There’s no let-up for Keda Black. The food writer has been busy setting aside her jams, jellies and other lockdown preserves in readiness for Pancake Day (Mardi Gras) since 2nd February. In her home and all over France, the pancake party is in full swing! Story.
A whole menu!
At the risk of appearing sentimental, I looooove Pancake Day… there, I’ve said it! I mean it from the heart. First, because it’s a festival of light. Consider its Christian and pagan origins: the presentation of Christ at the Temple for some, the end of hibernation and resumption of farming activities for others. It makes complete sense for pancakes to join the party. Gloriously round and golden, they are an obvious reminder of the Sun. They also symbolize prosperity, as they are traditionally made with surplus flour from the year before. What better way to light up winter! All the more so, since they are the ultimate way to please the whole family. Fun and easy to make, buttery and sugary yet not too heavy, they can easily be a meal all on their own! In our house, they tend to prompt an unceremonious gathering in the kitchen, which can suddenly feel rather small! A happy commotion punctuated by cries of “who’s having this one?” and “pass the jam!”. All that without having to set the table or even sit at it.
Recipes within recipes
The secret of success? Just before cooking, incorporate 60 g (2 oz) of warm melted butter in enough batter for 5 to 6 people. This is made with 20 oz flour, 50 fl oz milk and 12 eggs, all whisked together and left to rest for an hour before cooking if possible. If you use good whole milk, it's “like little Jesus in velvet underpants!”, as my aunt said when she passed on the recipe to me (a wonderful French expression meaning delicious). And if you also swap a third of the milk for a little beer and/or a drop of pastis, rum or orange liqueur, well then... My personal touch right now involves replacing a quarter to a third of the wheat flour with a stronger-tasting flour. Chestnut and small spelt are my current favorites. They add lots of flavor and the pancakes are still as light as ever. Stylish and delicious!
It takes real skill
When it comes to the cooking: it’s still all about the butter! Melt it in the right sort of pan: it should have very low sides and be light, so you can toss your pancakes easily. The next step requires a little finesse. It's non-negotiable! I pour a small ladleful of batter onto the butter foaming in the hot pan, which should be on a medium-high heat. I quickly spread it, turning and tilting the pan as I go. Gymnastics for the wrist! The pancake cooks in barely a minute. As soon as I can see the batter is ready to come away from the pan, I flip it - tah-dah! - and finish cooking the other side. Then, I stack the pancakes up and keep them warm. At least, I try to: mine tend to disappear... Next comes the assortment of artisan jams and jellies, lemon juice or even mandarin juice – great idea! -, sugar, chocolate spread, pre-softened in a bain-marie; sautéed diced apples or apple compote, homemade salted caramel... Everyone has their own combination, swaps one ingredient for another, begs borrows and steals from the others. We do have some rules though. No savory fillings here! I prefer to keep those for buckwheat pancakes. As a prelude to the sweet version, maybe.... Well, I told you it was a party!