Rachel Allen's top tips for a Pancake Tuesday Extravaganza
With Shrove Tuesday on the way, Rachel Allen shows you how to cook a veritable feast of pancakes, of both the savoury and sweet variety Photography by Tony Gavin
Tuesday is pancake time. In all their shapes and forms, they are a real favourite in our household. It isn't just our children who get excited - I adore pancakes and love an excuse to make a real feast of them. There's something so pleasingly simple, so supremely comforting about a perfectly browned pancake, unchallenging and uncomplicated, but always delicious.
We'll make all different sorts of pancakes on different years, and often on the same day. I love thin pancakes - they're called crepes in France, where they're usually made with some buckwheat flour. I like to eat them rolled up with lemon and sugar, or the perennial favourite, Nutella! We like to make thin pancakes as a savoury treat too, omitting the sugar and making a creamy mushroom filling with bacon and perhaps some Gruyere cheese.
If you'd like to make your pancakes a little more elaborate than just a squeeze of lemon and sugar, you can try this divine orange butter recipe, opposite, that we often make at the cookery school.
At other times, we like to make big, fluffy American pancakes, served with rashers and plenty of maple syrup. I've written recipes for blueberry and lemon pancakes in these pages before, as well as in a number of my cookbooks.
The Italian recipe here is a totally different take on pancakes that I've made on Pancake Tuesday in previous years. It was inspired by a conversation I had with the great Italian chef, Aldo Zilli. He told me a wonderful story about his mother using light pancakes as an alternative to pasta in certain dishes, and I've discovered that they work wonderfully with rich tomato sauces. The Italian baked pancakes with tomato sauce recipe, opposite, uses the pancakes in place of lasagne sheets, which adds a fluffiness to the dish. It's a perfect family dish and would make a great centrepiece to a Shrove Tuesday dinner table.
Adding melted butter to the pancake batter will make a real difference to the pancakes' flavour and texture. It also makes it possible to cook them without having to grease the pan every time.
Makes 25 small or 12 large.
You will need:
170g (6oz) plain flour
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten
225ml (8fl oz) milk
225ml (8fl oz) water
2 tablespoons melted butter, see my Tip, above
Sieve the plain flour, the pinch of salt and the sugar into a bowl, make a well in the centre and drop in the lightly beaten eggs. With a whisk or wooden spoon, starting in the centre, mix the egg and gradually incorporate the flour from the sides. In a separate bowl or jug, mix together the milk and the water. Slowly add the milk and water mixture to the flour and egg mixture and beat it until the batter is covered with bubbles.
Let the batter stand in a cold place for a while - a couple of hours if you have time. Just before you cook the pancakes, stir in the melted butter.
Heat a non-stick pan over a high heat. When it is hot, pour in a small ladleful of batter, or just enough to coat the base of the pan with a thin film. The batter should cook immediately - loosen it around the edges with a rubber fish slice, flip it over and cook the pancake for a few seconds on the other side. Slide the cooked pancake on to a plate, and serve with your chosen filling, either sweet or savoury.
Pancakes with orange butter
For the orange butter, you will need:
175g (6oz) butter, softened
3 teaspoons finely grated orange rind
200g (7oz) icing sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier (optional)
Freshly squeezed juice of 5 oranges
You will need:
8-12 pancakes (see recipe above)
To make the orange butter, cream the softened butter with the finely grated orange rind. Then add the sifted icing sugar and beat the mixture until it's fluffy. Add the Grand Marnier, if you're using it. To serve, melt a large blob of the orange butter in the pan, add a few spoonfuls of the freshly squeezed orange juice and, one by one, toss each pancake in the foaming butter. Fold each tossed pancake in half and then in quarters, so that you have a fan shape.
Serve two pancakes per person on warm plates. Repeat until all the pancakes and all of the orange butter has been used.
Italian Baked Pancakes with Cheese and Tomato
For the pancakes, you will need:
125g (5oz) flour
Pinch of salt
2 eggs, beaten
125ml (4fl oz) milk
125ml (4fl oz) water
15g (½oz) butter, melted
Sunflower oil, for oiling the frying pan
Green salad, to serve
For the tomato sauce, you will need:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, peeled and finely sliced
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
Salt, freshly ground black pepper
2 x 400g (14oz) tins of chopped tomatoes or 900g (2lb) fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped
3 tablespoons torn fresh basil leaves
Pinch of sugar
For the filling, you will need:
300g (11oz) fresh mozzarella, grated
100g (4oz) ricotta
25g (1oz) Parmesan cheese, finely grated
First, make the pancake batter. Put the flour and the pinch of salt in a bowl. Make a well in the centre and drop in the beaten eggs. Start to whisk, then gradually add in the milk and the water, whisking all the time, until the batter is completely smooth. Add in the melted butter and set the batter aside. The batter can sit in the fridge for 24 hours.
Next, make the tomato sauce. Put the olive oil in a wide saucepan, add the finely sliced onion and the crushed garlic, season with the salt and the freshly ground black pepper, then cover and cook on a low heat until the onions are completely soft. Add the chopped tinned tomatoes or the chopped fresh tomatoes, whichever you're using, and half of the torn basil leaves. Uncover and cook for about 20 minutes until the tomatoes are soft and the sauce has thickened. Add the remaining torn basil leaves and season to taste with the salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar.
While the tomato sauce is cooking, you can make the pancakes. Put a medium-sized frying pan on a high heat and allow it to become very hot. Pour the batter into a jug for easy pouring. Wipe the hot frying pan with an oiled piece of kitchen paper. Pour in just enough batter to cover the base of the pan - the batter will start to cook as soon as it hits the pan, so swirl it around the base immediately.
Cook on a high heat for 30 seconds to one minute, until the pancake is golden brown around the edge. Using a fish slice or a palette knife, carefully but quickly flip the pancake over (you might need to take the pan off the heat while you do this) and cook the other side for another 30 seconds to one minute, until golden brown. Remove to a plate and cook the remaining pancakes. You'll need a total of eight.
Preheat the oven to 180°C, 350°F, Gas 4. In a bowl, mix together the grated fresh mozzarella and the ricotta to make a spreadable paste. To assemble the dish, place a pancake on the bottom of a 25cm (10in) square or round ovenproof dish, spread it with a thin layer of the cheese mixture, then top with another pancake, and continue assembling, alternating between the cheese mixture and the pancakes until you have a total of seven layers of pancake and seven layers of the cheese mixture. Finish with a top layer of the eighth pancake.
Pour the tomato sauce over the top, sprinkle with the finely grated Parmesan.
Place in the oven (it can also be stored in the fridge overnight or frozen at this stage). Bake for 30-40 minutes until the sauce is bubbling around the edges and the centre feels hot when a skewer is inserted. Take out of the oven, cut into wedges and serve with a lovely green salad.
Domini and Peaches Kemp are the ultimate sister act. They opened the first itsa Cafe in Dublin in 1999. There are now itsa branches across the country.
I'm really excited about their newest venture, Alchemy Juice Co, which is now open in BT2 on Grafton St in Dublin. The team at The Alchemy have worked with nutritional experts, including our own Susan Jane White, and their menu has a gorgeous, yet thoroughly healthy, banquet of options. There are juices and smoothies, with food for breakfast that includes chia porridge and carrot and courgette muffins, and wonderfully nutritious lunch boxes too.
Alchemy Juice Co, BT2, Level 2, 28a Grafton St, D2, see alchemyjuice.ie
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