English pancakes

Tomorrow is Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras, which much of the world celebrates with colourful parades, loud music and women baring their boobs in return for beads. In the UK, we just eat pancakes.

I don’t hold with this giving-things-up-for-Lent business. Pancake Day is meant to be a way to use up all the good things in your larder before embarking on 40 days of mealy-mouthed asceticism. Having given up giving-things-up for Lent myself, I like to eat pancakes year-round, but if you’re one of those for whom this is a once-a-year treat, here’s a recipe for some lovely, lacy pancakes flavoured with orange flower water, which makes them light and delicately floral. In the picture above, I’ve stuffed them with whipped Chantilly cream (whip the cream as usual, but add a tablespoon of caster sugar and a few drops of vanilla essence to every pint) and blueberries, then drizzled them with maple syrup, but there are plenty of other simple fillings you can try:

  • Lemon juice (or lime juice) and sugar
  • A couple of tablespoons of juice straight from an orange with a sprinkle of sugar and a few more drops of orange flower water
  • Melted butter and caster sugar
  • Sweet chestnut purée
  • Maple syrup and bananas
  • Golden syrup
  • Strawberry jam and cream

To make about 12 pancakes, you’ll need:

220g plain flour
½ teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
550ml whole milk
2 tablespoons orange flower water
Shortening or vegetable oil for cooking the pancakes (shortening is best)

Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl, and make a well in the middle. Break the eggs into the well and whisk with a balloon whisk, pouring the milk in gradually. Eventually, you should have a smooth batter about the same consistency as single cream. Stir the orange flower water into the batter. This batter doesn’t need to stand before you use it.

Heat about 1 tablespoon of shortening in a large pan over a high heat. The pan should be as hot as you can get it if you don’t want your first pancake to be a flabby disaster. Swirl about ⅓ of a ladle of the batter around the pan (adjust the amount for smaller pans). You should have not quite enough batter to make it to the edges of the pan if you want to have a lacy pancake with a delicate frilly, crisp edge. Flip the pancake over after about 45 seconds. I always use a spatula for this operation, having experienced a childhood pancake/ceiling incident – if you are brave and strong in the wrist, toss the pancake in the pan. Cook the raw side for another 45 seconds, and slide out onto a plate.

We usually eat these one by one as quickly as I can cook them, but if you want to make a great heap of pancakes and serve them all at once, you can wrap the pancakes in foil and keep them in a very low oven, although this does some violence to the lovely crisp edges. It’s best to eat them straight from the pan for the best texture.

9 Replies to “English pancakes”

  1. No, no, no – too many eggs! The recipe for proper pancake batter is the same as for proper Yorkshire pudding – one egg, half a pint of milk, a quarter of a pound of plain flour. Two eggs is all you need with the quantities you’ve given.

    (Oh, and Eben says I should ask if I can join your quiz team…)

  2. Only if you stop obsessing about batter. (Casual readers should be aware that the reader above is Toad in the Hole Simon, a man with a just over one hemisphere of his brain given over entirely to the contemplation of the various batters of the UK. Casual readers should also be aware that these are bloody fantastic pancakes, despite old batter-brain’s comment.)

    You have permission to join the quiz team, although I should point out that it’s very unlikely that there will be any questions about batter.

  3. You have a quiz team? I have been known to help win pub quizzes in the past…. (Though, sadly, not University Challenge: we were kicked out, ignominiously, in the first round after a teammate beat me to the buzzer and messed up a Dickens question. Silly boy!)

    The pancakes look wonderful!

  4. Do you remember the recipe for party panckes in the “Winkfield” chapter of The Constance Spry Cookery Book? She used single cream instead of milk and am I imagining orange flower water? Not very English or Shrove Tuesday though.

  5. I wouldn’t mention cream round here – you’re liable to give Simon a burst blood vessel. Don’t think I’ve ever read the Constance Spry, although I know you have a copy – would you mind having a look to see if you can find the recipe you mention? It sounds interesting!

  6. Hi Heather – those miniatures are absolutely adorable! Don’t know whether you were aware, but non-UK residents can buy golden syrup from Amazon. Hurrah!

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