Proper pancakes as we like them in Europe, also known as crêpes, are thin and flat - as a pancake. Not just with lemon and sugar: try this wonderful savoury spinach and blue cheese filling!
Pancakes for Shrove Tuesday
Lent in the Christian calendar starts on Ash Wednesday when the faithful are supposed to sprinkle ash onto their heads in solemn repentance of their sins. I promise I’m not making it up, after all I was brought up as a good (well, the family did their best but there’s only so much they could do) Catholic girl.
Prior to the religious austerity commencing, ye faithful frantically stuff themselves with perishable goodies in anticipation of the fasting that should follow. Hence the confusing number of feast days, called differently in different countries and annoyingly not falling on the same date: Mardi Gras, Fat Thursday, Shrove Tuesday, Fastnacht or Pancake Day.
Glorious modern habits have chosen to ignore the forthcoming fast and only go for the stuff-your-face bit, naturally. Pancakes it is then, or drop scones, crêpes or galettes.
The confusion is brought in by the Americans. Their pancakes are blini style, thick fritters, served all year round for breakfast instead of once a year, on Shrove Tuesday (and then they’re surprised obesity is an issue). In Europe, pancakes, crêpes or Pfannkuchen are large and thin, and much more illustrative of their name: flat.
How to make perfect pancake batter?
The batter is a doddle to make and it annoys me hugely seeing the dry mix sold in supermarkets. Mix eggs with flour and milk – a toddler can do it, right?
Indeed, the batter takes no effort or skill to make.
If you don’t own kitchen scales (go and buy them asap, in the meantime) crack two eggs into a cup or a tumbler, then measure out the same volume of flour in another cup. The liquid amount, mostly milk with about a third of water, will be twice as much plus more to make quite runny batter, the consistency of single cream.
If you have kitchen scales it’s a no-brainer. Whisk the eggs with the flour and add milk-water mixture a little at a time until the batter is smooth. It benefits from standing around a while, in that any lumps will dissolve. The addition of melted butter is optional but it makes frying easier and the pancakes tastier.
How to fry pancakes?
The art of frying a pancake is tricky, but the difficulty lies in tools rather than ingredients. Unless you have a good non-stick pan, or a flat griddle, they might stick, burn, tear and leave you hungry and cross.
But still, even a dodgy frying pan might succeed if you heat it up to screaming hot. Add about a teaspoon of vegetable oil in and spread it over the pan with a scrunched-up paper towel and a lot of care.
The oiling needs to be repeated for every third pancake, on average. With a non-stick pan you might even fry the whole batch on one oiling, if also you like them quite dry and crisp.
Flipping? Naah, use a palette knife
I personally believe flipping pancakes is a completely redundant practice. Even if you manage to get it to land in the pan, it will likely fold or tear. Sensible people don’t throw their food around, is what I say.
A palette knife will serve you well to peek underneath the crêpe, to see if it’s set underneath and help dislodge it gently if it stuck a little around the edges.
Then slide the knife underneath the middle and turn it over gently but decisively. Job done.
Savoury filling for pancakes
You might not be aware of it if you’ve been raised exclusively on sugar and lemon pancakes, but fillings can be a flight of fancy, which My Old Dutch have been doing for years and years.
I do recommend this spinach and blue cheese filling, in my view the most gorgeous pancake filling, also – dinner which can’t apply to lemon-sugar combo.
It also makes you feel a bit more better about noshing four or five of those – after all, you’re eating one of your five-a-day in each pancake.
You can use either fresh or frozen spinach. Cook it with butter, salt and pepper, a little garlic and a little nutmeg, long enough for all the liquid to evaporate. Stir some blue cheese through it and the filling is ready to spread on the pancakes.
If you like them at room temperature, they will be ready to eat. But the nicest way to serve spinach pancakes is to fold them into quarters and brown gently in the same frying pan you made them in, with a little extra butter.
Alternatively slide them under a grill if you’re partial to more crispy edges.
More pancake recipes
American style buttermilk pancakes, with optional blueberries, served with bacon and maple syrup. It’s an easy recipe for an indulgent weekend breakfast.
Galettes au sarrasin, buckwheat crêpes, with a classic topping of ham, cheese and an egg. The type of pancakes best suited to savoury toppings, galettes from Brittany are healthy and easy to make.
Buckwheat banana fritters for delicious and gluten free breakfast. Smashed bananas in buckwheat pancake batter, and a drizzle of honey is a must!