Whilst today Pancake Day is celebrated by people all over the world from many different cultures and backgrounds, it’s origins derive from the Christian practice of lent. Lent is a period of fasting and religious observance leading up to Easter Sunday, the beginning of which is marked by Ash Wednesday. Shrove Tuesday immediately precedes Ash Wednesday and has traditionally been celebrated as a day of feasting prior to lent. Nowadays people often give up chocolate, crisps or other snacks to mark lent but in the early days of Anglo-Saxon Christianity eggs and fats were peoples’ luxuries and so developed the tradition of making pancakes on Shrove Tuesday to use them up before lent.
In some cultures the whole day is marked with a carnival, a festival of indulgence called Mardi Gras, which literally translates as ‘Fat Tuesday’. However, here in the UK, religious or not, we tend just to eat as many pancakes as we can gorge ourselves on without being sick!
As a child I always remember my Mum mixing up a huge bowl of pancake batter, there’d be a bowl of sugar and a bottle of lemon juice on the table, and we would just keep going until the batter ran out. As an adult, pancakes have always alluded me, occasionally I have whipped up a batch that’s worked out really well but just as often they’ve been a complete disaster and fallen apart in the pan. One particularly memorable flop was a batch of chocolate chip oat pancakes I tried which turned into quite a tasty, but not particularly attractive pile of mush. However, I refuse to be beaten.
I found a recipe for buttermilk pancakes and it seemed to be a little more forgiving than most. The secret of a good pancake tends to be the consistency of the batter and if you get it wrong the pancakes don’t really work. However with buttermilk pancakes it’s really all about the reaction between the buttermilk and the bicarbonate of soda. Buttermilk is quite acidic and reacts with the alkaline bicarbonate of soda, creating bubbles and resulting in a light and fluffy texture. With this kind of recipe the ingredients are really doing all the hard work for you.
I grew up on thin crepe like pancakes, always served with lemon and sugar but in more recent years fluffier American style pancakes have become really popular here in Britain and I think they make a great breakfast/brunch dish for a special treat. You can go really American-style and serve them with bacon and maple syrup or fruit and honey would make an equally as delicious sweeter option. I’d personally recommend diced up nectarines and blueberries.
15g melted butter
75g gluten free plain flour
1 tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Pinch of salt
Butter for cooking
- Mix the buttermilk, egg and melted butter until fully combined.
- Sift in the flour, bicarbonate of soda, xanthan gum and salt. Gently mix until there are no dry patches left. It will look lumpy but this is fine.
- Bring a non-stick pan to a medium heat and melt a little of the cooking butter.
- Scoop a tablespoon full of the mixture into the pan and use the back of the spoon to spread it out a little. When it looks pale and golden underneath gently flip over and cook until golden on the other side. Cook 2-3 at a time, leaving plenty of room in the pan and stack on a plate covered in foil to keep warm while you use up the rest of the batter.
- For a traditional American breakfast served with crispy bacon and maple syrup, or for a healthier alternative serve with berries and runny honey.