There were many memorable moments at Ballymaloe House, but the following is certainly one of them.
“Myrtle, your hair is on fire…an alarmed guest exclaimed as Myrtle’s fringe went up in flames while she was enthusiastically flambéing crêpes beside their table. The guest jumped out of his chair and damped out the flames with a bunch of napkins and the water jug. Drama in the dining room….
For many years, it was a timeless ritual to serve Crêpe Suzette on Shrove Tuesday. Many regular customers from earlier years will remember the matriarch, Myrtle wheeling the famous Ballymaloe House Sweet Trolley into the dining room with her copper chaffing dish, a pile of crêpes, the spirit stove, and a bottle of Cointreau and Grand Marnier. The delicious crêpe suzettes were made to order and Myrtle shared the recipe in the Ballymaloe Cookbook, first published in 1977 and still in print to this day. If you are fortunate to still have a copy of the first edition in hardback, treasure it, it’s a collectors’ item now.
Well here comes Shrove Tuesday once again (21st February), so I’ll share both Myrtle’s and my favourite recipe for pancake batter. I love, love, love pancakes, but doesn’t everyone? Super quick to make and such a brilliant standby, whisked together in minutes with ingredients that pretty much everyone has to hand, eggs, milk, flour, butter, caster sugar and a lemon for traditionalists. But why stop there, the possibilities for fillings are endless….
Pancake batter is magical stuff, it’s definitely one of my ‘great convertibles’. Even if you never held a whisk in your hand before, you can make a million variations by just changing the proportion of egg and flour to liquid. White flour can be substituted by buckwheat, chickpea, tapioca, spelt, rice flour….or a mixture. The liquid too can be varied coconut milk, soy milk, almond milk, buttermilk, even oat milk. Sparkling water or soda water gives an even crisper batter. One can create dairy free, gluten free and vegan versions. Half milk half and water result in a lacier crepe. Use less liquid to make a thicker pancake. …buttermilk will produce a stack of fluffier American style pancakes for breakfast or brunch.
Pikelets and crumpets are all variations on the theme as are Dutch babies and Toad in the Hole, Yorkshire pudding and popovers.
Basic pancakes, as we always called the thin lacy crepes, were my “go to” recipe when the kids were little. The recipe was written inside the door of the kitchen cupboard and could be whizzed up in seconds while a pan was heating up on the Aga and a little butter softened on the side of the stove. The kids would line up to eat them in turns, hot off the pan slathered with butter, sprinkled with sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice.
We were pretty conservative then but now, so much more adventurous, chocolate spread and lots of roasted nuts, peanut butter and honey, homemade lemon curd and mascarpone, honey butter and of course savoury pancakes too.
Top Tips – Pancakes
- Have your pan hot enough.
- Add a few tablespoons of melted butter to the batter.
- No need to grease the pan between crepes
- Use half milk, half water for lacier pancakes
So why not plan a Shrove Tuesday pancake party and try
some of these recipes.
Myrtle Allen’s Crêpes Suzette from the Ballymaloe Cookbook
Crêpes Suzette, the queen of the pancake family, is a party piece. It cannot be served to too many people at once, so it’s served on the menu at Ballymaloe House around Shrove Tuesday, when oranges are at their best.
50g (2oz) flour
1 tablespoon oil
1 organic or free-range egg
1 organic or free-range egg yolk
2 teaspoons orange curaçao
150ml (5fl oz) milk
225g (8oz) large ripe oranges
75g (3oz) softened butter
75g (3oz) caster sugar
Sieve the flour into a bowl, make a well in the centre. Pour in the oil, egg, egg yolk and curaçao. With a whisk or wooden spoon, starting in the centre, stir in the egg mixture and gradually bring in the flour. Beat until the batter is covered with bubbles. Leave aside for 30 minutes.
Next make the orange butter.
Grate the rind of the oranges very carefully so as not to penetrate the white. Add to the butter and sugar. Cream vigorously until smooth.
Put a frying pan on a high heat. Melt about 15g (1/2oz) orange butter in the
pan. When the butter is bubbling, pour
in just enough batter to cover the base of the pan thinly, swirling the batter
around to get it even. Loosen the crêpe
around the edge, flip over with a spatula, cook for a second or two on the
other side. Fold into a fan shape and
slide onto a hot plate. Repeat with the remaining pancakes. Sprinkle them with
caster sugar. Return the pancakes to the
pan, pour over a little brandy and curaçao.
Set alight, keeping your face away from the flames. Tilt the pan and spoon the juices over the
pancakes until the flame subsides. Serve
immediately on hot plates with lots of softly whipped cream.
Ballymaloe Cookery School Pancake Batter
This pancake recipe is almost as good as those Crêpes Suzette they used to serve with a great flourish in posh restaurants when I was a child. These crêpes are half the bother and can be made for a fraction of the cost.
