Lovely, delicious and beautiful things.
My earliest memory of the pancake came from the kitchen of my Grandmother. Granny Connie. She was an incredible woman, so light and delicate looking but so completely fierce. When she died I was too young to appreciate the magnificent collection of shoes she had and I know, had she been here today, she would have been proud at my modest, but impressive, collection of Louboutin’s.
Granny Connie was an interesting cook. There was no real plan to her cooking. No recipes. Just her, a few pots and a drawer full of my Grandad Wally’s spices. He was stationed in India during World War II and, unsurprisingly, acquired a sophisticated palate. When he was in the kitchen the smells were strong, garlicy, bold. Granny didn’t have quite the same grasp on these herbs and yet, completely by accident, she would create small culinary marvels. Sadly, a victim of her own slap-dash style of cookery, she never remembered any recipes and therefore we were left only with a memory of these unique and interesting blends.
Thankfully, she was a purist when it came to pancakes. My brother and I would sit at the table which pulled out from under her fridge. Our eyes wide with wonder as she tossed each pancake high in the air, always with the same ‘oooooooooh’ she would make when we watched fireworks. It is a noise I miss. One I probably took for granted back then. Looking back I often wonder how she lifted the pan and placed enough vigor to return such a great toss. Her delicate frame seemed to tiny. Perhaps it was the technique more than her strength. Although thinking back to other days of my childhood I remember the 5 consecutive May Day Festivals that she won the Welly Boot Throwing contest. So maybe I am selling her short.
When all the pancakes were finished, my brother and I would scuttle over to the dining table. There, waiting for our greedy fingers, would be the sugar bowl and a lemon shaped bottle of Jif.
It is not until now that I can remark on the astonishing rate in which one, under the age of 10, can consume a pancake. I am only aware of this now as I have two children myself and the feeling of horror as I lay the last one on the plate, walk to my sink to wash up only to find two breakfast plates plopping beside me and a pair of rather sticky looking smiling angels staring wantingly at the pan, cannot be described significantly in any words I possess. I believe pancakes are inhaled, not eaten, nor chewed. Just drunk in, like tea.
It is a perfect memory and a wonderful tradition that I hope my grandchildren will have. I wish for them to consider the days I made pancakes, to feel the warmth and fondness I do as I reminisce. Laughing about the burnt ones, the shaped ones, the first one in the pan that always goes wrong. Thinking about their grandma and how loved they were. But mainly about the pancakes.
Aside from my Granny Connie’s version – very simple you don’t even need scales. Just a cup. 2 eggs, 1 cup of flour, 1 cup of milk – there are loads of different pancakes you can make. Sweet, thin, fat, savoury. Pancakes can be eaten for breakfast with fruit and yoghurt, for brunch with bacon and maple syrup. They can be a canteen standard affair stuffed with Nutella and banana or an impressive starter to produce at a dinner party, rolled up over asparagus with a blue cheese sauce delicately spooned over the top then grilled until slightly crisp and served with a handful of watercress. You can stick with the british recipe or turn your hand to the Crepe. As with Fondue, most countries have their own variation of the pancake. The ingredients in it are entirely universal.
I have three main versions I tend to stick to. Other than Granny’s.
Borrowed from Nigel Slater, my go to man for everything food, the first is a fat little cake. Poofed up with whisked egg white, the batter is flavoured so delicately by orange. My children turned their nose up when they saw me adding ricotta cheese instead of milk. But they have learnt to be patient and to appreciate everything they are given. I was blessed with children that aren’t fussy. Although I once made them Chickpea mash to go with their sausages. A step to far, even for them.
250g ricotta cheese
4 tbsp caster sugar
finely grated zest of an orange
2 tbsp melted butter
50g plain flour
100g fresh raspberries
Firstly, separate the eggs, this isn’t hard. Simplest way? Just crack the egg into your hand (over a bowl) and use your fingers to allow the white to fall through. Place the yolk in a separate bowl. Simple as that. White can stay with the yolk but no yolk must enter the whites or you won’t get the rise you need. It’s the same principle as meringue. The whites can go in a mixer and you can turn them onto a high mix and leave for around 90 seconds. They should form stiff peaks. If you don’t know what stiff peaks look like just go for peaks. Better under done than over done. Rule of thumb. Once they form peaks they should be able to keep themselves in that peak for several moments. Leave.
The egg yolks, ricotta and sugar can be whisked in a separate bowl. Make sure this is combined well. Grate the orange zest into the melted butter and combine this with the yolk mixture then use your flour to thicken it up. Nigel says ‘fold’ a lot in his recipe. I shall say it only twice. From the flour onwards, fold. Everything. No more beating. Especially the whisked egg whites which you are now ready to put in. Finally, the raspberries.
