Recently, I saw on social media that March 3rd was “Pancake Day” in the U.S., and that IHOP was offering a free short stack to any customer willing to brave the (potentially) long lines at their restaurant. This got me thinking about what was known as “Pancake Day” back during my youth, in the United Kingdom. It brought back visions of my Mum allowing us a special dessert after dinner on a (usually) rainy February or March day. She pan fried and flipped the cakes which were served steaming and rolled, topped with tangy lemon juice and sweet sugar crystals. It was a rare treat, reserved for only once a year. As we are now at that time of year, I decided to look into the specific differences of Pancake Day on both sides of the Atlantic as well as share a classic British Pancake recipe.
According to the website http://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/Pancake-Day/ Pancake Day in the U.K. is actually Shrove Tuesday, which is the traditional feast day before the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday. Lent is the forty days leading up to Easter where Anglican (including Episcopalians, Lutheran, Methodist and Roman Catholic Christians) fast. During Lent, Christians practice fasting from foods as a spiritual preparation to experience a deeper communion with God. Restricted and forbidden foods include meat, fish and dairy products. Shrove (meaning “Shriven” or to be absolved from sins) Tuesday was seen as a last opportunity to use up the rich foods, such as butter, milk, and eggs, foods forbidden during Lent. Out of these ingredients come pancakes!
In the U.K. the pancake has a long history and references can be seen in cookbooks as far back as the 1400s. The following link from the British Library provides a pancake recipe from the year 1585: http://www.bl.uk/learning/timeline/item103037.html The tradition of “flipping” the pancakes in the pan is still practiced today with some towns and cities in Britain participating in “pancake races” which are contests where people run while flipping the pancakes in the pan, trying not to drop them.
So how does a traditional British pancake differ from an American “flapjack”? British pancakes are thinner, and more like French crepes. They are rolled into something resembling a Mexican taquito, and then sweetened with sugar and lemon juice. Sometimes, chocolate sauce or Nutella is added too (an optional indulgence).
Here is my Mum’s simple recipe for Shrove Tuesday pancakes, which she served every year: (makes about 6 pancakes)
1 cup of all-purpose flour
1 cup of milk
1 cup of cold water
2 tbsp. of butter
Granulated or powdered sugar
Sift the flour into a bowl. Make a well in the middle of the flour and add the egg.
With a whisk slowly stir in the water and milk until well mixed. The mixture should be thin.
In a frying pan or skillet on medium heat, melt the butter. Slowly pour in the pancake batter swirling it around the pan, so it fully covers the pan to the edges.
Cook each pancake for 3 minutes on one side, and then flip the pancake to cook it on the other side. Remove pancake from pan, roll and serve on a plate.
Sprinkle with lemon juice, and sugar. Chocolate sauce can also be drizzled over the warm pancakes. Voila! Perfect pancakes every time and no need to go to IHOP! Happy British Pancake Day!