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Issue 68 - Creating pancake perfection

Scotland Magazine Issue 68
April 2013


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Creating pancake perfection

Sue Lawrence heats up her griddle

Although there are fewer people these days who rush off to be shriven on Shrove Tuesday, there are more and more of us who toss pancakes at all times throughout the year. Shrove Tuesday has of course been associated with pancakes over the centuries, since they were an ideal way to use up surplus eggs and fat before the Lenten fasting began in earnest the following day, but there’s no reason not to cook pancakes any day. What could be cheaper, easier or more delicious!

And so why not dust off your crepe pans and whip up some batter, which can be thick or thin depending on your preference and which side of the Channel you live. The French are of course masters of the super-thin lacy crepe, made from thinner batter, which can be eaten with nothing more than lemon juice and sugar or incorporated into memorable dishes such as that Sixties classic, Crepes Suzette.

British pancakes have always been thicker (we prefer hearty fare) and they are classically eaten with lemon juice and often golden syrup. My mother also used to slip a dab of butter in between each layer of a pancake tower dripping with golden syrup, a gloriously squidgy childhood treat for Sunday tea. American pancakes are also thicker than French and usually served for breakfast with combinations we Brits consider downright weird the first time, but once you try pancakes lathered with maple syrup and topped with crispy bacon, somehow it all begins to makes sense.

In Scotland, there are also our much-loved Scotch pancakes which are small and thick and served, freshly made and still warm, for tea with butter and jam. I often make these tea-time favourites without sugar and serve them as canapés with smoked salmon and crème fraiche. They make the perfect cheats Russian blinis.

Whichever type of pancake or crepe you make, you will need a good reliable pan, one that will not make them stick. (Traditionally Scotch pancakes of course are made on a griddle.) You should cook them over a medium heat with a minimal amount of fat, which I do by smearing the pan with a piece of kitchen paper rubbed in melted butter or oil.

Once the batter is made, there is the question of whether or not to allow it to rest. It is often written that the batter should always rest in order to allow the gluten in the flour to relax, just as you leave pastry to rest. But, having made pancakes with and without a resting period, I honestly cannot taste any difference. The main point is not to beat or stir too wildly while actually making the batter as this will develop the gluten. Whenever you see the mixture smooth and thick in your food processor or blender, stop. Then, once your pan is hot enough and you have swirled the batter around the base, the signal that it is ready to be flipped over are the bubbles - tiny little air holes that appear on the surface. The second side usually needs marginally less time to cook.

If tossing is your thing, then loosen the sides gently all around with a large spatula, ease the pancake down the pan as far as you can without dropping it, then with one deft flip, quickly toss it. Then, once you feel confident in your flipping skills, toss higher and higher, always bearing in mind the cautionary tales of pancakes that reach the ceiling being notoriously difficult to unstick. There is a flip side to everything.

A perfect scotch pancake
Serves 4
Use half wholemeal or buckwheat flour and half plain flour (omitting the sugar) to make cheats blinis, to serve with sour cream and smoked salmon or caviar.

110 g/4 oz plain flour, sifted
½ tsp cream of tartar
¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp golden caster sugar
1 medium free-range egg
150 ml / 5 fl oz milk

Once the griddle (or frying pan) is hot (allow at least 3 minutes to heat up), smear with butter then drop 4 tablespoonful of batter - to cook 4 pancakes at a time. After 1½ - 2 minutes you will see large bubbles.

Flip over and continue to cook until just done, a further one minute or so.

Serve warm with butter and jam.

A perfect crepe
Serves 4
You can add 15g/half oz melted butter to the batter to help prevent sticking.

110 g/ 4 oz plain flour, sifted
1 large free-range egg
300 ml/10 fl oz milk
butter, to fry

Place the flour, egg, milk and a pinch of salt in a food processor or blender and whizz briefly until smooth. (You might need to stop the machine and scrape down the sides.) Either set aside or use now.

To make the crepes, smear a tiny amount of butter around a pancake pan then, once hot, add about two tbsp batter and swirl around the pan. (Enough to cover the base once swirled; add more batter if necessary.) After about a minute, bubbles should start to appear on the surface. Using a palette knife, loosen the crepe all around and flip over.

Cook for another minute or so, until golden brown. To keep warm, stack on a plate, loosely wrap in foil. Keep in a low oven. (If you plan to refrigerate or freeze them, interleave each crepe with a piece of greaseproof paper.)

A perfect pancake
Serves 4
The method is the same as the crepes cooking for half a minute or so longer, as they are thicker.

Serve in a stack with lemon juice and golden syrup or maple syrup.

225g / 8 oz plain flour, sifted
a pinch of salt
3 medium free-range eggs
350 ml / 12 fl oz milk