22 February 2019
Shrove Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, marks the last day before Lent and traditionally provided Christians with a last opportunity to use up rich foods. The custom of British Christians eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday dates back to the 16th century and is still enthusiastically adopted by many people today. Pancakes exist in various forms around the world and while they probably all have some kind of flour bound with liquid, some include a leavening agent and others are flat. Some are even fermented. The cooking method varies too, from frying on a griddle to baking in the oven.
From stacked American pancakes made fluffy with baking powder and drizzled with maple syrup, to squidgy little Russian blinis served with sour cream and caviar, the permutations are endless. Closer to home there are Scotch pancakes or drop scones, sweetened with sugar. Even if you narrow it down to the thinner, French crêpe-like pancakes traditionally enjoyed in this country on Shrove Tuesday, there’s the question of how best to make and serve them.
What makes a good pancake? Here are our top tips:
A good basic recipe
- A good place to start is a standard Yorkshire pudding batter, made simply with egg, flour and milk. You could add spices, citrus zest, vanilla extract or herbs to the batter for an extra layer of flavour. Masterchef’s John Torode insists his ultimate secret ingredient is buttermilk. Wholemeal flour works better with savoury fillings, while white is best kept for sweet. Add enough liquid so that it pours easily.
- If you have time, leave your batter to settle. Watch as the bubbles start to rise to the surface. Even a short rest will be of benefit, but you could leave the batter in the fridge for up to 24 hours if you like; it may have thickened up a little when you take it back out, so just add a splash of milk.
- Heat your pan well before you start frying. Test by dropping a small spoonful of mixture into the pan. If it turns golden on the underside after about 30 seconds, you’re good to go. Remember not to use too much fat and to keep the pan nice and hot.
- Even with the best pan, though, that first pancake is notoriously difficult to get right. Too much batter or too little? What if you flip it and it falls on the floor? Don’t worry – the next one will be better, and by the time you’ve done a few you’ll be an expert at pouring, flipping and serving!
- A decent pan is important when it comes to making a good pancake. When buying a pancake pan, you should ask for one that doesn’t have any hot spots, is non-stick and is a reasonable size. Opt for a crêpe pan like the Judge Radiant and you’ll get a thick base that offers even heat, and a good 3-layer non-stick surface with a 10-year guarantee. It has bags of style and is easy to handle, making it perfect for pancakes.
- Where do we start? The main thing to remember is that you can’t go wrong – whether sticking to the old favourite of sugar and lemon juice, trying a savoury filling such as scrambled eggs and snipped chives, or getting really extravagant with melted Mars bar and whipped cream. Whatever you choose, you’ll want another one!
This year Shrove Tuesday is on 5 March, so get thinking about what kind of pancakes you’re going to make and what you’ll cook them in. For something a little different, why not try savoury and wholesome Staffordshire oatcakes? Their coarse texture and oaty flavour make them perfect for serving at breakfast or dinner with bacon, egg… well, just about anything! Here’s the recipe we have tried and tested...yum!