Pancakes like bread and butter pudding, shepherds pie and bubble and squeak were old recipes that originally were a good way of using up left overs. Traditionally we abstained from eggs and milk during lent. Shrove Tuesday was therefore the last day to eat such glutinous foods before Easter Day - hence the French name Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday).
Shrove comes from the word shriving in which you confess your shins and receive absolution. On the Tuesday night you would go to church for penance. Which, apparently, is where our pancake race comes from. In 1445 one woman, running out of time was cooking her pancakes when the church bells tolled for the evening absolution, and she dashed out of the house frying pan in hand, as you do.
Pancakes - traditional
100g plain flour
250 ml milk
10 g melted butter
Put all these ingredients in a blender and blitz. The secret for cooking the ideal pancake is the heat of the pan - too high and it burns before it cooks - to cold and the pancake sticks to the pan. I start the pan off on ¾ heat add a little oil and it should sizzle as you add the pancake mix, then turn it down to half so it cooks through before you flip it.
I use Nigella’s recipe. These are pancakes which really have substance, soak up the maple syrup, and are much easier to cook! I often serve these for brunch on Sundays.
(Makes c. 9 pancakes)
225 g plain flour
2 heaped teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon sugar
Put all these ingredients in a blender and blitz. You can cook these in rings for perfect pancakes, or just ladle the mix into the pan. I start the pan off on ¾ heat, so it sizzles as you add the pancake mix, then turn it down to half so it cooks through. As the edges on the top start to solidify and there are bubbles emerging on top flip it over to cook the other side. If you are using a ring it’s much easier - slide a palette knife under bottom.
Traditionally served with lemon juice and sugar. But of course there’s always alternatives:
* Maple syrup and clotted cream for the american pancakes especially
* Chocolate sauce - plain chocolate and cream heated in a bain marie till they melt - try a duo of chocolate sauces - plain and white chocolate drizzled in opposite directions.
* Nutella - the quick chocolate fix
* Strawberries and cream - poach strawberries in sugar syrup with crème de fraise, add a little vanilla sugar to the whipped cream
* Sauteed apple slices in butter with a little apple brandy added at the end
* Peach melba pancakes
Sweet or savoury?
If you leave out the sugar, you have savoury pancakes. Here’s some ideas for savoury pancakes:
Herb pancakes with ratatouille
Mix in fresh chopped herbs to make herb pancakes. Spoon ratatouille in the middle, roll up as you would a spring roll. Spoon some cheese sauce on top and gratin ate under the grill.
Mushroom stroganoff made with wild mushrooms rolled in a pancake is an alternative to rice which is now a vegetarian cliché. To make a sauce to go with it - boil some milk with dried ceps (available in the specialist shelves in the supermarket), till the musrooms are softened. Blitz in the blender or use a hand blender to produce a cappuccino mushroom sauce.
Chicken and sweet corn pancakes
Cooked chicken, sweet corn and supreme sauce (or tinned chicken soup for a very fast meal).
The all day breakfast pancake
Instead of having pancakes with your breakfast, put your breakfast (bacon, sausage - cut into slices - mushrooms and tomato) into the pancake.
When I first started cooking I had a big problem with flipping the traditional pancakes - they would fold over while I was trying to turn them and I was left with a lump of batter. So I put two pans on the stove - one with the pancake and one empty. When the pancake was cooked on the bottom, I would turn it out into the empty pan to cook the other side.
How far in advance?
I have exchanged normal flour for gluten free flour before for coeliacs and there is no difference in taste.