Sunday, 25 March 2012

The Essence of Pancakes - American Style

I was born and brought up (although not so much bred) in London, England.

But because of the 'not so much bred' part, American pancakes are actually the type I grew up with. We never ate pancakes any more than the average family (once or twice a year at the most), but when we did, they were proper thick, fluffy, fried cakes.

A sizeable chunk of my family is from - and largely still in - Canada. And Canadian pancakes are one of the few arbitrary but strangely specific things we have picked up from our North American cousins.

So it actually wasn't really until this year when I properly figured out that there were other types of pancakes - and what they were like or how they were different. I had always assumed that our pancakes were normal, but for Britain they really weren't.

I spent a while making different kinds of pancakes and trying them out, and although thin European pancakes are all well and good, I must say my heart truly lies with the American kind.

Pancakes - American ones - are actually a type of quick bread or quick cake. The same type of thing as muffins. In fact, they pretty much are muffins, just cooked in a frying pan. A quick cake is one that's leavened chemically, using baking powder, so you don't have to beat air into it manually, or let it rise slowly like when you use yeast.

The ratio is fairly simple, and not much different to the muffin ratio, as you may have guessed:

4 Flour : 4 Milk: 2 Egg : 1 Butter

So that means if you're making a batch with 200g of flour, you'd use 200g of milk, 100g of eggs (about 2 eggs) and 50g of butter. The other vital element of these pancakes is the baking powder. I didn't put it in the ratio, because it's such a small amount, but it's important not to forget it! Use about a teaspoon of baking powder per 100g of flour. The method is just as simple as making muffins or any other quick bread.

  • Mix all the ingredients together. The easiest way is probably to mix together the wet ingredients and then add the dry. The butter is a wet ingredient - melt it before mixing it in. Try not to mix everything more than you need to, because - like for muffins - you don't want gluten to make the finished cake tough and chewy.
  • Then cook them. Heat up a pan, with a tiny bit of oil (you could probably manage without any oil at all), and pour in a ladleful or so of the batter. The heat you cook it on is up to you, just keep an eye on it by peeking underneath the bottom and checking the colour. You'll be able to tell it's done because it'll look like a pancake on one side. Then turn it over and it's fully cooked when both side look done. It's pretty intuitive really.

You can serve them with pretty much anything you want. They're great with maple syrup or other sweet things, but because you don't need any sugar in the batter they go well with savoury foods too. You can even mix things into the batter, or change the liquid from milk to something else, like stock. The possibilities are endless...

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