It’s Pancake or Shrove Tuesday next week – traditionally the final feasting day before the start of the six week Lenten period. Shrove comes from the word “shrive” meaning to absolve. It’s observed by many Christians who consider the wrongs they need to repent and seek absolution for.
Many cultures across the globe celebrate this day. In New Orleans the famous Mardi Gras, or literally Fat Tuesday, festival takes place and this is replicated in Portugal, Southern American, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and Italy as well as many commonwealth countries.
Eating pancakes was introduced initially as a way of using up all the eggs, butter and milk before the fasting began on Ash Wednesday. Tossing pancakes is a tradition that dates back to 1445 when a housewife from Olney in Buckinghamshire was so busy making pancakes that she forgot the time until she heard the bells ringing for the church service. She rushed out of the house, still carrying the pan, and tossed it the whole way there to prevent the pancakes burning. Little did she know that she was starting a tradition that continues to this day.
The most popular pancake and particularly good for tossing, is the French style crepe. Batter is spread thinly over the surface of a pan and then flipped to cook on the other side. Crespelle is an Italian/French hybrid of a dish where the crepes are filled, sauced and baked with cheese until golden and bubbling. In the recipe here they’re filled with chicken and spinach in a creamy mustard sauce. It is quite rich and decadent but that’s part what this feast day is all about.
In this country pancakes usually mean batter that’s cooked on a griddle, also known as Scotch pancakes or drop scones. The basic recipe is buttermilk, flour, eggs and sugar. The acid in the buttermilk reacts with the alkali in the soda to produce carbon dioxide. Never mind the science as ultimately it’ll give you a light, fluffy pancake. The recipe here is for treacle pancakes but feel free to add dried fruit, chocolate chips or nuts. They’re topped with cider candied pears and some cinnamon cream.
Whatever variety of pancake you choose – happy tossing!
What you’ll need
For the crepes
250ml whole milk
25g melted butter
125g plain flour
Whisk the milk with the eggs. Sift the flour into a bowl and whisk in the milk mixture to a smooth batter. Add the melted butter and salt and whisk well. Rest for ten minutes. Place in a jug.
Heat a non stick pan until hot and wipe with oil on kitchen paper. Tilt the pan away from yourself at an angle. Pour the batter thinly over the surface, swirling as you do to cover. Cook until little bubbles appear on the surface then flip over and cook for 30 seconds on the other side. Repeat with the rest of the batter – you should get 8 pancakes. Separate them in a pile with greaseproof or kitchen paper.
4 chicken breasts cut into 1cm thick strips
2 tablespoons oil
2 onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
75ml dry cider
1 chicken stock cube dissolved in 50ml boiling water
300ml double cream
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
75g finely grated cheddar or parmesan
Heat the oil in a large frying pan until smoking hot. Add the chicken and season with salt. Cook until sealed and golden on both sides. Add the onions, garlic and butter and cook until onions are soft and golden. Add the cider and simmer until the liquid has evaporated. Add the stock and cream and cook until the sauce is spoon coating consistency. Add the mustard and check the seasoning – make sure the chicken is cooked through. Remove 200ml of the sauce and set aside. Add the spinach to the chicken and cook until wilted.
Take a pancake and spoon an eighth of the chicken mixture into the middle. Fold over into a parcel and place in a buttered baking dish. Repeat with remaining pancakes and mixture. Pour the set aside sauce over the top and scatter with cheese. Place in a 180oC oven and cook for about 15 minutes or until cheese is glazed and sauce is bubbling.
Serve with a green salad.
Makes around 12 pancakes
What you’ll need
For the treacle pancakes
2 tablespoons treacle
300g plain flour
11/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon castor sugar
Whisk the eggs, treacle and buttermilk together in a bowl. Sift in the flour and baking soda. Whisk to a thick batter with the sugar. Allow to rest for 15 minutes. Wipe a heavy based pan with oil and heat to medium high. Drop tablespoons of the batter on the surface – don’t overcrowd the pan and do it in batches. When bubbles appear on the surface, flip over and cook for a minute or so on the other side. Place on a cooling rack while you cook the rest.
For the cider candied pears
100g castor sugar
250ml sweet cider
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Place the sugar, cider, water and cinnamon in a saucepan and simmer until the sugar has dissolved. Peel and halve the pears and place in poaching liquor – make sure they’re submerged. Simmer until the pears are just soft and remove from pan. Quarter and remove core. Boil the poaching liquor to a thick syrup. Add the pears.
For the cinnamon cream
250ml whipping cream
1 tablespoon icing sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Whisk the cream to stiff peaks and fold in the sugar and cinnamon.
Top the pancakes with some pear and a dollop of the cream.