‘Pancake Day’ – as the supermarkets have taken to calling it – looms. Not a moment too soon for me as I have become slightly obsessed by the myriad of different traditional ways that pancake batter can be used to mark the beginning of Lent.
There’s the basic pancake that’s frankly hard to top in its classic form: rolled up with some lemon juice and granulated sugar. I don’t go in for anything more than that on the filling front but this year I will be taking a lesson from the first Elizabethans and adding a few drops of rosewater to my batter for just a little hint of something more going on.
Making and eating pancakes one by one is all well and good but piling them up has its moments too. Like the quire pancakes that were popular in the 1600s and 1700s. A quire is a ream of sheets of paper so this idea was for a stack of very very thin pancakes. This is the – slightly adapted – recipe from Florence White’s Good Things in England.
570ml single cream
4 egg yolks but only 2 egg whites
220g plain flour
half a whole nutmeg
50g caster sugar
1. Melt the butter and allow to cool.
2. Beat the egg yolks and white into the cream. Add enough flour to make a thick batter. Grate in lots of nutmeg – about a dozen good shavings. Add the sugar and a pinch of salt. Then the sherry. And finally the cooled melted butter. What you have now should be a batter the consistency of single cream. Add some milk if it’s a bit thick. Leave your batter to stand for at least an hour.
Then make them just like you would ‘normal’ pancakes. With all that butter they’ll be a bit fragile so go steady on the turning – these pancakes are not really the flipping sort. Some old recipes say just to do one side only. As each one is done pop it onto a plate, sprinkle some demerara sugar over and keep warm while you keep on pancaking and stacking.
Piling pancakes up brings me back to the Welsh crempog I’ve written about before. These are American-style fluffy pancakes made with bicarbonate of soda and buttermilk. In the Welsh tradition children would go through the streets singing clempog songs, collecting the pancakes from houses and piling them up with butter and syrup or treacle. They are delicious.
Shrove Tuesday hasn’t always been all about pancakes, though. Apple fritters were commonly made too using a traditional pancake batter. If you fancy that just peel and core whole apples and slice into 1cm rounds. Make a slightly thicker batter than usual (so it’ll cling to the fruit) with a little ground cloves, mace or ginger. And then fry them.
After all that it’s something of a relief to note that in Baldock in Hertfordshire the tradition there isn’t for pancakes at all – they have Doughnut Day instead. In 1832 it was reported that the local children there preferred “small cakes fried in hog’s lard…called dough-nuts” for Shrove Tuesday’s feasting before the fast. These Venetian doughnuts for carnevale – stuffed with an oozing, boozy, zabaione cream – make a very fine alternative to pancakes.