The Pleasures of Pancakes

Maple Syrup on Pancakes

Pancakes with butter and maple syrup

So, am I the only one who’s always thought that Pancake Day should be a national holiday?  What would be more perfect for a Canadian February — a stat’ holiday designated as a “pyjama day” in which portly Canadians could lall around the house enjoying pancakes with butter and maple syrup, becoming, no doubt, even more portly.

Self indulgence is what it’s all about — a national day of “giving in to temptation” — and the true genesis of Pancake Day is linked to this very idea:  Historically, Pancake Day (which is also known as Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday) falls on the Tuesday preceding Ash Wednesday.  Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent and so Pancake Day is the day in which one uses up all of the rich, fatty edibles in the house such as milk, butter and eggs, to prepare for the austerities of the Lenten season.  The actual date is determined by the date of Easter Sunday and so, the happy occasion is a moveable feast.

In my house, pancakes were traditionally served for breakfast.  No one in my family ascribed to the “less is more” doctrine, and so, the pancakes were served in stacks, with breakfast sausages or bacon and huge lashings of butter and maple syrup.  I’m not certain if our pancakes were much different than the American concoctions called flapjacks or hotcakes or griddle cakes, but I always had the feeling that they were truly Canadian, perhaps because of the absolute necessity of the maple syrup.

I’ve found that there are many, many recipes for pancakes but they all make use of varying proportions of a raising agent such as baking soda, or baking powder, eggs, flour, milk (or buttermilk) and sugar. (Blueberries or sliced bananas could be added if you were feeling creative.)  And yes, you could use a mix from a box or even find frozen ones — but they are so easy to make that this is one place where it’s worth it to do it from scratch.  The main thing is to have a big enough griddle to be able to make four or five at a time — then, keep them warm in the oven so that everyone can eat together.


Palacinke with ice cream and chocolate drizzle

Google has shown me that almost every country in the world has its own version of the pancake. (I’m not even going to mention that Belgian upstart, the waffle.)  Certainly my European relatives (from the Czech Republic) viewed with disdain the big, thick, digestion-disturbing treats that I whipped up for breakfast.  Instead, they were used to something called palacinky, or palacinka, which were thinner, smaller, moist  pancakes which were rolled up around fruit or jam — apricot or plum preserves were favorites.  These were sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar and served for dessert.


Blini with smoked salmon

And, of course, pancakes don’t have to be sweetened. One of my favorites, for instance, is the Russian blini, a small pancake that allies itself to a savory filling.  Blini use yeast as a leavening agent rather than baking powder and are fluffy, elegant little pancakes which serve as a perfect vehicle for a dab of sour cream and a layer of smoked salmon with a sprig of dill — or caviar, if you are feeling particularly decadent.

Anyway, when the pancake goes to France, it becomes a galette or a crêpe. The galette is the workaday model — a large, thin pancake usually made with buckwheat flour.  It is associated with Britanny where it replaced bread as a basic food and it is often layered with cheese, ham or eggs.

The crêpe is the “oo-la-la” version: a thin and delicate pancake with no leavening agent at all.  It is cooked quickly in a special crêpe pan to achieve a lacelike network of fine bubbles.  To ensure tender, light, thin crêpes it is necessary to make the batter ahead and leave it in the refrigerator for at least one hour before cooking to allow the flour to expand in the liquid.  Crêpes can be either sweet or savory. The “Coco Chanel” of crêpes (although that lady probably never ate anything so calorific) might be the Crêpe Suzette, a sweet dessert crêpe flambéed with orange liqueur.   I’m leaving you with Julia Child’s (Mastering the Art of French Cooking) very authentic recipe for Crêpes Suzette but Gordon Ramsay has a demonstration on You Tube, if you prefer something a little more “rough and tumble.”   Check out

Anyway, enjoy those pancakes now because you know what’s coming next — Valentine’s Day and, of course, you will need to make room for some fine chocolate!