I only own one pancake pan. It is a flat Le Creuset one. It cost me a bloody fortune and if anyone goes near it, I bite them. It is the only pan in my kitchen I am truly protective over as it is the only one that can do the job of pancakes. It has a single job. I certainly don’t want to ruin it’s ability to do that by allowing others to sear off a steak or whisk up an omelette.
It must be heated, hard. A true pancake pan won’t need any type of lubricant but the saltiness of the butter adds something magnificent to the gentle orange flavour of the batter. So I allow it. Once bubbling I dollop four cakes onto the pan. Just a tablespoon each one. I try to ensure at least three raspberries in each cake but it doesn’t matter. Even if one has no berry in, the flavour has already infused and you won’t be left wanting. About 2 minutes each side, maybe 3 for the first batch.
Serve, if you like, with some greek yoghurt swirled through with more grated orange zest.
My children adore these. I adore them. Magnificent.
The next recipe I have is one I developed when I first eliminated wheat from my diet. Ok, these still call for wheat but I use spelt. Readily available in all good (and bad) supermarkets, Spelt flour is an ancient form of wheat and far easier for us to digest than modern grains. We are much more tolerant of it as a species. If I could, I would recommend everyone use it. It is also good if you are trying to create a Crepe type pancake. The traditional grain gives something more to the cake and for those very very thin french versions, I believe it is better than plain. This pancake is a treat for anyone on a diet. It hits the spot but in a healthier way than most. Visit FoodSpa for more information on spelt and alternative ingredients for other recipes.
1 cup of spelt
1 cup of oat milk – you could use unsweetened Almond milk or rice milk
1 teaspoon virgin coconut oil (optional)
I have added the coconut oil to this recipe purely for its health benefit. Where as I wouldn’t fry in any oil, if you are going to then use coconut. I could go on and on about the benefits of it. It’s so blinking versatile. I use it to cook with, on my hair, on my skin, everything. I won’t tell you what Mr Short uses it for, but he tells me it does the job brilliantly.
Beat your eggs, slowly combine the spelt and oat milk. Personally I find the use of a Nutri-bullet PERFECT for this. I know it’s meant for juice but ignore that. It’s essentially a personal blender. Providing you aren’t putting hot produce in it I can’t see any harm. I shove everything in mine and then leave it to blend for 1 minute, give it a shake, then one more minute. If I need to add more flour or milk I do.
I ladle the batter into my pan and cook until the edges can be lifted with a silicone spatular. Then, once I have loosened them, I give the perfect toss. Another 90 seconds and they are done.
For the filling I take a banana and slice it, I cover it in honey. Sometimes a dusting of nutmeg or cinnamon. Then I place it under the grill until the honey slightly caramelises The rest is simple. I shove the banana / honey into the cake and I sit down with a cup of earl grey and eat. Whilst these are not a great low fat breakfast or pudding, they are a healthy option that won’t cause you too much expansion on the waistline. They hit the spot too.
Finally, when I am feeling an overwhelming need to be close to my husband – he lives 80% of the year in Kabul, Afghanistan – I create myself a little culinary moment so I can close my eyes and imagine him.
Anyone who knows Chris will presume instantly that this pancake is a celebration of whisky and cigar smoked meat. It isn’t. It is a pancake that takes inspiration from the country he is in.
The closest thing the Afghans have to our traditional pancake is a Parata. It’s more like a bread than a cake. You make a dough from flour (I would suggest spelt) oil (coconut) and water. This is a flat bread so no need to use a raising agent. After 10 minutes settling you roll it out and then add cardamon, sugar and pistachios. Bash the pistachio up really hard. They want to be small. Roll the pastry into a sausage or tube and then with a rolling pin flatten it back out into a small, thin round. This will cause the filling to be inside the parata. Wipe your pan with coconut oil and fry like you would a pancake until each side is golden brown. Serve with cardamon yoghurt and pistachio.
I adapt mine into an actual pancake, following the spelt recipe I gave earlier but adding the cardamon to the batter. I then fry until cooked and serve with a pistachio yoghurt. Sometimes a drizzle of honey.
I sit, in my husband’s chair and hold on to each mouthful, exhaling the flavours through my nose to get the full body of them. I close me eyes to image we are eating together, in his courtyard, the sun falling on us, a dusty musk filling the air. Call to prayer singing out in the background.
Although the reality is his cuisine is not so refined and the background noises tend to be helicopters or car bombs. However. It is my moment and it is the one I shall be enjoying at dinner time today.
Happy Pancake Day everyone. Enjoy it. Next stop? Spring!