Flipping good!

In Pancakes by James Anstee

Sudi Pigott loves pancakes so much that she wrote a book about the vast culinary world beyond the lemon-and-sugar variety. Here she explains her interest.

Who doesn’t love pancakes? They are a simple, honest, universally loved comfort food. With their cosy evocations of home, they are very much back in vogue, nowadays fused with modern and global food trends.

Pancakes make us happy and the ritual of cooking and flipping the batter merely adds to their appeal. What I love most is that every culture has their own pancake tradition talked about with great affection. My own fondest pancake memories are of competing with my brother to flip pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. Nor will I ever forget my first experience of crepes suzettes at The Ritz, flambéed with great ceremony.

To me, pancakes in all their delicious diversity have long been one of the most pleasurable, life-affirming foods. I wanted to vividly demonstrate that there is a world beyond pancakes eaten with lemon and sugar, that there’s a whole culinary world for the gastronomically curious to explore. What makes them so popular is that the basic recipe is adaptable to incorporate local flours or to use gluten-free flours if needed. They don’t even have to be made exclusively from grains – think chestnut, chickpea, quinoa or coconut. Fluffy pancakes involve some baking powder or cream of tartar, and some even use fermented ingredients.

Sweet or savoury

The world over pancakes (whatever they are called, from crepes (France) and hoppers (Sri Lanka) to blinis (Russia) and raggmunk (Sweden), they serve as a base for both sweet and savoury dishes ­– and sometimes a combination of the two (think bacon and maple syrup).

There’s also plenty of variation when it comes to how to top them. Lemon and sugar is a common way to serve pancakes for Shrove Tuesday. You can try something more exotic, like cinnamon and lime tossed pineapple with pomegranate seeds and toasted coconut. Dramatically fluffy ‘Dutch babies’ are baked in the oven and served either savoury with goat’s cheese or sweet with apples, berries and cream.

I relished, too, experimenting with different kit such as an appam pan for making hoppers, and a special cast-iron aebelskiver pan with little hollows for producing distinctive puffy, spherical pancakes, traditionally turned with knitting needles.

Reflecting the massive popularity of all-day brunch menus, more and more restaurants are featuring pancakes on their year-round menu too: pancakes are no longer just for Shrove Tuesday. In fact, the scope for pancakes is flipping unstoppable!

Flipping Good: Pancakes from Around the World, by Sudi Pigott is published by Kyle Books.

Pancakes are traditionally eaten on Shrove Tuesday, a date in February 60 days before Easter day. Known as pancake day or pancake Tuesday. It’s better known as Shrove Tuesday in the UK, USA and France, while in other countries it’s known as Mardi Gras (‘fat’ Tuesday). Historically, pancakes were made on Shrove Tuesday, so that the last of the fat or lard was used up before Lent, when no meat products were meant to be eaten.

Pancakes (and their relatives)

Pancakes are an absolutely ancient food. Mentioned by Greek poets from the 5th century BC, they are probably even older than that as that’s just the first written record.

Pancakes vary a little in terms of their ingredients but are mainly separated out by their looks. Crepes are the French version, famous for being very thin and usually sweet. They also have the galette, made from buckwheat and which are savoury. Another French way of using pancake batter is to bake clafoutis, traditionally with fruit such as cherries.

From Sri Lanka, we get hoppers which are shaped like bowls and can be filled with ingredients, such as a fried egg. They are made from fermented rice flour and coconut milk. Indonesia has the serabi, made from the same ingredients but are only cooked on one side. To make them gloriously green powdered pandan leaves are often added.

In northern Africa, the injera is a yeast-risen flatbread with a unique spongey texture. Over in Japan, they have the okonomiyaki, which is almost a pancake/ omelatte variant, and is usually savoury, served with cabbage, aubergine (‘okinomi’ means ‘as you like’). In India, meet the marvellously thin and crispy dosa.

Russian blinis are the ‘go to’ party pancake, made with buckwheat and famed for working best with sour cream and either smoked salmon or caviar. The Swedes have raggmunk, a pancake variant that includes grated potato.

Closer to home, we have the boxty – a sort of hash/pancake hybrid from Ireland that  (unsurprisingly and quite deliciously) includes potato. The Scotch pancake (also known as a drop scone) includes sugar and a measure of cream of tartar.

The basic recipe by the Great British Bake Off’s youngest winner, Martha Collison. Her recipe uses the 1-2-3 theory — 100g plain flour, 2 eggs, 300ml milk. This makes 8, each 6g fat, 10g carbs, 4g protein. Optional – add a pinch of salt. Also needs butter for frying. Mix the flour and eggs with a little milk – whisk to combine. Add in the rest of the milk slowly, whisking as you go (or use a blender). You can cover and leave (overnight if wished) or use immediately.

Recipe spelt pancakes with blueberries from The Nordic Diet by Trina Hahnemann.