Crêpes Suzette

Crêpes Suzette

from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Simone Beck, Louisette Bertholle and Julia Child

Light Batter for Crêpes


1/4 cup milk

3/4 cup cold water

3 egg yolks

1 tbsp. granulated sugar

3 tbsp. orange liqueur, rum or brandy

1 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour

5 tbsp. melted butter

Method for Crêpes:

Place the ingredients in the blender jar in the order in which they are listed.  Cover and blend at top speed for 1 minute.  If bits of flour adhere to sides of jar, dislodge with a rubber scaper and blend 3 seconds more.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

To make crêpes, rub an iron skillet or crepe pan with the rind of bacon or brush it lightly with oil  Set over moderately high heat until the pan is just beginning to smoke.

Immediately remove from the heat and, holding handle of pan in your right hand, pour with your left hand a scant 1/4 cup of batter into the middle of the pan.  Quickly tilt the pan in all directions to run the batter all over the bottom of the pan in a thin film.  (Pour any batter that does not adhere to the pan back into your bowl;  judge the amount for your next crêpe accordingly.)  This whole operation takes but 2 or 3 seconds.

Return the pan to the heat for 60 to 80 seconds.  Then jerk and toss pan sharply back and forth and up and down to loosen the crêpe.  Lift its edges with a spatula and if the underside is a nice light brown, the crêpe is ready for turning.

Turn the crêpe by using 2 spatulas;  or grasp the edges nearest you in your fingers and sweep it up toward you and over again into the pan in a reverse circle:or toss it over by a flip of the pan.

Brown lightly for about 1/2 minute on the other side.  This second side is rarely more than a spotty brown, and is always kept as the underneath or nonpublic aspect of the crêpe.

Slide crêpe onto a plate.  Grease the skillet again, heat to just smoking and proceed with the rest of the crêpes.  Crêpes may be kept warm by covering them with a dish and setting them over simmering water or in a slow oven.  Or they may be made several hours in advance and reheated when needed.

You should have 18 cooked crepes, 4 to 5 inches in diameter.

The Orange Butter


4 large lumps of sugar

2 bright -skinned oranges

a vegetable peeler
1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 softened unsalted butter

2/3 cup strained orange juice

3 tbsp. orange liqueur


Rub the sugar lumps over the oranges until all side of the lumps have absorbed oil.  Remove the orange part of the skin of both oranges with a vegetable peeler.

Mash the sugar lumps on a chopping board.  Add the orange peel and granulated sugar and chop with a heavy knife until peel is very finely minced.  Scrape into a mixing bowl.

Cream in the softened butter, beating until mixture is light and fluffy. (An electric beater is fine for this.)

By droplets beat the orange juice and orange liqueur into the butter, making a thick cream.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

The Chafing Dish Finish 


18 cooked crêpes, 4 to 5 inches in diameter

2 tbsp granulated sugar

1/3 cup orange liqueur

1/3 cup cognac

Place the orange butter in a chafing dish set over an alcohol flame and heat until it is bubbling.

Dip both sides of a crêpe in the butter.  Its best-looking side out, fold it in half and in half again, to form a wedge.  Place it at the edge of the chafing dish.  Rapidly continue with the rest of the crêpes until all have been dipped, folded and arranged.

Sprinkle the crêpes with the sugar.  Pour over them the orange liqueur and cognac.  Avert your face and ignite the liqueur with a lighted match.  Shake the chafing dish gently back and forth while spooning the flaming liqueur over the crêpes until the fire dies down.  Serve.

My Notes:

You can use Cointreau or Curaçao for the orange liqueur, but I always prefer Grand Marnier.  I’d try this a few times on the family before serving it to guests although it’s not a complicated as it reads because the crêpes can be made ahead of time, as well as the orange butter.  I’m wondering what you could drink with this — other than more Grand Marnier.  Any suggestions?



One thought on “The Pleasures of Pancakes

  1. Fluffy Pancakes | The Well Dressed Hen March 27, 2013 at 4:09 pm Reply

    […] The Pleasures of Pancakes ( […]

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