I’ve just realised that Shrove Tuesday is round the corner. Mere mention brings happy childhood memories flooding back – suddenly I’m standing in our kitchen in Cullohill – Mum by the Esse dressed in her pretty flowery apron and her silver grey hair arranged in a neat bun.
All my brothers and sisters are seated around the kitchen table squabbling about whose turn it is to have the next pancake. Mummy is turning them out as fast as she can manage. Sometimes if the wind is in the wrong direction the temperamental old Esse range isn’t as hot as it might be – disastrous when you need a very hot plate for pancakes. We ate them straight off the pan brushed with melted butter, sprinkled with castor sugar and freshly squeezed lemon juice. Can you imagine how many pancakes one needed to feed nine hungry children.
Each had a different ritual, I liked to spread butter all over the speckled side, then add the sugar and lemon juice and roll it up. Then I sparingly cut into thin rounds, one at a time and even unravelled the last ones so they lasted longer – after all eight others had to have their pancake before my turn came around again.
It was a feast, fantastic fun. I presume poor Mum must have been exhausted after the marathon pancake fest, but if she was she never let on.
We also loved when she made us apple fritters, that was usually in Autumn when the cooking apples were ripe on the old tree in the vegetable garden. Thin slices of apple rings were dipped in a batter and then deep fried. They cooked into bizarre shapes which kept us amused trying to guess what it resembled – a dinosaur, amoeba, gorilla, vampire, a rhino ….
Pancakes, or should I say batters are the quintessential fast food, amazingly versatile. At their most basic they are made with ingredients that are practically always to hand even in the galley of a non-domesticated god or goddess – flour, milk, eggs.
The proportions can be varied to make a rich or light, thick or thin batter, depending on use and craving.
A thick batter can be dropped in small or large spoonfuls onto a hot pan and cooked until the bubbles burst on one side before turning over to continue cooking on the flip side. These are delicious served with butter and jam or apple and sweet geranium jelly. Alternatively buttermilk pancakes make an all American breakfast lathered with butter, piled in a stack, drizzled with maple syrup and interleaved with crispy bacon.
A thinner batter produces all manner of crepes or thin pancakes. A lighter lacier result can be achieved by using half milk and water, rather than all milk. If you have little in the way of batterie de cuisine, the batter can be made in a bowl with a hand whisk or even a fork, but I recommend using a liquidiser or food processor for speed if you have one.
A non-stick pan is a real boon for pancakes and means that you can flip the pancakes effortlessly just like a pro. Another tip is to stir a few tablespoons of melted butter into the batter just before you start to cook – this not only enriches the pancakes but also ensures that the batter won’t stick to the pan. Batter can be made and used immediately but if one can allow it to rest for thirty minutes to an hour, the pancakes will be more digestible.
Pancakes can of course have sweet or savoury filling and needless to say, every country has its own version, from the Fazzoletti and Crespelle of Italy, to the Greek semolina pancakes – Simigali crepa and the soft spongy Baghrir pancakes of Morocco. In India we ate a myriad of pancakes, made not just from wheat flour but also rice flour , split peas, mung beans, chickpea flour depending on the region and with names like Utthappam, Dosa, Cheela and Poora. In China there are thin white flour pancakes called Moo shoo row and in Vietnam – Banh xeo and Korea – Pa’chon- both semolina flour pancakes made from a similar type batter but served with different accompaniments.
So don’t just save pancakes for Shrove Tuesday, when you start to experiment you’ll discover there’s probably a pancake for every day of the year.
Whip up a batter with flour and milk and in a matter of minutes you will be flipping delicious speckled pancakes.
6 ozs (170g) plain white flour, preferably unbleached
a good pinch of salt
1 dessertsp. castor sugar, (omit for savoury pancakes)
2 large eggs and 1 or 2 egg yolks, preferably free range
scant : pint (450ml) milk, or for very crisp, light delicate pancakes, milk and water mixed
3-4 dessertsp. melted butter
Butter, freshly squeezed lemon juice and sugar.
Serves 6 – makes 12 approx.
Sieve the flour, salt, and sugar into a bowl, make a well in the centre and drop in the lightly beaten eggs. With a whisk or wooden spoon, starting in the centre, mix the egg and gradually bring in the flour. Add the liquid slowly and beat until the batter is covered with bubbles. (If they are to be served with sugar and lemon juice, stir in an extra tablespoon of castor sugar and the finely grated rind of half a lemon).
Let the batter stand in a cold place if you have time. Just before you cook the pancakes stir in 3-4 dessertspoons melted butter. This will make all the difference to the flavour and texture of the pancakes and will make it possible to cook them without greasing the pan each time.
Heat a non stick pan over a high heat, pour in a small ladleful of batter or just enough to film the base of the pan. The batter should cook immediately, loosen around the edges with a rubber slice, flip over and cook for a few seconds on the other side. Slide onto a plate, serve with your chosen filling either sweet or savoury.
For Shrove Tuesday the traditional accompaniments of butter, freshly squeezed lemon juice and sugar are my favourite.
Other accompaniments for Sweet Pancakes
Bananas and butterscotch sauce
Butter apples laced with mixed spices
Melted chocolate and cream
Home-made jam and cream
Honey and chopped walnuts
Stir a few tablespoons of freshly chopped herbs into the batter. Well seasoned mushrooms or Mushroom á la creme, bacon, crispy pieces of chicken, mussels, shrimps or whatever tasty bits you come across in the fridge, added to Mushroom á la creme, or Tomato fondue and Pesto make delicious fillings.
Buttermilk Pancakes with Crispy Bacon and Maple Syrup
1 lb (450 g) plain white flour
1 teaspoon bread soda
Large pinch salt
1-2 ozs (30 –55 g) sugar
1 egg, free-range if possible
1 pint (600 ml) buttermilk
Hot crispy streaky bacon
Maple syrup or Irish honey
Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl, make a well in the centre, add the egg and enough buttermilk to make a batter of a dropping consistency (it usually takes a full pint). Drop a large tablespoonful onto a non-stick pan, cook for 3-4 minutes on one side before turning over, the pancakes are ready to turn when the bubbles burst. Flip over gently and cook until golden on the other side.
To serve: put one pancake on a hot plate, spread with butter and drizzle with maple syrup and honey and top with another buttered pancake. Put a few pieces of hot crispy bacon on top. Serve more maple syrup or honey as an accompaniment.
Pancakes with Sour Cream and Jam
Serve hot pancakes with jam and sour cream.
Apple and Cinnamon Fritters
Apple Fritters have been one of my absolutely favourite puddings since I was a child – nothing changed I still love them.
Serves 6 approx.
4 cooking apples, Bramley Seedling or Grenadier
4 ozs (110g) plain white flour
pinch of salt
1 egg, free range if possible
¼ pint (150ml) milk
sunflower or peanut oil for frying
8 ozs (225g) castor sugar
1 teasp. cinnamon
Sieve the flour into a bowl, add a pinch of salt. Make a well in the centre, whisk the egg slightly, pour into the centre slowly add the milk whisking in a full circle, gradually bring in the flour from the outside. Continue to whisk until the batter is light and bubbly. Peel and core the apples, cut into ¼ inch (5mm) thick slices. Heat about 1½ inches (4cm) of oil in a frying pan. Dip a few slices of apple into the batter one by one. Fry on both sides until crisp and golden, drain well. Add cinnamon to the castor sugar, toss each fritter in and serve immediately with softly whipped cream.
Bananas also make great fritters. Split in half lengthways and then in half again if you would like shorter pieces. Omit the cinnamon fro