Pancake Perfection

American Style pancakes. Photo: Tony Gavin

Try a pancake with a twist today, says Rachel Allen

Pancake day is a favourite in our house. All of my children look forward to the pancake banquet and, actually, so do Isaac and I.

 

It might not be the most nutritionally comprehensive meal but it's absolutely delicious and there's no other day in the year when you have such a good excuse to gorge yourself on pancakes.

Some years we'll cook flat, lacy pancakes, also known as crepes. They're the vehicle for all sorts of different fillings. Sometimes we'll cook elaborate fillings such as bacon and mushroom, or sauteed leeks with brie.

 

Then, for dessert, we'll usually start with just some lemon juice and sugar before moving on to a chocolate or perhaps caramel sauce. Every so often we'll make crepes Suzette, the luxurious French dessert.

Other years, though, we'll cook American pancakes. Leavened with bread soda, they are thick and fluffy. More substantial than crepes, they are similarly inviting to all sorts of delicious toppings. My favourite is the classic: crispy bacon rashers, butter and lashings of maple syrup. But you could try fresh fruit, toasted nuts, honey or some thick Greek yoghurt.

If you'd like to try a different route, you could make some buckwheat pancakes. Also known as blinis, these are a Russian favourite.

 

They're leavened with yeast and the buckwheat flour has a gorgeous earthy taste. While traditionally eaten with caviar, they are divine with smoked salmon as well. You can make small blinis to serve as canapes or slightly larger ones to make a lovely light supper.

American pancakes

 

Makes 12.

You will need:

150g (5 1/4oz) plain flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon bread soda

50g (1 3/4oz) caster sugar

2 eggs

150ml (5 1/4 fl oz) buttermilk or soured milk

25g (1oz) butter, melted and cooled

Sunflower oil, for frying

Rashers and maple syrup, to serve (optional)

Sift the plain flour, the baking powder and the bread soda into a large bowl, then stir in the caster sugar. In another bowl, whisk the eggs, the buttermilk or soured milk, whichever you are using, and the melted and cooled butter together, then pour this mixture into the dry ingredients, whisking all the time until you have a smooth batter.

When you are ready to cook the pancakes, place a large frying pan on a low-to-medium heat and oil it very lightly -- I usually pour the sunflower oil on to a piece of kitchen paper and rub it on the pan. Working in batches, drop large spoonfuls -- about 50ml (1 3/4fl oz) -- of the pancake batter into the pan, spacing them apart to allow for any spreading.

Cook on one side for 1-2 minutes until bubbles appear on the upper surface, then flip over with a fish slice or a palette knife and cook on the other side for a further 1-2 minutes until golden brown on both sides. Repeat with any remaining mixture. Keep any cooked pancakes warm in a low oven, covered with tinfoil, as you go.

Serve with the rashers and maple syrup, or whatever topping you'd like.

Classic crepes

Makes 10 pancakes.

You will need:

150g (5 1/4oz) plain flour

2 tablespoons melted butter

2 eggs, beaten

250ml (9fl oz) milk mixed with 100ml (3 1/2fl oz) water

Lemon juice and sugar, to serve (optional)

First, make the batter. Put the plain flour into a bowl and make a well in the centre. Into this pour the melted butter and the beaten eggs.

Stir, gradually drawing in the flour from the sides. Add the milk-and-water mixture slowly until the batter is the consistency of thin cream.

Set aside in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Then make the crepes by putting a small ladleful of batter at a time into a hot, non-stick frying pan; as soon as bubbles rise to the surface, flip the crepe over and cook the other side.

Slide the crepe on to a plate and continue to cook the remainder of the batter. The crepes may be stacked on top of each other and peeled apart later. Crepes stored in this way may be kept in the fridge and used several hours or even days later. They only need to be reheated in a low oven to serve.

Serve with the lemon juice and sugar, or whatever topping you'd like.

Crepes Suzette

Makes 8.

You will need:

Finely grated rind of 2 oranges

75g (2 1/2oz) softened butter

50g (1 3/4oz) caster sugar

8 crepes (see recipe above)

1 tablespoon brandy

1 tablespoon curacao

To make orange butter, mix together the finely grated orange rind, the softened butter and the caster sugar in a bowl and beat together until well mixed.

Place a frying pan on a high heat and add about 10g (1/2oz) of the orange butter. When bubbling, add one of the cooked crepes and heat through, turning so that both sides are warm. Fold the crepe into a fan shape or carefully roll it, and rest it against the side of the pan. Continue in the same way with the remaining crepes, then pour over the brandy and the curacao.

If you'd like, you can (carefully!) set the alcohol alight, then tilt the pan and spoon the juices over the crepes until the flames die.

Serve immediately on hot plates.

Buckwheat pancakes (blinis) with creme fraiche and smoked salmon

Makes about 40 small blinis or 14 medium-sized ones.

For the pancakes, you will need:

50g (1 3/4oz) buckwheat flour

100g (3 1/2oz) strong white flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

7g (1/4oz) fast-acting yeast

2 eggs, separated

150ml (5 1/4fl oz) milk, at room temperature

150ml (5?l oz) creme fraiche, at room temperature

25g (1oz) butter

For the topping, you will need:

110g (4oz) smoked salmon, cut in small slices

200ml (7fl oz) creme fraiche

Dill sprigs, to decorate

Sift together the buckwheat flour, the strong white flour and the salt into a bowl and stir in the fast-acting yeast.

In another bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the milk and the creme fraiche, and pour over the flour mixture. Whisk everything together, then cover with cling film or a clean tea towel and leave in a warm place for about one hour, or until the mixture is bubbling.

In a separate, spotlessly clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks, then gently fold into the batter. Cover and leave for a further hour.

To fry the blinis, melt some of the butter in a large, non-stick frying pan on a medium heat, using a little kitchen paper to spread the butter around the pan -- you need just enough to cover the base.

When the pan is hot and the butter beginning to turn brown, add one teaspoon of batter per blini for canape-sized pancakes or one tablespoon if you'd like a larger size.

 

Cook for 30-40 seconds, or until bubbles appear on top and the underside is golden, then turn over and fry on the other side until golden.

As each blini is cooked, transfer to a wire rack to cool while you cook the remaining batter, adding more butter to the pan as you need it.

To serve, top each blini with a slice of the smoked salmon, and a teaspoon or so of the creme fraiche followed by a piece of the dill.

 

Rachel's clothes, Brown Thomas

Jewellery, Loulerie

Make-up by Seana Long using Kohl; hair by Jennifer Lil Buckley, both Brown Sugar

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