Saturday, 10 March 2012

The Essence of Pancakes - European Style

As I talked about in my other pancake post, European pancakes are not actually my 'mother dish', although it should be by rights of my geography. And in fact, if I was given the absolute choice, I think I'd simply have to opt for American style overall.

But flat, wide, unleavened European pancakes have their own unique applications too, and I can't deny that.

Most people make an extra distinction in terms of pancakes, between crepes (papery-thin French style), and pancakes (the more generic, slightly thicker English style). But on my journeying I discovered that both styles can actually be made from the same mixture and ingredients. The only thing which makes the difference is the cooking style, which pleased me immensely.

The main difference between this kind of pancake and American style is that European pancakes are unleavened. They don't have any baking powder in them, so they don't puff up at all during cooking. There are also some minor differences in the batter itself - mainly the fact that it contains no added fat (so is less rich), and also that it is runnier than American pancake batter (part of the reason these pancakes are thinner).

These pancakes actually contain only three ingredients - flour, milk, and eggs. And the ratio is dead simple:

1 Flour : 2 Milk : 2 Eggs

That means if you make a batch with 100g of flour, you'd use 200g of milk, and 200g of eggs. Eggs weigh about 50g each, so that would be roughly four eggs.

The method is super-easy too:
  • I find the easiest way to mix it is to blend the flour and milk with a whisk until all the lumps are gone, and then add the eggs. You don't want to mix it too much more than you need to - that would develop gluten (the stuff that makes bread chewy), which isn't the kind of texture that you generally want with pancakes. But like I always say, if you don't believe me (and you really have no reason to), then try it yourself and see what happens. Probably not much will really go wrong, I'll be honest.
  • Now it's cooking time. The size of frying pan you use will roughly dictate the size of your finished pancake - within reason, at least. There is debate over whether to use oil, and how much. You could probably cook them without any oil at all, although I'd only advise that if you have a decent non-stick pan. If you use a lot of oil, then they can come out greasy and the texture actually won't be very nice. I'd advise using just a tiny dribble in the pan.
  • Heat up the pan (with the oil in it) for a minute or two, and tilt the pan around so the oil spreads out. Now stick some of the batter into the pan. You can probably judge, based on how thick your batter looks and the size of your pan, whether it will spread right out to the edges on its own. If you want to make a really papery-thin crepe, then use a fairly smallish amount, and try to spread it out as widely as possible, by tilting the pan or even spreading it using a spoon or spatula-type implement. For a standard, few-millimetre pancake, just dump a spoonful of batter in the middle of the pan, and leave it pretty much where it spreads out to.
  • The temperature you cook them on is pretty much up to you. If you're going to be doing other things at the same time, then you can cook them slowly over a low-ish heat. Likewise, if you're going to be over them like a hawk you may as well cook them a bit hotter. The best advice is to start slow and judge it as you go. It's time to turn it over when the underside looks like... a cooked pancake. Just use a spatula to pull up the edge and look underneath, and make your own judgement. Then turn it over, by flipping or - if you're a wimp - just using a spatula. It's finished cooking when the second side also looks like a cooked pancake. The top and bottom sides often have a very different appearance at the end - I still have no idea what that is about.
  • Pancakes are best eaten immediately, and I mean immediately. If you want a sociable, sit-down meal, then freshly-made pancakes may not be the best idea. They're the sort of food best eaten while you're still making the next one, with everyone standing around the kitchen eating theirs and then waiting their next turn. As far as I'm concerned, that's half the fun.
  • One thing I love about pancakes is that you can eat them with pretty much anything, savoury or sweet. They're basically an alternative to toast or bread, so anything you would consider having with toast or bread will almost certainly be perfect with pancakes. Jam? Of course. Chocolate spread? Absolutely. Bacon? Definitely! I made some at the weekend and we ate them with grilled bacon and maple syrup, and they were divine.
If you have more imaginative ideas for toppings, tell me!

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