I get the same level of excitement as Shrove Tuesday rolls round as I do at Christmas. The thought of pancakes on this special day most definitely brings out the sweet loving child in me. I have who idea why, it’s not like I don’t have pancakes at any other time of the year, it’s just on Pancake Day, it is extra specially special. Now whilst most wise organised bloggers have already put in their musings on all things batter related, as usual I am doing things arse over tit. By the time this blog hits the site Shrove Tuesday will be a distant memory but hey, my belly is full of pancake so zero shits give I.
My week began when the missus suggested that we have a week’s worth of pancakes and scoring them for the purpose of the food blog. I hesitated quickly, uttering a muffled remark about calories to appear vaguely concerned about my waist line before agreeing that yes, this is a very good idea. I’m in.
But first, as with most of my blog posts, let’s get into a brief history of all things pancake, because like most, I have never considered the origins of this tasty treat each year when I am shovelling forkfuls of syrup and butter into my gullet. Mostly I am debating whether I can fit a fourth, possibly even a fifth in my stomach before I begin to cramp up.
Pancakes are in fact prehistoric, dating back over 30,000 years ago to the days of the Stone Age with evidence of pancake being found in the stomach of the remains of human iceman over 5000 years old. In fact it seems as if it was one of the first foods that humans learned to cook; grinding grains, adding them to protein laden milk and eggs and cooking on a flat rock over an open fire. Although I doubt very much that Mr and Mrs Caveman had a bottle for squirty cream ready to hand, this was certainly likely to be more of a treat that of the alternative of uncooked gruel when meat based protein sources were hard to come by.
The name Pancake didn’t come about until the 15th century and prior to this they were known as indian cakes, hoe cakes, johnnycakes, journey cakes, buckwheat cakes, buckwheats, griddle cakes, and flapjacks which were made with buckwheat or cornmeal. Over the world pancakes have evolved in differing ways including the use of wheat flour. It appears that us Brits took our influence from the French, our own pancakes being thin and flat much like the French crepe whereas the American versions are still thick and heavy and far closer to the pancake origin.
So I start my pancake week with the original pancake, a Hoe Cake made with cornmeal. Whilst I didn’t use an actual hoe I went for the next best thing my trusty 21 inch Lodge cast iron pan. Slathered in butter these were delicious dipped in my chilli.
Pancakes are a popular breakfast item in the states with most popular food chains having some kind of pancakes offering for breakfast and there is much to be said for the salt and savoury combination of maple syrup, butter and bacon. Unless it is at the International House of Pancakes (IHOP) chain. You would think that the name alone would indicate that they have the breakfast thing nailed, but I can honestly say that eating at an IHOP was one of the worst experiences of my life. It was how I imagine prison food to be. In fact, whilst I am normally quintessentially English in that I will smile and nod even when my restaurant food tastes like Pedigree Chum, this is the one and only time when I absolutely refused to pay for a meal.
Don't let the smile on the sign fool you. This place is MINGING.
Aside from the dreaded IHOP I am a BIG fan of American pancakes which include rising agents such as baking powder to make them big and fluffy. In the US they celebrate “Mardi Gras”, which is French for Fat Tuesday referring to the carnival of events that take place beginning on Epiphany or Three Kings Day. Much like our own Shrove Tuesday the pancake bit comes in as a mark of history when all of the fatty foods of the household were used up prior to the beginning of Lent.
A sure way of getting those extra fluffy American pancakes is with buttermilk. You can get buttermilk from the supermarket or you can make your own by adding half a lemon to 250 ml of milk and allowing it to sit for half an hour.
And so we return home from America, land of excess to our lovely little Island of Blighty. A traditional English pancake is very thin and is served immediately with Golden syrup or lemon juice and caster sugar. It of course includes the mandatory pancake flip and the frustration that comes from the first pancake attempt ALWAYS being a failure.
But why do we have a whole day dedicated to pancakes? The term Shrove Tuesday derives from the Christian tradition trying to be ‘shriven’ before Lent. The simple ingredients for English pancakes can be seen to symbolise four points of significance at this time of year:
Eggs ~ Creation
Flour ~ The staff of life
Salt ~ Wholesomeness
Milk ~ Purity
There are so many pancake recipes out there and whilst I could potentially encourage the missus to keep this going for some time, there is bound to be a time when I actually ruin pancakes for myself forever. There is only so much batter that one man can take.
So I scoured the internet for the final two recipes which interested me the most. That’s when I found the Dutch Baby, also known as a German pancake, a Bismarck, or a Dutch puff and is basically a giant sweet Yorkshire pudding baked in the oven. And what can be better than having a giant Yorkshire pudding for breakfast? Mixing it up with the flavours of a warm jam doughnut, that’s what.
While these pancakes are derived from the German pancake dish, it is said that the name Dutch baby was coined by one of Victor Manca’s daughters in the first half of the 1900s at Manca’s Cafe, a family-run restaurant that was located in Seattle, Washington.
Which brings me to my final pancake, the Japanese Pancake. There are two words in Japan that refer to pancakes: pankeki (パンケーキ) and hottokeki (ホットケーキ). The first most likely refers to the classic pancake, if a little thicker. The hottokeki is Japanese style, and has an unexpected feature: it’s usually steamed when cooked in the pan.
If you thought that American pancakes were indulgent, these things look simply epic with a somewhat cross between a sponge and a pancake, what could possibly go wrong with that I asked myself? I love birthday cake so much that I literally only turn up to birthday parties in the hope that there will be cake there. Unfortunately this is becoming less and less often now I am rapidly approaching my 40s. Bloody spoil sports and their trendy adult dinner parties. Bring back the party rings, that what I say.
And so I found myself entering the rabbit hole of Youtube looking for the perfect recipe when I came across this great little number from Pop Sugar for a simple and foolproof stack of Japanese Pancakes.
Note: In order to really identify and laugh along with my fate of the Japanese pancake I recommend that you watch both of the upcoming videos.
Having watched the video I was set to go. The bird of the Youtube video had me convinced that this was going to be a cinch and my pancake endeavours thus far had been seemingly faultless. I actually videoed my attempt for your viewing pleasure.
DON'T BOTHER CLICKING THE LINK. THERE IS NO LINK. BUT BY ALL MEANS GIVE THEM A GO!
All in all, Japanese blunder aside it has been an epic week whilst we patiently wait for the sun to come out so we can get back out on the barbecue we have to keep ourselves occupied.
Here’s a reminder of all of this week’s pancake recipes: