Mardi Gras or ‘Fat Tuesday’ is also known as Shrove Tuesday or pancake day!
I think pancakes are amazing. Otzi the Iceman agreed with me over 5,300 years ago (his stomach also agreed with me and was found to contain many early pancake attempts). William Shakespeare might also have been fond of them as he mentions them in several of his plays. My point here is that pancakes are at least as old as Shakespeare – having been around for about 30,000 years.
Before they were called pancakes they were known by various names including Indian cakes, hoe cakes, johnnycakes, buckwheat cakes, and flapjacks. I might just call them Edcakes seeing as Johnny got away with it.
The classic pancake we know usually has flour, egg and milk as a base, but there are many variations on the theme. Occasionally (well, too often actually) I run out of milk and have recently decided to try some substitutes.
Firstly, I watered down some double cream, nine parts water to one part cream. It tasted alright in tea but on it’s own it lacked sweetness, so I added sugar and the pancakes turned out really well.
Secondly, I used four heaped teaspoons of Coffee Mate dissolved in about 3/4 pint of boiling water and cooled. I added a bit of sugar to the mix and they tasted wonderful.
Thirdly and yesterday, I had no milk, cream or Coffee Mate so I decided to use plain water.
Milk is, put simply, an emulsion of fat, protein and sugar. Eggs are also a great source of fat and protein. I decided the water-only mix would need a bit more sugar and fat to balance it – so I melted about half an ounce of butter and scattered some sugar into the mix. The pancakes were delicious.
The basic pancake recipe I use is the result of much trial and error. Here goes:
3/4 pint of milk (425ml)
6oz flour (170g)
2 eggs (1+1)
A pinch of salt (no metric equivalent)
Sugar (up to you, maybe 2 tsp, definitely less than one tonne)
Melted butter an ounce or so (30g)
It’s easier to add flour etc. to liquid. I break the eggs into the milk, whisk in the flour, salt, and sugar and dribble the butter in while stirring. The batter should be quite thick. If you want thinner pancakes just add a splash more milk.
For the uninitiated, the first pancake is often a disaster. There are several reasons why this might be. First, the pan must be heated evenly. Second, a gossamer-thin film of fat is required to ‘season’ the pan. I think the first pancake often helps spread the fat nicely and distribute the heat. I find heating the pan gently at first and increasing it gradually until it’s quite hot helps avoid the loss of precious batter. Lard is an excellent fat to use on the pan as it copes well with high heat.
Some cooks claim that the batter needs to rest. Don’t listen to them! There’s no need to wait too long to make your pancakes. Definitely don’t wait until Shrove Tuesday. I think Mardi Gras can be any day that you want it to be…