Once again, in a flurry of burnt-out frying pans, lumpy batter and more sugary toppings than you can shake a toothache at, Pancake Day has crept up on us – or should that be crêpt?
Shrove Tuesday offers us what should be an easy kitchen caper. Simple pancake batter only contains three ingredients – milk, flour and eggs – and flamboyant flipping is always fun. But, often, our cakes go down the pan. Gentleman’s Journal turned to Steve Smith, Head Chef at the Michelin-starred Jersey restaurant Bohemia, to solve our Shrove Tuesday woes – and give us tips and tricks to perfect our pancakes.
Keep your ingredients - not just the batter - at room temperature
We all know that your batter shouldn’t be fresh from the fridge when you introduce it to your frying pan, but Smith goes one step further. “Ensure that you have a good, workable batter by keeping all of your ingredients at room temperature as well before you mix them together.”
This means you should take your milk and eggs out of the fridge before you mix together. A good basic recipe is 100g plain flour, 2 large eggs and 300ml of milk, which will make you about 12 medium pancakes.
“Mix the dry, room-temperature ingredients in one bowl,” advises Smith, “and the wet ingredients in another. Incorporate the two bowls of ingredients by making a well in the dry ingredients and pouring in the wet mixture. Stir gently until all of the ingredients are combined and moist.”
Don’t worry about lumps - in fact, embrace them
Lumps, in everything from mashed potato to mattresses, are frowned upon. But, Smith surprises us, that is not necessarily the case with your pancake batter. “Don’t worry about the lumps in the batter! “ says the chef. “Once they are on the griddle they will cook out fine. If you overwork the batter the pancakes will turn out tough and chewy.”
"Don’t worry about the lumps in the batter - once they are on the griddle they will cook out fine..."
Technically, overworking your batter deflates any air bubbles that may have formed, meaning that your light, fluffy pancakes will soon turn into thin, tough disappointments once they slide from the pan. Mixing too vigorously also encourages gluten to develop, Smith tells us, which may be desirable in bagels and pizza crusts, but not so much in your Shrove Tuesday treats.
Add your toppings before you fry - not after
This may sound counter-productive, but trust the professional. Smith recommends that you mix your toppings in with your ingredients – for a different sensation and pancake experience. “If you are bored of your usual pancakes, drizzled with lemon and dusted with sugar, I’d add flavour into the batter instead,” he explains.
“My favourite ingredients to add include spices, citrus zest, herbs, ginger, cinnamon, vanilla extract, chocolate chips, raisins, cheese – or even sweetcorn, if you’re feeling really adventurous…”
Once mixed, you must rest your batter
We know, you want to get cooking those pancakes – experimenting with increasingly audacious and overconfident flips and tricks. But all the double spins and two-handed pan tricks in the world won’t make up for tough pancakes. And, like overworking, letting your mixed batter rest is also all about stopping gluten in its tracks.
"All the double spins and two-handed pan tricks in the world won’t make up for tough pancakes..."
“It may be difficult to resist,” adds Smith, “but it is crucial to allow the batter to rest for a minimum of five minutes. This will give the gluten, which you have created from mixing the batter, time to relax and for the bigger lumps in the batter to smooth out. As a result, your pancakes will have a thick consistency and they will turn out fluffier.”
Reheat in the right way - no microwaving
“Pancakes are best enjoyed fresh from the pan,” acknowledges Smith. “But, if you do make a whole batch at once, there is a trick to reheating them a way that won’t leave any warmer than others, or soggy.
“Stay away from the microwave, and instead keep your creations warm by arranging them in a single layer on an oiled cooking rack. Place them in a preheated oven at 80°C for a maximum of 15 minutes – and they’ll taste as warm, fluffy and fresh as when you slid them from the pan.”
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Bon appétit, gents