Great for Shrove Tuesday, or Any Time
Next week is Shrove Tuesday – the day before Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent. It’s also known as Mardi Gras, which is French for “Fat Tuesday.”
Traditionally,it’s the day when families use up all the fat, sugar, and other rich foods in their larders in preparation for the Lenten fast (hence, “Fat Tuesday”). Some cultures turn all that richness into doughnuts. But when I was growing up, pancakes were the Shrove Tuesday feast food of choice.
Although I rarely eat pancakes for breakfast (too much food too early in the day), they’re fine dinner fare. And with this recipe, you can walk through the front door and be sitting down to pancakes in about 20 minutes. Best of all, they’re made with ingredients you probably have on hand already.
So now you know what you’ll be serving for dinner next Tuesday.
Recipe: Quick and Easy Pancakes
Wikipedia’s pancake page says there’s archaeological evidence that pancakes were “probably the earliest and most widespread [type] of cereal food eaten in prehistoric societies.” So mankind has had plenty of time to perfect the dish. Which is why recipes in most standard cookbooks are virtually identical — including this one, which is slightly adapted from James Beard’s American Cookery.
Oh, there are pancake variations that use different flours (buckwheat, for example) or add fruit (blueberries are my favorite). Some recipes fine tune the procedure (arguably, the absolute best pancakes require separating the eggs, beating the whites separately, and then folding them into the mixture right before you griddle the cakes).
But we’re not discussing any of that today, because I want to show you the easiest and quickest way of making pancakes from scratch. In the Notes we’ll have a word or two about adding fruit to your pancakes, but that’s as fancy as this discussion will get.
This recipe yields about a dozen large (6”) pancakes. Mixing time takes 5 - 7 minutes, cooking time another 10 - 15 minutes. A nonstick electric griddle or skillet is perfect for cooking. If you don’t have one of these, an ordinary griddle or skillet works too. Leftovers keep for a day or two in the refrigerator, but they’re not quite as delectable on the second day.
- ¼ cup melted butter
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 4 teaspoons baking powder (3 actually works too; see Notes)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar (optional; see Notes)
- 2 large eggs
- 1¼ cups milk (may need to add more)
- optional fat for greasing skillet if it’s nonstick – up to a tablespoon of butter, oil, or shortening
- If using an electric griddle or skillet, turn it on to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Otherwise, place a regular griddle or skillet on the stovetop on medium heat.
- Melt ¼ cup butter in microwave (mine takes 30 - 45 seconds). Once melted, let cool as you continue with the preparations.
- Add flour, baking powder, salt, and optional sugar to large bowl. With a spoon or whisk, mix together for a minute — you want to thoroughly distribute the baking powder throughout the flour.
- Crack the eggs and add them to a separate bowl. Briefly beat until they are lightly beaten. Beat in milk, then beat in melted butter.
- Add liquid ingredients to flour mixture. Briefly stir until just combined, but don’t overmix. It’s OK if the batter is still somewhat lumpy.
- Be aware that batter thickens as it stands; you can thin with more milk if necessary.
- Test your griddle or skillet cooking surface to see if it’s properly heated. A water drop will skip off the surface when it’s ready.
- If you’re not using a nonstick griddle or skillet, lightly grease the cooking surface (this isn’t necessary with a nonstick surface).
- Using a ¼ cup measure or a spoon that holds about that amount (a bit more is fine), spoon batter onto hot griddle.
- Cook until the edges of the pancakes seem firm and cooked, and bubbles form and break in the middle of the pancakes (usually a couple of minutes for the first batch). Turn, and cook another minute or two until pancakes are cooked through. (When you think they’re done, simply cut into a pancake and see if it’s cooked through — testing will tell you how long your stove and griddle/skillet combination take to cook pancakes.)
- Plate the first round of pancakes (they’ll hold well in a 250-degree oven while you cook the rest), and repeat steps 9 and 10 until all your batter is gone.
- Serve with maple syrup, butter, fresh berries — whatever you fancy.
- An electric griddle is a real convenience if you regularly prepare foods that need to be turned over during cooking (think pancakes, toasted cheese sandwiches, large quantities of bacon or sausage, hamburgers). The low sides on the griddle make it easier to turn food with a spatula. My electric griddle can hold 6 large pancakes, or 8 medium ones, which makes preparing pancakes quick work.
