This blog is getting a bit Lent-themed at present, but what do you expect from someone who is involved in three separate church choirs? Anyway, Pancake Day (also known as Shrove Tuesday) could stand to be celebrated a bit more in Australia, because it’s fun. It’s the day for using up all the eggs and dairy products you aren’t going to eat during Lent (because if you are in pre-industrial Europe, your hens have pretty much stopped laying by this time of year, and your cows probably aren’t producing much milk, either), and a day to party on the last of the good produce you’ve got as you head into the lean season of early spring, when there just isn’t much available in the way of vegetables, either. Certainly, Lent is a religious observance, but it fits in so well with the season I can’t help suspecting this was a deliberate choice on the part of the early Church.
None of this really applies in post-industrial Australia, where it never really gets cold enough for the hens to stop laying (though they can die of the heat in this sort of weather), and anyway, we’re in a season of abundance and heading into Autumn anyway.
But we should still get to have pancakes.
My mother wasn’t that into Pancake Day when we were growing up – I know she did it some years, but I’m not sure she did it every year. But when we did have pancakes, it was always crêpes, not those funny puffy things you call pancakes in the USA. And we had them with lemon and sugar, or sometimes with plum or apricot jam, warmed in the oven.
In my undergraduate days, when I moved out of home into share accommodtion, crêpes therefore became the special breakfast thing I did when people were staying. Not my mother’s crêpes, these, but a recipe I got from an encyclopaedic Family Circle Cookbook given to me by my aunt when I turned 17. The recipe contained 1 tablespoon of brandy, which quickly evolved into 2 tablespoons and thence into a quarter of a cup, and so forth, until my breakfast brandy pancakes were rather infamous for their alcoholic nature. There was also at least one episode which involved setting my hair on fire, but I honestly can’t remember how I did that. I blame the brandy.
These crêpes are not the brandy pancakes of my insufficiently-mis-spent youth, but they do have rather more brandy than Family Circle would recommend. I maintain that this is absolutely appropriate to the spirit of indulgence encouraged by Shrove Tuesday. Also, my recollection is that this recipe makes a *lot* of pancakes. You have been warned.
Your shopping list1 1/4 cups plain flour a pinch of salt 3 eggs, beaten 1 1/2 cups milk 3 tablespoons brandy (or more. I won’t tell.) 2 teaspoons melted butter
Now what will you do with it?
If you are the sort of person who follows recipes, do feel free to sift the flour and salt together and put them into a bowl. It’s a great idea. We should all follow recipes sometimes. And I should get a seive, preferably one of those funky ones that doubles as a flour container. But I digress. Already. Are you scared?
Make a well in the flour and pour in the eggs and milk. Using a whisk or your trusty fork, beat the liquid ingredients vigorously, slowly incorporating the dry ingredients around them until everything is smooth. Ish. I’m often too lazy for this part, and I don’t mind the odd lump in my crêpe. Incidentally, if you want thicker pancakes add less milk and consider adding a teaspoon of baking powder to puff them up; for thinner crêpes, add more.
Once your pancake mix is smooth, beat in the melted butter and the brandy. Maybe a bit more brandy. And one for the chef, if you are so inclined. I’m not, but that’s because I am quite mad enough without adding alcohol. Let the mixture stand, covered, for an hour or so or until it starts complaining that its feet are hurting.
When you are ready to cook the pancakes, melt a little butter in a non-stick frying pan. Have a pancake flipping thingie ready to hand, unless you are the sort of macho person who likes to flip the pancakes using the pan, in which case I hope you are either more co-ordinated than me or really enjoy cleaning the ceiling. Pour a little batter into the pan, and turn the pan to spread it around into a big thin circleish thing. Cook over medium-high heat until little bubbles appear all over it, and it doesn’t look quite so ‘wet’ on top. Flip the pancake carefully, and cook for maybe twenty seconds on the other side (my book says one minute, but I think my pancakes would burn if I did that), before removing to a plate, and starting on the next one.
Bear in mind that the first pancake is the sacrificial pancake that always ends up being too buttery and a horrible mess. This is the nature of pancakes. Don’t panic, just throw it out and make the next one.
Serve with lemon and sugar, or jam, or nuttella. The proper way to serve them with lemon and sugar is to sprinkle on some sugar, then squeeze enough lemon juice over that the sugar dissolves, then sprinkle on more sugar, then more lemon, and so forth, until your mother tells you off and takes away the sugar . But it’s so worth it…
More brandy!!! Or cointreau!!!!
OK, more seriously, I actually take out the brandy, add some salt and herbs, and use these as a savoury wrapping for all sorts of things. The classic is, of course, spinach and ricotta crêpes, but just about anything in bechamel sauce is fabulous in crêpes. As is bolognese sauce. Or ratatouille. Or you could mexican and make pancake enchiladas. You get the picture.
I’ve made crêpes using chestnut flour to replace the plain flour, and they have worked surprisingly well. I did use a slightly different recipe though, and I’m afraid I don’t remember what it was. But in principal, the substitution works. I have not yet made socca, a chickpea flour and olive oil pancake, but this may also be something for my vegan and gluten-free friends to look up. I believe there is a good vegan crêpe recipe in Veganomicon, but I have not yet tried it.