Pancakes: A stack of history (+recipes)

By Grant Allen

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Grant Allen shows how to stack, wrap ’n’ roll with pancakes.

Serve pancakes with bacon and banana for a tasty breakfast. Photo / Janna Dixon
Serve pancakes with bacon and banana for a tasty breakfast. Photo / Janna Dixon

"Is a pancake truly a cake?" asks Ken Albala in his delicious little book Pancake: A Global History. He defines a pancake as "a starch-based comestible poured as a batter onto a hot surface and cooked until solid".

Pancakes are found the world over and made in many shapes and sizes, using all manner of starches and differing (or no) rising agents.

However, it's the "pour" that defines the pancake.

Albala talks about the paper-thin French crepe, the cocktail-sized Russian blini, the teff flour-based injera from Ethiopia, and even the New Zealand pikelet gets a special mention. A historian, he traces the pancake's origin to Roman times, and discovers the first printed recipes for modern-style pancakes appeared in the 16th century.

Pancakes can be moulded (Sri Lankan hoppers), used to stack, wrap or roll with other ingredients. They feature in the most basic of food cultures, are used as street food and in fine dining. To sum up, they can be found anywhere and everywhere.

I usually think of pancakes as a breakfast/brunch offer. You can also make more than you need and use the leftovers later. Once cooked and cooled, freeze the pancakes with a layer of kitchen paper between each and you have a great building block for a future meal.

Once you've made pancake batter a few times you will get the hang of the texture required and probably don't need a strict recipe. I used the Edmonds Cookery Book (1992 Edition) recipe for these and I also bought a pack of Edmonds Pancake Mix to compare. Basically, you add 1 egg and ¾ cup of milk to one cup of flour or one cup of premix. If you are using flour, add a pinch of salt and let it stand for a bit. This recipe does not include any sugar but I always add a teaspoon even if the pancakes are for a savoury purpose. Sugar acts like salt on the taste buds - it wakes them up and makes the whole dish taste better.

Simple pancakes

To make 8 pancakes (lunch plate size)

1 cup of plain baking flour
¾ cup of milk
1 egg
pinch of salt
1 tsp of sugar (optional)
Water

1 Sift the flour, salt and sugar into a bowl.

2 Add the egg, mixing to combine. Beat in the milk gradually until smooth. No lumps allowed, so keep beating or push through a sieve to ensure smoothness. Leave to stand for an hour. The batter will thicken. Thin with water if it seems too thick. Remember you need to be able to pour the batter.

3 Heat a small frying pan. Add the tiniest piece of butter or oil and pour in just enough batter to cover the base of the pan.

4 Cook until golden on the base (bubbles will form on the uncooked side). Loosen the edges and turn the pancake over.

5 Cook the other side. Stack up the pancakes as you make them, covering with a tea towel to keep warm.

6 Serve in the simplest way with lemon juice and sugar or try some of these ideas.

Multi choice pancake breakfast

1 Make a stack of pancakes. Allow at least 2 per person.

2 Grill some bacon.

3 Slice some bananas lengthwise and cut in half, leaving the skin on. Fry them flesh side down in a little butter and drizzle them with maple syrup while cooking.

4 Grate some tasty cheese.

5 Quarter some lemons.

6 Put out jugs of maple syrup, golden syrup and a dish of sugar.

7 Serve and make your own combinations. I recommend banana, bacon and cheese wrapped in the pancake and topped with a decent slug of maple syrup.

* Grant Allen, a former restaurateur, runs an Auckland bespoke catering service called COOK. Visit Grant's Facebook page here.

What is your favourite way to eat pancakes?</strong>

- Herald on Sunday

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