- It’s a good idea to shake baking powder before using it to make sure all its components are well mixed. Baking powder consists of baking soda, an acidic ingredient (which reacts with the soda to produce leavening), and a neutral substance (usually corn starch) to provide bulk.
- Baking powder becomes weaker over time (and most baking powder tins have an expiration date). So replace your baking powder when necessary. I usually replace mine once a year, when daylight saving time ends (so I remember to do it).
- Shirley Corriher has a terrific discussion on baking powder (and all things baking-related) in BakeWise. It’s well worth reading.
- Many pancake recipes (including mine) call for 2 teaspoons of baking powder for each cup of flour. Corriher convincingly argues that the proper amount is actually 1 to 1¼ teaspoons per cup of flour. But measurement is more critical for something like biscuits or cakes, where too much baking powder can actually cause them to rise less. In pancakes, I don’t notice much difference between 2½, 3, or 4 teaspoons of baking powder. So out of habit I continue to use 4 (which is probably quite silly).
- Sugar is optional in this recipe. Its primary purpose is to help the surface of the pancakes brown (it adds very little sweetening). I generally use it, but when I omit it I don’t notice that the pancakes brown appreciably less.
- It’s important not to overmix your pancake batter. When you mix it too much, you can begin to develop the gluten in the flour, which can lead to chewy pancakes. Better to leave a few lumps in — they’ll disappear during cooking.
- If the batter is too thick for your liking, simply thin it with additional milk. But note that thin batter tends to produce flatter, less fluffy pancakes.
- You can make pancakes any size you want, from dollar-size up to the circumference of your griddle. When I was growing up, my father would sometimes make pancakes for Saturday lunch (one of his specialties). Typically, Father of Kitchen Riffs would make pancakes the size of the griddle. So each one would cover an entire dinner plate — something we kids always thought was great!
- If you like butter on your pancakes, a pat works fine. But for pancakes, I prefer tub butter. A #60 disher (scoop) digs out just the right amount of butter for a serving.
- It’s called a #60 disher because its bowl is sized so that each scoop is 9/16th of an ounce (1 tablespoon). Thus, you’ll get 60 scoops per pound of tub butter when you use this size disher.
- Pure maple syrup + pancakes = mouth happiness.
- In the United States, maple syrup is graded as “A” or “B.” Grade A is further subdivided into Light (or Fancy) Amber, Medium Amber, or Dark Amber. Grade A is what you almost always find on store shelves (grade B is generally used as an ingredient in cooking). I prefer the Dark Amber because I like its color and flavor.
- If the bottle doesn’t say “pure” maple syrup, it’s not 100% maple syrup. Most “breakfast” or “pancake” syrups contain only a bit of maple syrup; the rest is flavoring and other sweeteners.
- If you want blueberries or another similarly sized fruit in your pancakes, simply sprinkle a handful into the pancakes right after you’ve poured the batter onto the griddle in step 9. The fruit will sink into the batter and bake right in.
- I like fruit on pancakes, particularly berries. Although I usually eat my berries whole, Homemade Strawberry Sauce can be very tasty on pancakes.
It’s International Pancake Day!
Shrove Tuesday is also International Pancake Day. And flapjack fanatics celebrate it with pancake races (a sporting event that started in England centuries ago — at least as far back as 1445).
What’s a pancake race, you ask? Well, in its modern form the contestants (traditionally women) run along a course, flipping pancakes in frying pans. Since 1950, the Kansas town of Liberal and the English town of Olney have been formally competing in dueling pancake races on International Pancake Day. Participants run along a measured course in each town, and their times are compared. Going into this year’s race, Liberal is the overall leader with 36 wins to Olney’s 25.
“What a great idea!” I exclaimed to Mrs. Kitchen Riffs when I read about the epic Liberal/Olney competition. “We should get into the spirit of this thing. We’ll cook up a bunch of pancakes and hold our own friendly little competition. And we can drink Sazeracs! After all, what other cocktail could be more appropriate at this time of the year?”
“So you’re saying you still like to play with your food?” asked Mrs K R.
Well, when you put it that way, I guess not.
But I’m still going to have a Sazerac.
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