Last Updated on February 7, 2021
I grew up making and eating this kind of pancake – a thin, crispy-edged creation that we’d often have for pudding on Sunday as a way of using up the Yorkshire pudding batter. They are close to French crepes in style but somehow not quite so refined. And, they are peculiarly English. In Scotland, Scotch pancakes, something close to American pancakes, are popular while Welsh pancakes are called Crempog and are made with flour, buttermilk, eggs, vinegar and salted butter – resulting in a tangy flavoured, fluffy pancake. English pancakes are simple to make, frugal and versatile. Traditionally served with lemon and sugar, they can also be stuffed with sweet or savoury fillings and can be rolled and baked in the oven for a substantial meal. Pancakes with cherries work particularly well because the fruit has just the right amount of acidity to cut through the rich pancake batter. And pancakes with cherries in kirsch are just superb! Here’s more about how to make English pancakes
It’s Shrove Tuesday next week though – and pancakes are mandatory in my home! Here in England we often call Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday ‘Pancake day’. It’s the second day of feasting before Lent, though few people today bother with Collop Monday when households traditionally would have finished up any meat in the house. There are a host of traditions associated with the making of pancakes, to use up the egg and butter. It was, after all, the last day before 40 days of fasting and generally giving up all fun pastimes.
The origin of the pancake race in England dates back to around 1445 when it is said that a woman in Olney, Buckinghamshire was making pancakes when she heard the ‘Shriving Bell’ ringing to call the faithful to church so they could be cleansed of their sins before Lent started. She ran from the house in her apron, still holding her frying pan. And, thus the tradition of Pancake racing began. To take part in the Olney pancake race you’ll need to be a local housewife and you’ll need to be dressed appropriately in an apron and a hat or scarf. The race involves running with your frying pan and a hot pancake, which you’ll need to toss three times. Your aim is to arrive at the church, serve your pancake to the bellringer and then get a kiss… the first one to do so is the winner. There are usually races all around England and a few other events like the annual Pancake Grease at Westminster School in London, where the boys are challenged to grab the largest piece of a huge pancake that is tossed high in the air. The one who does gets a cash bonus from the Dean.
In my view though, you can have just as much fun at home making your own pancakes and inventing suitably decadent fillings. My personal favourite is a mix of fruits in alcohol with fresh whipped cream and for that, I either use my own homemade ones or a store cupboard staple from Opies. I’ve opened a jar of Opies cherries with kirsch – because pancakes with cherries are a great combination and these alcohol-laced treats are a great treat! All you need to do is to pop the cherries in a small pan and warm them through gently while you make your pancakes. Then, add a dollop of fresh whipped cream and a dusting of icing sugar.
English Pancakes themselves take just a minute or so each to cook, but you’ll need to make sure you’ve made the batter in advance. There’s some argument about whether or not you need to rest the batter – I generally do because I think it helps get that lovely lacy frill around the edge of the pancake. It’s perhaps not quite as important with a pancake as with a baked dish like Toad in the Hole where the resting process will help ensure your batter rises. But, you can easily make the pancake batter up before you start cooking your main course.
Here’s a printable version for how to make English pancakes from scratch. Will you be indulging on Pancake Day this year?
English Pancake Recipe with Cherries
- Pancake pan or large frying pan
- 100 g plain flour (all-purpose flour in the USA)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 medium eggs
- 300 ml semi-skimmed milk or 1/3 water to 2/3 milk if you are using full-fat milk
- 50 g butter
- 4 tsp icing sugar
- 1/2 jar Opies cherries in kirsch
- 70 ml whipping cream whipped to soft peaks
- Sift the flour and salt into a medium sized mixing bowl
- Make a well in the flour and crack the eggs into it
- Using a balloon whisk or fork, break the egg and gently pull the flour into it to make a thick paste
- Gradually whisk in the milk until you have a mixture about the thickness of double cream.
- Put the batter to rest in the fridge
- When you are ready to cook, melt a quarter of the butter in your frying pan or pancake pan, swirling it around so the pan is well coated.
- Once it is sizzling and just turning in colour add the batter. Pour a ladleful into the centre of the pan then tilt the pan round in a circular motion to spread the batter as thinly as possible
- Cook over a medium heat until the pancake is golden at the edges and slides around the pan.
- Turn the pancake. As English pancakes are quite large, you can do this by tossing or flipping if you are brave. If not, you can turn the pancake using a fishslice or by inverting a plate over the top of the pan, tipping it out and then sliding it back into the pan.
- Continue to cook till the other side is golden brown
- Once the first pancake is cooked, place it on a flat plate, cover with greaseproof or silicone paper and pop in a warm oven
- This quantity of batter should make 6 to 8 pancakes depending on the size of your pan.
- Warm the cherries in kirsch in a small pan with just a little of the liquid
- To make up, take each pancake and add 4-6 cherries and a dollop of cream on one quarter.
- Fold in half, then into quarters.
- Place the pancakes on your serving dish and dust well with icing sugar
- Eat while piping hot.
Which are your favourite kind of pancakes? English, Scotch, Welsh, American – or something quite different?
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