Although ‘pancakes’ are mainly thought of in Britain as large round discs of thinly fried batter, which are then rolled up, there are actually four distinct varieties of pancakes found in these islands and they come from the four countries, Wales, Ireland, Scotland and England. Each variety has a long history in the local regions, with many pancake recipes going back to the Middle Ages, in written form, and being a staple in the diet of the people for a lot longer. Pancakes, then as now, are particularly associated with Shrove Tuesday, (see the last page of this article for more information on Shrove Tuesday Traditions).
Making The Perfect Pancakes
Using the freshest ingredients is essential to make the best tasting pancakes, old flour and old eggs can make the pancakes taste musty, so always check the use by date on the ingredients, and how well they have been re-sealed if already opened. Use full fat milk, rather than semi-skimmed, (some recipes call for the addition of cream, to add a little bit of gloss and richness).
For a lump-free batter use melted butter, not softened butter, and start with sifted flour in a bowl to lighten it. Make a well in the centre of the flour and start to gradually beat the eggs in first, one at a time, then the liquids, adding the melted butter last. Keep a smooth whisking action, pulling everything in from the edge to the centre. The initial stage of the batter, with just the flour and the eggs, should already be relatively lump free, while pouring in the milk should be done in stages, a little at a time, with constant mixing to smooth everything out and break up any lumps. Use a spoon to start with then switch to a whisk to mix everything. Using a whisk will make the batter smooth, silky and lump free.
Although some people swear by putting all the liquids in, all in one go, a little patience is needed, the worst thing you can do if you are hand whisking the batter is pour all the liquids and eggs into the flour all at once – unless you are doing it in a machine it is difficult to get the lumps out like this. Hand whisking the batter is a good five minutes job.
A Production Line
Making pancakes is very much a ‘production line’ job, so it is best to get prepared before starting. Pull everything out that you need and arrange it around you so that you can make the pancakes, pile them up, and if necessaries give them a quick scattering of the toppings or fillings you are putting with the pancakes, like lemon juice and sugar.
Regional Pancake Recipes
Even though most often it is the thinly made and rolled up English pancake which is thought of on Shrove Tuesday there are different regional pancake recipes and indeed different ‘national’ pancake recipes eaten on this day. Dorothy Hartley in her 1954 book, ‘Food In England’ has this to say about the English pancake, “abroad pancakes are usually open and piled up together. In England our pancakes are symbols of our insular detachment, for each is rolled up by itself, aloof, with its own small slice of lemon.” She is right, but the differences are actually to be found closer to home, in Wales you have the complete opposite: ‘Crempog‘ are small, thickly risen pancakes made with buttermilk and which are served open faced. Scottish Pancakes (Scotch Pancakes) are similar to those in Wales, while the Irish Pancake, the Boxty Pancake (similar to Boxty) uses potato as an ingredient.
How Thick Should The Batter Be?
This depends. Not only is a batter of different thickness between the regions, but also between households, with people preferring a different thickness to their pancakes. However, a traditional English pancake batter is quite thin, about the consistency of single cream, while the Welsh pancake batter for a crempog is probably twice as thick, as are the Scottish and Irish ones. Note: a pancake batter will thicken up a little if left to ‘stand’ or ‘rest’ so it can afford to be a little runny when first made. And if you want to toss and flip the pancakes in the air the batter and the pancake needs to be thicker, so that it can withstand the force.
To Rest Or ‘Stand’ The Batter
Having made many, many batter mixes up we can state that if a batter is left to rest or ‘stand’ for a while, particularly if left for an hour in the fridge, after making it, the better it is to use, and the better the pancakes are to make. This is so that the raw flour can have time to absorb the milk and thicken the batter. If the batter contains rising agents like bicarbonate of soda then the batter is best left to stand only for an hour or so, or they are added just before using the batter – however, if the batter recipe is plain, and without rising agents, the batter can benefit from being left to stand over night in the fridge. After resting the batter needs to be re-invigorated by whisking thoroughly before using. To stop a thick ‘skin’ developing on the surface as it rests cover it in cling-film.