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Monday, Jan. 5, 2015

FLAIR FOR COOKING

Flipping for cakes

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Batter up! I am flipping for pancakes and flapping some jacks. You may be familiar with thick buttermilk pancakes served stacked beside a heaping selection of breakfast fare, but from thin crepes to fat griddlecakes there is so much more to try. Savory pancakes topped or filled with choice ingredients can be ideal for meals, just as fruit or jam filled pancakes topped with whipped cream can be perfect for breakfast, tea and dessert.

According to Jones, M. Feast (“Why Humans Share Food,” Oxford University Press, 2007) “Archaeological evidence suggests that pancakes are probably the earliest and most widespread cereal food eaten in prehistoric societies.”  The first written mention of these delicacies (tagenites) appears in Ancient Greek poetry, and they were first recorded as pancakes in the 1400s.

Whether it is called Shrove Tuesday, Mairt Inide, Fastnatch Day, Terca Feira Gorde or Fettisdagen, countries around the world celebrate Pancake Day. Hundreds of years ago, flour, sugar and eggs were considered luxuries and were not allowed to be eaten during the 40 days of Lent. In order not to waste any of these ingredients, large pancake feasts were held on Mardi Gras, the day before Ash Wednesday the official start of Lent.

For convenience, you could pick up the new fangled pre-made batter in a squeeze bottle, but why? Starting with a basic recipe, fresh pancakes are simplicity themselves, a blank canvas waiting for your special flair to tempt taste buds.  

Let’s start with a good basic pancake recipe. Sift together into a large bowl all dry ingredients: 2 cups all-purpose flour, 3 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon of salt and 2-3 tablespoons of granulated sugar. Whisk together 1-1/2 cups of milk and 2 eggs. Using your fingers or back of a spoon, make a well in the center of the dry ingredients then add 2 tablespoons of melted butter and the milk mixture, blend until just smooth. Slightly more or less milk may be used to achieve a desired consistency. Lightly oil a griddle or skillet and bring to medium high heat. Pour approximately 1/4 cup batter onto hot griddle, and cook until lightly brown on bottom.  Lift with spatula to flip and brown the other side.

Typically featured in stacks topped with butter and rivulets of thick maple syrup running over the edges, we don’t have to look far to find some great variations. Move over omelets! Some pancakes, using slightly less sugar, contain coarsely cut ham, cheddar cheese and mushrooms. A co-worker originally from Venezuela mentioned that she likes pancakes flipped over cheese. After browning the first side, flip the pancake, put a mild cheese like mozzarella on one half of the pancake and gently fold the other half over the cheese. Once the side touching the skillet has browned, flip it over again to brown the second half thoroughly melting the cheese.

Cultures around the world have each embraced the griddle cake featuring local popular ingredients. Mexican pancakes are often made with cornmeal, with or without wheat flour. The Indonesian Serabi and the Newar from Nepal are both made with rice flour. Ingredients including cabbage are combined with wheat flour and eggs for the traditional Japanese pancake, Okonomiyaki.  

In “The Very Best Recipes for Health,” author Martha Rose Shulman shares a recipe for brown rice, sesame, spinach and scallion pancakes incorporating feta that would make a delightful side to a fresh salad or light soup.  At the core is a basic batter recipe, proving that with a little experimentation pancakes can be customized to suit most tastes.

Crepes are created using a similar, but more liquid, batter spread thinly over an entire hot griddle that is lightly coated with butter or oil. The lack of rising agents or baking powder allows for a thin very flexible pancake.  You will be surprised at their versatility.  

We are probably most familiar with the sweetened version incorporating sugar for breakfast or flambé desserts. The thin discs of delight are popularly served folded gently and smeared with dashes of orange marmalade or lingon berries and cream, or filled with fruit and rolled into cigar size cylinders topped with a sprinkle of powdered sugar. If you want to add dramatic flair, then check out flambé recipes, like crepes Suzette. 

They are also often made in a savory version using wheat or buckwheat flour without sugar. These savory crepes are currently all the rage in Venezuela. The crepes are cooked to a slightly crisp golden brown then folded around vegetables, meats and cheeses in much the same way we use a tortilla wrap.  As a matter of fact, crepes are common fast meals served by street vendors in many countries. 

For dinner in the Netherlands a larger slightly thicker version of the crepe, Pannenkoeken, is served pizza style with toppings. 

The Pannenkoeken Café in Chicago offers intriguing varieties such as bacon, cheese and mushroom, or apple, raisin and
cheese.

So let’s get out those spatulas and limber up your wrists. From frilly and fruity to hearty and filling, when it gets down to it, it’s the flipping that makes pancakes fun!

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