Serves 6/Makes 12 approximately
175g (6oz) white flour, preferably unbleached
a good pinch of salt
1 dessertspoon caster sugar
2 large organic or free-range eggs and 1 or 2 egg yolks
scant 450ml (15fl oz) milk, or for very crisp, light delicate pancakes, milk and water mixed
3-4 dessertspoons melted butter
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 caster sugar and the finely grated rind of half a lemon).
Let the batter stand in a cold place for an hour or so – longer will do no harm. Just before you cook the crêpes stir in 3-4 dessertspoons melted butter. This will make all the difference to the flavour and texture of the crêpes and will make it possible to cook them without greasing the pan each time.
Heat the pan until quite hot. Grease the pan lightly with butter and pour in just enough batter to cover the base of the pan thinly.
* A small ladle can also be very useful for this, loosen the crêpes around the edge, flip over with a spatula or thin egg slice, cook for a second or two on the other side, and slide off the pan onto a plate. The crêpes may be stacked on top of each other and peeled apart later. The greasing of the pan is only necessary for the first two or three pancakes.
They will keep in the fridge for several days and freeze perfectly. If they are to be frozen, it’s probably a good idea to put a disc of parchment paper between each for extra safety.
Note: If you have several pans, it is perfectly possible to keep 3 or 4 pans going in rotation. Only necessary if you need to feed the multitudes.
Serve with melted butter, caster sugar or whatever you fancy….
Another way to use batter delicious, I love this version of the famous Dutch baby which I enjoyed at Reynard restaurant in the Wyeth Hotel in Brooklyn.
3 organic or free-range eggs
175ml (6fl oz) milk
75oz (3oz) all-purpose flour
salt to taste
3/4 tablespoon clarified butter
4 slices cooked ham or 8 slices of crispy bacon
75-110g (3-4oz) Gruyére cheese, grated
maple syrup (optional)
2 teaspoon thyme leaves
freshly ground pepper
We use a 25.5cm (10 inch) cast iron pan for ours.
Preheat an oven fully to 230°/450°F/Gas Mark 8.
Whisk all the ingredients together for the batter. Melt a scant tablespoon of clarified butter in each of the cast iron pans over a high heat, pour quarter of the batter into the very hot pan. Transfer into the preheated oven, they will bubble up. Reduce temperature to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6. Cook for 8-10 minutes. Add a slice of cooked ham or slices of crispy bacon and a good sprinkle of grated Gruyére cheese. Cook for another 3-4 minutes or until the cheese melts. Slide onto a warm plate.
Drizzle with maple syrup (optional), sprinkle with fresh thyme leaves and a grind of freshly cracked black pepper. Serve immediately.
Melt 225g (8oz) butter gently in a saucepan or in a Pyrex measure in a low oven 150°C/300°F/Gas Mark 2. Allow it to stand for a few minutes, then spoon the crusty white layer of salt particles off the top of the melted butter. Underneath this crust there is clear liquid butter which is called clarified butter. The milky liquid at the bottom can be discarded or used in a white sauce.
butter is excellent for cooking because it can withstand a higher temperature
when the salt and milk particles are removed. It will keep covered in a
refrigerator for several weeks.
110g (4oz) self-raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
25g (1oz) caster sugar
pinch of salt
1 organic or free-range egg
110ml (4fl oz) whole milk
drop of sunflower oil, for greasing
Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl, add the sugar and salt and stir to mix. Make a well in the centre, crack in the egg and whisk, gradually drawing in the flour from the edge. Add the milk gradually, whisking all the time, to form a smooth batter.
Lightly grease a frying pan and warm it over a moderate heat. Drop 3 tablespoons of the batter into the pan, keeping well apart so they don’t stick together. Cook for about 2 minutes or until bubbles appear on the surface and begin to burst and the drop scones are golden underneath, then flip them over and cook on the other side for a minute or until golden on this side as well.
Remove from the pan and serve warm with butter and jam, apple jelly, lemon curd or chocolate spread. (If you wish, wrap the drop scones in a clean tea towel to keep warm while you make the rest.)
Kids of all ages love these…they can be fancied up with raspberries, apple purée or Kumquat Compote and cream.
Makes 50 – 60, enough to have a real feast!
4 organic or free-range eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
25g (1oz) plain white flour
475ml (17fl oz) sour cream
2 – 3 tablespoons caster sugar
clarified butter or light oil
icing sugar for dusting
Whizz all the ingredients in a blender. Alternatively, put the eggs in a mixing bowl and whisk until blended. Add the salt, sieved baking soda, flour, sour cream and sugar. Mix well.
Heat a frying pan until it is good and hot, add clarified butter to the pan and drop small spoonful’s of batter onto the pan – just enough to spread to an approximately 6cm (2 1/2 inch) round. When a few bubbles appear on the top of the pancakes flip them over and cook briefly.
Dust with icing sugar and enjoy.