Darina Allen: It's time for a pancake party

SHROVE Tuesday is just around the corner again — a perfect excuse to have a pancake party. What fun that is. 

The tiny tots love it, teens have fun and the ‘wrinklies’ reminisce about pancakes in the past. 

So where did the custom come from? The name Shrove Tuesday originally came from the word Shrive meaning to absolve.

Christians were encouraged to examine their conscience, confess and repent before the penitential season of Lent commenced on Ash Wednesday. 

Fasting was an integral part of Lent so it became a custom to use up all the sugar, butter, flour and eggs before the long period of fast and abstinence began.

I hadn’t quite realised how many countries celebrate Shrove Tuesday. In Germany it’s called Fastnachtsdienstag. In Netherlands, it’s known as Vastenavond and is also linked to a carnival. In Portuguese, Spanish and Italian speaking countries it’s actually known as Carnival which is derived from the Latin ‘farewell to the flesh’.

In Brazil the Carnival in Rio is the most famous while in Venice they celebrate with a masquerade. In Spain, Carnival Tuesday is named ‘dia de la tortilla’, omelette day. In Portuguese-speaking Madeira, they eat malasadas on Terca — feera Gorda (Fat Tuesday).

In Denmark and Norway the day is called Fastelavn, Children dress up in costumes and gather treats.

Iceland calls it Sprengidagur (Bursting Day) and is marked by the tradition of eating peas and salted meat.

In Sweden Fettisdagen (Fat Tuesday) is celebrated by eating a marzipan filled pastry called semla. The Lithuanians celebrate the day called Ugavènês by eating pancakes or a special type of doughnut and then of course there’s Mardi Gras in New Orleans which again means Fat Tuesday.

There are pancake races and pancake flipping competitions in many countries so let’s get in on the act.

I love the simple pancakes of my childhood which my own grandchildren also love to help to cook and flip but here are some other recipes to choose from if you’d like to ring the changes before you consider 40 days of abstinence.

Semlor Lenten buns

Serves 12

80g (2½oz) melted butter

250ml (9 fl oz) whole milk

25g (¾ oz) fresh yeast (or 12g active dry yeast)

40g (1½ oz) caster sugar

400 g (10½ oz) plain bread flour, plus extra for dusting

½ tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

2 tsp ground cardamom

1 egg, lightly beaten

Filling

100g (3½ oz) almond paste, see recipe

6-8 tbsp of custard, see recipe

500ml (18 fl oz) whipping cream

1 tsp vanilla sugar or extract

Icing sugar to dust

If using mixer, set it up with the dough hook attachment. Melt the butter and add the milk, ensuring a lukewarm (blood) temperature. Add the fresh yeast and stir until dissolved.

Add sugar and stir again. Add 300g of flour as well as the salt, baking powder and ground cardamom. Add half the egg (preserve the other half for brushing before baking).

Mix well until all ingredients are incorporated and then start to add remaining 100 g of the flour, bit by bit, until you have a dough that is only a little bit sticky.

Take care not to add too much flour: you will get dry buns. Knead the dough for at least five minutes in the mixer, longer by hand. Leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 40 minutes.

Turn the dough out to a floured surface. Knead again for a few minutes, adding more flour if needed. Cut the dough into 12 equal sized pieces. Take care that the balls are completely round and uniform in size. Place on baking tray with good spacing between buns. Leave to rise for another 40-50 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6.

Gently brush each bun with the remainder of the egg wash and bake in a hot oven for about 20 minutes or until baked through – keep an eye on them as they can burn quickly. Remove from oven and cover the tray with a lightly damp tea towel immediately – this will prevent the buns from forming a crust.

When the buns have cooled down completely, cut a ‘lid’ off the buns – about 1½ cm from the top.

Partly scoop out the inside of the bun and place crumbs in a separate bowl.

Mix the almond paste with the crumb until it forms a very sticky mass –add a dash of milk or custard at this point to help it along. You want a spoonable even mixture.

Spoon the filling back into the buns, equally divided. Whip the cream with the vanilla sugar until stiff and use a piping bag to pipe cream on all the buns’ tops. Put the ‘lids’ back on and dust with icing sugar.

Russian Fluffy Pancakes

Julija Makejeva, who works with us at the Cookery School, taught me how to make these pancakes, known as oladushki in Russian.

Serves 6

225ml (8fl oz) buttermilk

1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda or bread soda)

2 organic eggs, whisked

scant 1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp caster sugar

250g (9oz) white flour

2 tsp vegetable oil

Put the buttermilk into a bowl, sprinkle the bicarbonate of soda on top and leave for 3–4 minutes to allow the mixture to bubble.

Whisk the egg, salt and caster sugar into the buttermilk mixture. Slowly add the flour to the batter, whisking all the time, until the mixture has an even consistency. 

The batter should be very thick and reluctantly fall off the spoon.

Heat a wide frying pan on a medium heat. Add the vegetable oil. Pour a tablespoon of batter into the pan and repeat. You should be able to fit about five more pancakes in the pan, spaced evenly apart. 

Fry until golden brown on one side, flip over once bubbles have appeared on the surface and popped. Repeat the process until all of the batter is used. 

Serve with sour cream mixed with raspberry jam or sour cream sprinkled with brown sugar.

Almond paste

225 g (½ lb) ground almonds

225 g (½lb) golden castor sugar

1 small organic or free-range egg

A drop of pure almond extract (be really careful, it’s very intense)

1 tbsp Irish whiskey

Sieve the castor sugar, and mix with the ground almonds.

