Flippin' great: Darina Allen on how to create the perfect pancake
Frying pans at the ready, it’s Shrove Tuesday. Darina Allen tells Regina Lavelle how to get your crepes just right
Lent: we may not all observe it, we may not all understand it, but we can all enjoy it — or at least, the day which precedes it, Shrove Tuesday. One of the most delicious days in the Christian calendar, the undisputed star of the show is the humble pancake.
It’s true that nowadays they are not so much a method of using up the last of the rich food in the cupboard as a vector for lemon and sugar, or more iconoclastically, Nutella, but they are still as popular as ever.
So what makes a good pancake? Thick or thin? Savoury or sweet? Everybody agrees that lumpy is bad, and burnt is worse, but with all the differing advice out there, what is the one true way?
Darina Allen, the doyenne of Ballymaloe, describes pancakes as “the great saviour”.
They’re the quintessential fast food, they’re nourishing and wholesome, they have protein and dairy.
“When my children were little, sometimes when we’d be out all afternoon, or out all day shopping in Cork and they’d come home and all be tired and hungry and squabbling, I’d run into the kitchen to whip something up quickly, they’d queue up alongside the Aga, and within a few minutes peace would be restored,” she recalls.
“Nobody should leave school without knowing how to make a pancake. They’re a genuinely good food. They’re great for harried mothers or anyone who’s busy, they’re so quick and easy to make.
“And everyone loves them, from the smallest child to the biggest adult.”
Allen says that while savoury pancakes were once a relatively rare phenomenon in Ireland, they were an instant success when they were introduced in 1986 at the Ballymaloe-run cafe in the Crawford Art Gallery, Cork.
“Of course the traditional pancake is the one with lemon and sugar but, before, Irish people didn’t really have savoury pancakes so much.
“My sister-in-law Fern brought a recipe for mushroom and spinach pancakes with a hollandaise sauce back from South Africa and added it to the menu at the Crawford. And they were so popular that they haven’t been able to take it off for 25 years; people complain if it’s not on the menu.
“Now savoury pancakes are a regular feature of menus, I’ve even seen them put on with lobster and crab, delicious,” she adds.
“The batter is one of the great convertibles. You can turn it into a Clafoutis, which is using the batter and adding fruit, or to a toad in the hole, or make the pancakes, then stack them up and make a cake out of it.”
Pancakes are a year-round favourite, says Garrett Quinn of the Lemon creperie on Dublin’s South William Street.
“Our two most active periods would probably be Pancake Tuesday and around Christmas but we are busy all year around.
“The favourites are probably the standard traditional — butter, sugar, lemon or the chocolate crepe. Our Strawberry Supreme is always popular: strawberries with a dash of icing sugar and some fresh cream on the side.”
They may be quick and easy for the professionals, but for those of us who aren’t experts, how do you stop your pancakes from turning out a soggy mess, with optional potholes?
Here, Darina Allen walks us through the stages of the perfect lemon and sugar pancake.
1 Get a large mixing bowl and put in 175g of white flour, preferably unbleached, sieve it if you can. Add a good pinch of salt and make a well in the middle of the flour, drop in a couple of eggs — good free-range eggs if you can get them. Add a dessert spoon of caster sugar. (Note — this is for sweet pancakes.)
2 Whisk the eggs from the centre with one hand, slowly pouring 425ml of milk in with the other. Whisk around and around, drawing the flour mixture in slowly and beat until the batter is covered in bubbles. If you prefer your pancakes thin and lacy, use half water and half milk.
3 If there are lumps that’s not a disaster. You can just pass it through a sieve or else pop the mixture into a food processor and give it a whizz and it’s made in minutes.
4 A good tip is to add a little butter — when I say butter I mean good, proper Irish butter, nothing with light or low in the title and nothing in a box — into the batter mixture just before cooking. I whisk the hot butter into the mixture and then you don’t have to re-grease the pan between pancakes.
5 If you’re going to add melted butter, put in 3-4 dessert spoons then ladle some mixture into your pan and rotate the pan so it fills it to the edges. If you can, use a ladle which contains exactly the right amount of mixture.
6 The most important thing with pancakes is to have the pan really hot. People make this mistake all the time. I usually put the pan on first and make the mixture while it’s heating. If the pan is hot enough, by the time you’ve spread the mixture around it should almost be done.
7 Use a bendy spatula and run it around the side of the pan to release the pancake. Run the spatula underneath and flip it over. They need to be cooked really fast and really thin. Pour too much batter in and they’re thick and heavy and they take too long.
8 You can pile them on top of each other and cover with a saucepan lid to keep warm. To serve dab a cooking brush in some melted butter and brush over. Add some squeezed lemon and a sprinkle of sugar.