So sorry this is late – Shrove Tuesday crept up on me early this year!
I love pancakes at any time of year, but they are best of all eaten sitting round the kitchen table on a Shrove Tuesday. The smell and taste of a pancake takes me right back to my early childhood, and mother turning them out with incredible speed and skill.
For those from whom I am divided by a common language let’s clear some confusions out of the way first:
A pancake isn’t small and thick; it isn’t cooked on a griddle but in a medium sized frying pan so that it can be properly manipulated; you don’t put butter or syrup on it; it isn’t a drop scone; it isn’t a crumpet; the French almost have it right with a Crepe Suzette; but what I’m talking about is a particularly magical British food which must be eaten in a very special way.
So to begin:
What could look more bland and boring than batter sitting in a bowl?
What could look more dangerous than the hotly smoking pan?
And what could look and taste better than a perfect pancake?
Apart from ensuring you have the correct combination of ingredients, and having the patience to let the batter rest long enough, the first step in the cooking is not not as simple as it may sound. The batter must be poured in smoothly when the fat in the pan is precisely hot enough, but not too hot. A thick and lumpy pancake will utterly disgrace the cook; however, the real magic lies in the skilful handling of the pan, knowing how to tilt and turn it to create a round of the correct thickness. Once that’s done you need an intuitive sense of when it is cooked to perfection underneath.
Turning the pancake over is the supreme moment of tension and crisis. Toss it if you really want to, but it doesn’t have to be tossed, it’s far more important that it doesn’t end up torn, crumpled or creased. Should that happen it’s almost impossible to separate it again, or make it lie flat as it should, and a true perfectionist will discard the pancake at this point. Success lies in tilting the pan, and as the pancake slides gently to the edge swiftly flipping it over. The cook may use a tool if they so prefer, what matters is a smooth and unspoiled round which is cooked just long enough – that intuition again!
So we have transformed the boring batter to a pancake, but it’s what comes next that will complete the magic.
At the precise moment when it’s ready, the piping hot plate must be close at hand, with all the necessary accompaniments set out on the table. Not a second should be wasted as the pancake is slipped onto the plate, the sugar sprinkled, the lemon squeezed ( you may pour lemon juice from a bottle if you absolutely must, but chocolate spreads are a heresy to the true pancake aficionado!), and the pancake smoothly rolled.
They must never be piled up and put in an oven to keep hot, this appalling aberration is guaranteed to turn them leathery. Each one must be eaten within a minute of leaving the pan.
Without wasting too many precious seconds, take in the beauty of the brown and golden pattern on the creamy round – the perfect pancake is neither blandly pale nor dark and burnt, but has a combination of complimentary colours, created by the unique pattern of the pan and the skill of its handling.
Then comes the first magnificent mouthful – crisp at the edges, soft in the middle, sweet with crunchy sugar, and tartly sharp with the lemon, all held in the piping hot centre of the roll!
Try if you can to explain the sensation to the uninitiated! It’s impossible! These poor words of mine do scant justice to the bliss of the experience.
There’s only one thing to do – get out the pan, mix the batter, set the table ready, and show them the supreme magic, the exquisite pleasure of eating a traditional British Shrove Tuesday Pancake!