Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras—by any name is Pancake Tuesday.
Why do we eat pancakes on Fat Tuesday, which is the last celebration before Lent?
Traditionally, during the Lenten season (Ash Wednesday till Maundy Thursday) no animals or animal by-products could be consumed. Frugal households attempted to “use-up” larder stored items such as eggs, butter and milk rather than have them spoil during this 45 day period before they could once again be eaten.
A meal of pancakes, also known as hotcakes, griddlecakes or flapjacks, filled the bill for using up those ingredients. With the addition of syrup, whipped cream or fruit topping, they easily become a “carnival in your mouth,” resulting in the tradition of festive pancake suppers at homes, parties and parish gatherings on the eve of Ash Wednesday..
From French Crepes to Russian Blinis, a pancake in some form or another is served by homemakers and restaurants all over the world. Archeological studies indicate that the pancake was even served during prehistoric times. However, in spite of its commonplace at the table, there is an art to making a light, tender pancake.
Only days away from Fat Tuesday, it was time to call in the experts. I met with Chef Nellda Gallagher in the culinary arts kitchen of El Centro College in downtown Dallas to get professional tutelage on how to make the perfect pancake.
Gallagher is an instructional supervisor and adjunct instructor in the Food and Hospitality Institute at El Centro. Previous food industry experience includes banquet and executive chef positions and corporate chef for Dallas icon, Mary Kay Cosmetics.
“What is a perfect pancake?” I asked.
“In my opinion, a pancake should be light and puffy—a “cake-like” texture with a slight tang to offset the sweetness of the syrup,” Gallagher said.
The acidic in the recipe used by Gallagher is buttermilk and sour cream. The acidic helps to produce that tang and also helps tenderize the pancake.
“The cooked pancake should be golden brown with a slightly crisp edge,” she said. The butter and the eggs in the recipe help to add color.
Pancakes are categorized “quick bread” so in preparation, the wet ingredients are added to the dry ingredients.
“I do this by making a well in the dry ingredients and then begin adding the liquid while stirring with a spoon,” Gallagher said. “Do not over mix the batter; (this is no time for a whisk). The batter should appear lumpy,” she added.
Let the batter rest for about ten minutes to activate the acidic with the baking powder. Baking powder has a shelf life of about six months, so buy it in small quantities.
Prepare the pan or griddle according to directions. Spoon the batter, about ¼ cup, onto the hot surface. Watch for the bubbles to appear on the pancake as it cooks. The bubbles indicate when it is time to turn
The recipe calls for holding the pancake in a slow oven, but you can also use a warming drawer, or as Gallagher prefers, a tortilla ceramic. She does hold fast to serving the pancakes with melted butter and warmed syrup. “Nothing cools down a warm pancake quicker than cold butter and syrup,” she said.
Now for the taste test. With the addition of some butter and maple syrup, the pancakes were ready to enjoy. They were light, puffy and tender; and they absorbed the butter and syrup, rather than letting those condiments run off onto the plate. Delicious! Gallagher had produced that perfect pancake I was looking for.
By following the recipe below, with some practice, you can serve a pancake fit for a king—even King Rex!
If you would like to learn more about the Food and Hospitality Program at El Centro, or just want to hang-out with the renowned Dallas chefs and sample some delicious food, beer and wine, you are invited to join El Centro for “Bits and Bites” on Sunday Mar. 30. It’s a party honoring Gus Katrigris, founder of the hospitality department. Proceeds from ticket sales will go toward expanding the facility. Visit www.elcentrocollege.org for ticket information.
Best Buttermilk Pancakes
(Makes 16 4-in. pancakes; serves 4 to 6}
2 cups unbleached, all purpose flour. See note*
2 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 cups buttermilk
¼ cup sour cream
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 – 2 teaspoons vegetable oil for cooking
*The test kitchen prefers a lower-protein flour like Pillsbury or Gold Medal. If using a higher-protein brand like King Arthur, you will need to use an extra one or two tablespoons of buttermilk.
For holding cooked pancakes: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 200 degrees. Set wire rack inside cookie sheet and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Place in oven.
Prepare batter: Whisk flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda together in medium size bowl. In second medium sized bowl, whist together buttermilk, sour cream, eggs and melted butter. Make well in center of dry ingredients and pour in wet ingredients; gently stir until just combined (batter should remain lumpy with few streaks of flour). Do not over mix. Allow batter to sit 10 minutes before cooking.
Cook pancakes: Heat 1 teaspoon oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet (or heat griddle) over medium heat until shimmering. Using paper towel, carefully wipe out oil, leaving thin film of oil on bottom of frying pan or griddle. Using ½ cup measure, portion batter into pan or onto griddle. Cook until edges are set, bottom side is golden brown and bubbles on top surface are just beginning to break, about 2 to 3 minutes. Using thin, wide spatula, flip pancakes and continue to cook until second side is golden brown, about 1 to 2 minutes longer.
Serve pancakes immediately, or hold in oven or warming drawer.
Repeat with remaining batter, using additional oil as necessary.
Serve with desired toppings. Any leftover pancakes freeze well.