The Pancake’s Place in History
Pancakes have a unique place in our culinary history, uniting people across the globe for various occasions. In the UK, for instance, pancakes are traditionally enjoyed on Shrove Tuesday. This tradition stems from the need to use up fats before the commencement of Lent, resulting in pancakes that are rich in eggs and butter. But why limit this delicious treat to just one day a year? The versatility of pancakes is evident in the various forms they take worldwide, from French crêpes to Indian dosas and Ethiopian injera.
The Evolution of the Pancake Recipe
Elizabethan Era Pancakes
The oldest known recipe for pancakes, as we recognize them today, hails from an English cookbook titled “The Good Huswifes Handmaide for the Kitchen” from the 1594 edition. This version was incredibly rich, combining cream, egg yolks, ale, and generous amounts of sugar, cinnamon, and ginger. However, when tried in modern times, the consistency proved challenging, resulting in a pancake that was delicious but difficult to flip.
The 17th century brought a shift in pancake preferences. Gervase Markham’s 1615 recipe introduced a simpler version, using water, spices, and wheat flour. While these pancakes were less decadent than their Elizabethan counterparts, they lacked the richness that milk can provide.
Modern Pancake Tips and Tricks
The Butter Debate
While some culinary experts, like Xanthe Clay, advocate for melted butter in the batter, others prefer vegetable oil. The choice often boils down to personal preference. However, an extra egg yolk can enhance the flavor without making the pancake too tough.
The Importance of Resting the Batter
Many might overlook the step of resting the pancake batter, but it can make a significant difference. While some chefs believe it’s unnecessary, others, like Nigel Slater and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, emphasize its importance. Resting allows the starch to absorb the liquid better and air bubbles to disperse, resulting in a more even-textured pancake.
Cooking Temperature Matters
The heat at which you cook your pancakes can influence their texture. While some recommend a moderate heat, others, like physicist Peter Barham, suggest a hotter pan for thinner, crisper pancakes. Regardless of your preference, the first pancake often serves as a test run and a treat for the chef!
How to cook The Perfect Pancake Recipe
- 125g plain flour
- Pinch of salt
- 1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
- 225ml whole or semi-skimmed milk
- Small knob of butter
- Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl and add a pinch of salt. Create a well in the center and add the egg and yolk.
- Mix the milk with 2 tbsp water and pour a small amount into the well, beating the mixture.
- Gradually whisk in the flour until a smooth paste forms. Add the remaining milk until the batter resembles single cream. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
- Heat butter in a frying pan on medium-high heat. The batter should sizzle upon contact.
- Pour a small ladleful of batter into the pan, swirling to coat. Flip once the bottom colors and cook for another 30 seconds.
Pancakes are best enjoyed immediately, but if serving a group, layer them between kitchen roll sheets to keep them fresh.
In conclusion, pancakes are a beloved dish with a rich history and endless variations. Whether you prefer them thick and fluffy or thin and crispy, there’s a pancake out there for everyone. So, why not make every day a pancake day?