Beat the eggs, add the whiskey and 1 drop of pure almond essence, then add to the other ingredients and mix to a stiff paste. (You may not need all of the egg.)

Sprinkle the worktop with icing sugar, turn out the almond paste and work lightly until smooth.

Creme Anglaise (Custard Sauce)

1 pint (600 ml) milk

Vanilla pod or other alternative flavouring

6 egg yolks

2 ozs (50g) sugar

Bring the milk almost to the boil with the vanilla pod. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until thick and light. Whisk in half the hot milk and then whisk the mixture back into the remaining milk. 

Cook over very low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the custard thickens slightly. Your finger should leave a clear trail when drawn across the back of the spoon.

Remove from the heat at once and strain. Cool, cover tightly and chill. The custard can be kept up to two days in the refrigerator.

Crepes with Orange Butter

Darina Allen: It's time for a pancake party

This crepe recipe is very nearly as good as those crepes suzette they used to serve with a great flourish in posh restaurants when I was a child. 

These crepes are half the bother and can be made for a fraction of the cost.

Serves 6 - makes 12 approximately

Pancake Batter

6oz (175g) white flour, preferably unbleached

A good pinch of salt

1 dessertspoon castor sugar

2 large eggs and 1 or 2 egg yolks, preferably free range

Scant 15fl oz (450ml) milk, or for very crisp, light delicate pancakes, milk and water mixed

3-4 dessertspoon melted butter

Orange Butter

6oz (175g) butter

3 tsp finely grated orange rind

6oz (175g) icing sugar

Freshly squeezed juice of 5-6 oranges

Equipment

8 inch (20.5cm) non-stick crepe pan

First make the batter.

Sieve the flour, salt, and sugar into a bowl, make a well in the centre and drop in the lightly beaten eggs. With a whisk or wooden spoon, starting in the centre, mix the egg and gradually bring in the flour. 

Add the liquid slowly and beat until the batter is covered with bubbles. (If they are to be served with sugar and lemon juice, stir in an extra tablespoon of castor sugar and the finely grated rind of half a lemon.)

Let the batter stand in a cold place for an hour or so — longer will do no harm. Just before you cook the crepes stir in 3-4 dessertspoons of melted butter. This will make all the difference to the flavour and texture of the crepes and will make it possible to cook them without greasing the pan each time.

Next make the orange butter:

Cream the butter with the finely-grated orange rind. Then add the sifted icing sugar and beat until fluffy.

Make the crepes in the usual way.

Heat the pan to very hot, pour in just enough batter to cover the base of the pan thinly.

A small ladle can also be very useful for this, loosen the crepes around the edge, flip over with a spatula or thin egg slice, cook for a second or two on the other side, and slide off the pan onto a plate. The crepes may be stacked on top of each other and peeled apart later.

They will keep in the fridge for several days and also freeze perfectly. If they are to be frozen it’s probably a good idea to put a disc of silicone paper between each for extra safety.

Note: If you have several pans it is perfectly possible to keep 3 or 4 pans going in rotation. It’s only necessary if you need to feed the multitudes.

To serve

Melt a blob of the orange butter in the pan, add some freshly squeezed orange juice and toss the pancakes in the foaming butter. Fold in half and then in quarters (fan shapes). Serve 2 or 3 per person on warm plates. Spoon the buttery orange juices over the top. Repeat until all the pancakes and butter have been used.

Note: A tablespoon of orange liqueur eg. Grand Marnier or Orange Curacao is very good added to the orange butter if you are feeling very extravagant.

Hot tips

10 Great Brunch Recipes: Brunch, more substantial than a breakfast, is the perfect meal for enjoying quality time with family and friends and enjoying hassle-free entertaining. 

For the last number of years we have run an extremely popular breakfast course here at Ballymaloe Cookery School, but never get a chance to share the wonderful repertoire of brilliant brunch ideas I have picked up on my travels… until now! 

Think spicy Sri Lankan chilli eggs to the classic Mexican huevos rancheros, light-as-a-feather ricotta hot cakes with honey, all-American corn cakes or Dutch pancakes with crisp home cured bacon and tangy blueberry drop scones dripping with fresh butter. 

Home cooks will head away with so many simply delicious recipes to entertain and delight. Friday February 5,2.30pm; www.cookingisfun.ie

Past Ballymaloe Cookery School student Jack Crotty, aka The Rocket Man, has opened E A S T an exciting new food venue at the Old Winthrop Arcade, Oliver Plunkett Street, Cork City. Think super tasty falafel and in house flatbreads with pickles, cheeses and slaws. Open seven days a week. www.therocketman.ie

Weston A. Price Foundation: Don’t miss the second annual food and nutrition conference at Thomond Park, Co Limerick on February 6 and 7, focusing on wise traditions in food, farming and the healing arts. Visit the website for full details www.wapfmunster.com

Get Blogging with Lucy Pearce: Join pro-blogger Lucy Pearce and some of our 12 Week Certificate Students for ‘Get Blogging’ on Saturday February 6. See Lucy from 2pm-5pm for a whistle-stop tour of the food blogging world and discover what’s hot, and what’s not. 

You’ll see just how diverse food blogging is, and how to find your niche. Lucy will compare the different blogging platforms too. www.cookingisfun.ie


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