Thursday, 7 February 2013

Pancake Day: What it's all about and recipes for a flipping good Shrove Tuesday


Pancake Day is upon us once again – that glorious day on which it is acceptable to stuff ourselves silly with a food that we rarely eat throughout the rest of the year. The glorious pancake. Who doesn’t like pancakes? Exactly. Everyone likes pancakes, because they are so versatile and customisable. With so many different types just waiting to be tasted, I propose we all have them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Because no-one will judge us if we do. (See below for recipes.)

Of course, Pancake Day’s real name is Shrove Tuesday, and it is part of the Christian calendar (it seems to me that Christianity loves a good old feast – Advent, Christmas or Easter anyone?) “Shrove” is the past tense of the verb “to shrive”, which means “to confess”, as the idea was to confess your sins before Lent. A little religion and language lesson for you there.

Although people may say it’s unwise to devour as many pancakes as we possibly can in one day, the fact of the matter is that Shrove Tuesday is actually known as Fat Tuesday in many Christian countries – Mardi Gras in France, for example. Even better, in Iceland the day is called Sprengidagur, which literally means “bursting day”. Rather appropriate, I’m sure you’ll agree.

But then again, having a fat day is only really justified if you then give something up for Lent. Ahh. Hadn’t quite thought that through, had we? Yes, the original reason for whipping up a load of pancakes was to use up supposedly luxurious ingredients (eggs, butter and sugar) before fasting until Easter. Our “Fat Day” is supposed to be a reminder that we’re entering a time of abstinence.

Not many of us actually do give things up for Lent anymore. For a lot of people, it comes at a time when they’ve only just finished their New Year health kick, so the thought of a further 40 days without one of their vices is understandably unappealing. But whether Christian or not, the idea of challenging yourself can actually be rather enticing.

And then comes the problem of what to give up. There’s no point in deciding to go without crisps if you never ate them before, but obviously you (well, I) can’t bear the thought of 40 days sans chocolate. We all know those mad people who decide to give up chocolate, cake, cheese, biscuits, crisps, bread, sweets, pasta AND ALL ENJOYMENT IN LIFE, and quite frankly, that is just unrealistic. It’s winter, the time of year when comfort food is at its most crucial.

Whether you give something up or not, why not get into the Fat Tuesday festive fun and have a go at whipping up a few batches of pancakes? Quite frankly, the array of ready-made pancake mixes is an insult to all our intelligences. Pancakes are so easy to make, and it’s guaranteed that your housemates will love you as a result. Make sure you have a super-hot pan, as the batter needs to cook immediately. Of course, you have to try and flip them, but don’t worry if it doesn’t quite go to plan – it’s universally acknowledged that the first pancake in a batch is always a bit dodgy.

For a Shrove Tuesday to beat all Shrove Tuesdays, I propose thick American-style pancakes for breakfast; savoury pancakes for lunch; and then a sugary feast of classic crêpes for dinner.

To make thick fluffy breakfast/Scotch/American pancakes, you need to use a raising agent, so for my recipe below you’ll need self-raising flour and baking powder. For traditional thin French-style pancakes, plain flour is all you need. Apart from that, the recipes are very similar, so they’re easy peasy to make.

Breakfast pancakes


200g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 egg
300ml milk
20g butter, melted
Sunflower oil for cooking
Optional: 2 bananas, really ripe and mashed, a handful of chocolate chips, a handful or two of blueberries, chopped in halves


1. Mix together the flour, baking powder and a pinch of salt in a large bowl. Beat the egg with the milk in a jug, and then whisk into the dry ingredients with a fork to make a thick smooth batter. Stir in the melted butter, and mix in the mashed bananas, chocolate chips and chopped blueberries if desired.

2. Heat a teaspoon of oil or small knob of butter in a large non-stick frying pan. Drop a large tablespoonful of the batter per pancake into the pan and watch them spread and small bubbles appear on the surface. Cook for about 1-2 minutes over a medium heat then flip over and cook another minute or so until golden. Try to stop everyone devouring the first one straight out of the frying pan, and smother with your choice of syrup or spread when ready to eat.

Basic thin pancakes


100g plain flour
1 egg
300ml milk
Pinch of salt
Oil or melted butter, for frying


1.       Whisk all the ingredients together to make a smooth batter.
2.       Heat the oil in a pan, then pour away any excess.
3.       Ladle some batter into the pan, and tilt it round so the mixture is evenly spread out in a thin layer. Leave to cook for about 30 seconds before loosening the edges with a spatula and then flipping it over and cooking for another 30 seconds or so on the other side, until just golden.
4.       Serve on a warm plate and top with whatever you desire!

Savoury toppings: cheese, spinach, ham, fried bacon and onion.

Sweet toppings: go for traditional lemon juice and sugar, or try something more decadent like melted chocolate, marshmallows, peanut butter, jam, chopped fruit, syrup, dulce de leche, ice cream or yoghurt. If you’re anything like me, the trouble is you’ll want one of each! Well, it is bursting day…

 This is my first piece as a food columnist for Inter:Mission, which you can also read here.

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