Every now and again I'll speak to someone from the States about something and forget that sometimes, things are different over there. I assume that everything I say and do is easily understood and thus using throw-away phrases like "face like a bag of spanners" is comprehended totally. Not so.
Last week I was commenting about how very excited I was that Pancake Day was coming up, when an American friend was like "WUT?" and I was like "YEAH MAN" and then went on to explain that Pancake Day is an annual event that is almost better than Christmas.
Pancake Day is borne of Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent begins. In case you don't know, Lent is the penitential 40 days during which many Christians of a myriad of denominations give up certain luxuries, like food/booze/shagging. Traditionally on Shrove Tuesday you would use up all of the rich ingredients laying around the house that you'd be giving up, like bags of sugar, eggs and milk. Some genius worked out that those household staples, when mixed together, created the most holy of all mixtures -- BATTER. And what is batter really good at? BEING FRIED. Pancake Day was born. We never looked back.
Now, as far as Lent goes, I'm not religious so I don't do all the praying and self-reflection bit. Sometimes though, I do like to give something up, just to jump on the whole holy-bandwagon. I tried to give up Haribo sweets one year, and I think I lasted about 25 days before caving. That's about as into Lent as I get. Shrove Tuesday, however, is a completely different matter. That is one tradition I am more than happy to get on board with.
Pancake Day over here is a MASSIVE THING. The shops go completely mental and stock all the ingredients and have massive banners everywhere with "PANCAKE DAY 4TH MARCH!!!!!" (or whatever date it falls on that year) from basically mid-January. Considering that the main ingredients are just flour, eggs and milk, they have to get quite creative with their marketing. Therefore, products like Nutella, Jif lemon and huge bags of sugar are lugged to the front of stores to entice us greedy consumers into filling our rolled-up pancakes with their goods.
Pancake Day means EVERYONE has pancakes for dinner. Them's the rules. I don't know a single soul who doesn't do this. People who hate pancakes probably also hate laughter and Julie Andrews films.
Now, we should talk about the anatomy of the perfect Pancake Day Pancake. The pancakes of which I speak are not your traditional thick, fluffy pancakes that you may find in stacked high, dripping with syrup in a diner. No. These are thin, delicate wonders, more akin to a French crêpe. The batter is poured thinly across a hot pan and left for only seconds before being flipped and cooked on the other side. The first one is always rubbish, but there's a certain joy to be had at eating the first, messy and under- or over-cooked pancake straight from the hot pan before trying again.
The perfect batter is a hot topic. Some people buy pre-made mixes. Those people are not my people. Some say you should rest the batter for half an hour, some disagree. Should you use butter in the pancake or merely to fry it in, instead of oil?
When you've navigated through the minefield that is the batter mix, you need to decide what to top your pancakes with. Traditionally we use a squeeze of lemon juice, fresh if you have it, bottled if you don't, and a spoonful of sugar sprinkled over it to create a sweet and tart taste explosion that is oh-so-moreish. Pancake purists will not deviate from this recipe. I however, do not believe in limiting myself in this way.
Nutella and banana is another favourite, and Golden Syrup with basically anything. Chopped fruit. M&Ms. You can pretty much chuck whatever you want in one and it'll taste good -- Chris had cold, days-old left-over curry in his one year and still confirmed it was a joy to eat. Sicko.
Personally, for a savoury one, I like Dairylea cream cheese (pancake day is definitely a day where I choose to ignore my lactose intolerance. It's worth it.) and ham, spread over the pancake and the rolled up, cut in half and eaten like a wrap. I must have had this filling as a child, because every year I bite into my first (of many) and instantly feel like I'm 5 again. It's perfect.
This meal is one eaten standing up, in the kitchen, hot pan ablaze and windows open to let the smoke out when one inevitably burns. They are made taken in turns, with one person pouring and flipping while another eats the one that's just been tipped from the pan. They are eaten fast, with the anticipation of the next one bringing excitement. Sweet, then savoury, then sweet -- there are no rules on Pancake Day.
Here is my tried and tested perfect Pancake Day pancake recipe. Join in! Forget your usual dinner plans and create a few of these thin, delicious treats.
Perfect Shrove Tuesday Pancakes
Makes maybe 8 or so, including the one rubbish one at the beginning.
- 1 cup of plain flour
- 1 egg and 1 egg yolk
- 1 cup of milk
- A knob of butter
- Pinch of salt
1. Sift the flour and throw in a a pinch of salt. Make a well in the centre, pour the egg and the milk into it.
2. Whisk together until it is smooth and with the consistency of cream. Cover pop it in the fridge to rest for at least half an hour.
3. Heat your pan and then add a little bit of butter to grease it. The pan needs to be so hot that it sizzles when you add the batter.
4. Get a ladle or large spoon and add batter across the bottom of the pan, quickly swirling to coat. When it starts to ste, and you can easily lift the edges with a spatula, attempt to flip it without chucking it over yourself. If you can't manage to flip it, use the spatula to quickly turn it over to cook the bottom.
5. Cover in whatever you choose, and then EAT!
I literally cannot wait. What toppings would you go for? I need inspiration!
I'm sure I'll be tweeting/instagramming snaps of my pancakes over at @Natalie_KateM. Let me know if you join in!