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P is for.... Pancakes

Gosh, pancake day has come upon us again! It seems to turn up with alarming regularity these days, which is probably another sign that I'm getting older. Anyway, my impeding decrepitude is not the point of this particular blog entry.

The point of shrove tuesday is that we use up the rich, expensive and perishable ingredients we have kicking about the place, and no matter how glossy your pancake recipe is, the point is that it should be all about the fillings, not the pancakes themselves. Which doesn't mean to say that you can't have a great pancake recipe, of course, but to be a bit more adventurous with the fillings.

Pancakes themselves are a bit like historical cake; early forms of the usual types of cake were basically griddled blobs of flour & egg, and scotch pancakes (or drop scones, basically the same thing) were just thicker versions that could be carried and stored for slightly longer. Regular pancakes make a great transport mechanism for other foodstuffs, a little bit like a warm, comforting sandwich only without the faff of making bread. As a quick snack, there's nothing finer.

Proper crepe are thin and light, but fragile and you need to be sure of your pan and flipping skills; perhaps better to think about is the classic British pancake, slightly thicker than a crepe but not as thick as the American buttermilk pancake or drop scones. Thickness of pancake is all about the mixture you use - a runnier mix makes a thinner pancake - so perhaps it's worth thinking about the recipe.

Making your pancakes

You need: plain flour, eggs, milk and salt. I rarely measure out my ingredients for pancakes, preferring to judge the texture by feel, but let's start with about 100g flour in a bowl with a pinch of salt. Make a well and crack an egg into it. Start whisking the two together and slowly add milk, a glug at a time and whisking until smooth, until it reaches the consistency of double cream. It normally works out at 250ml milk to 1 egg + 100g flour, but use your best judgement; add more flour or more milk if you feel it is necessary. Then leave it alone for an hour. 


Next, it's all about the pan. Heavy is the watchword here; it needs to be a substantial pan, and if it's nonstick the surface has to be smooth, without scoring. Melt some butter in the pan over a medium heat, and then pour it into the batter, whisking as you go.

Take some kitchen towel and gently wipe the surface and then put the pan back on the heat before pouring in the batter; think about rolling the batter around the pan, and leaving enough room for a spatula to get under to flip it, so in an 8" pan stop pouring batter when you have a circle 4" in diameter in the centre of the pan.

Roll it around so it covers the surface, and then leave on the heat until the top surface is cooked and little bubbles are forming; then flip it with a spatula. Don't toss it, especially if you've been drinking, unless you don't mind picking bits of pancake off the light fittings.

As for fillings, then think about the rich food that would have been given up for lent, a period of fasting. I like to make a good tomato sauce and sprinkle it with cheese after filling pancakes with it, or some creamy garlic mushrooms with parsley and nutmeg.

You might like to think about meaty fillings, or making cannolini, baking spinach and ricotta filled pancakes in a creamy bechemel before serving (pancakes make a great alternative to sheets of pasta - even lasagne can be made with them).

Sweets? Lemon & sugar is the classic but I can't imagine how it started, as these aren't necessarily rich fillings to have prior to fasting. Still, it's very tasty. Try something different, though: beat the juice and zest of a lime into 250g mascarpone with about 50g caster sugar, perhaps?

Or make a hot marmalade and cointeau sauce and serve with ice cream. Caramelised apple slices, nutella and cream cheese, nuts and jams and all sorts of things of that nature all lend themselves to pancakes beautifully, so experiment with what you have stashed away in the cupboards or fridge.

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