Why don’t we eat more pancakes in this country and which recipes are good enough to change your mind? What are your favorite ingredients? Do you have any top tips for foolproof flipping?