Pancake day is confusing time for Americans abroad. While Shrove Tuesday, or Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras as it’s called in the US means parades, lots of drinking, and some nudity, here it simply means cooking up crêpes. The day of decadence is replaced with something that, to us, doesn’t even look like pancakes. And, good as they are, we don’t devote an entire day to our pancakes—just the kind of lazy mornings where we have enough time to make sure we eat a hearty breakfast.
Unlike their unleavened counterparts, and despite our roots as an English colony, American pancakes have a closer relation to Scottish drop scones for their size and texture. They are also almost exclusively served for breakfast, alongside bacon particularly as the sweetness and salt make for an interesting combination. They can be mixed with fruit, topped with syrups, and glazed with butter – they, like practically any flour-based food, are a versatile and filling staple.
And yet why are they so difficult to get right? A thick mix makes an unevenly-cooked beast of a fluffy flapjack, too high a heat burns them before they bubble, not enough egg makes them fall apart instead of flip, and poorly mixed batter will result in a spotty surface that should be an even golden brown. And every time, no matter what the mix looks like, we always have to throw the first one away.
I present to you the perfect American pancake recipe, which will give you a wonderfully golden brown, sweet-tasting, smells-just-like-an-IHOP stack of pancakes.
A flat-bottomed large pan, or frying pan. Preferably non-stick, but if not, smear the cooking surface with vegetable oil on a paper towel. Do this between each pancake. If you don’t coat it evenly with a paper towel you’ll get crispy-edged, unevenly-cooked pancakes. We don’t want that.
A measuring jug
A bowl, for mixing
A spatula, for flipping (and remember not to use a metal spatula on your non-stick pan)
Ingredients (makes 8 medium-sized pancakes, serving 2)
1 medium egg, beaten
30g white granulated sugar
4g baking soda
15g butter, melted
112g plain flour
Beat the egg in your mixing bowl, then whisk in sugar, milk, baking soda, and butter. Slowly sift in your flour, whisking continuously, so you have a smooth, even batter with no lumps.
As you heat your oiled or non-stick pan – on its lowest setting, mind – let the batter sit for at least fifteen minutes. This makes the difference between a useable first pancake and a silly-looking failure; allowing the batter to settle and thicken creates fluffier pancakes. After this period you may any fruit, chocolate chips, nuts, or anything else you want in your pancakes. Then, transfer the batter to a measuring jug so that you can pour your mix directly into the pan rather than using a ladle – it makes for more even, round pancakes.
One by one, cook your pancakes. Pour in a 4″ circle of batter into your pan. When it begins to bubble and blister in the centre, flip it by easing your spatula under the pancake and flicking your wrist so that it lands squarely back in the pan, flipped. Admire the beautiful golden-brown texture of your pancake, with all the glory of caramelised sugar. After a minute of admiration, move your pancake to a clean plate, cover with a clean kitchen towel to keep warm, wipe down your pan with oil (if necessary), and repeat.
It’s traditional in North America to serve pancakes with maple syrup; this sap-based confection is so plentiful in French Canada that a bottle of it is on every table in most restaurants. But since in the UK it’s weak, watery, and expensive, golden syrup or honey will also do the trick. Garnish with bacon. Enjoy!
A trick, for added bacon, is so cook a slice of bacon in your pan and, when it’s nearly done, pour your pancake batter over it. Flip when the batter blisters and continue as normal. Bacon pancakes, makin’ bacon pancakes. You’re welcome.