A Pancake By Any Other Name
By Macy Halford
Today is National Pancake Day, which means a) IHOP is a top trending topic on Twitter and b) we all get to have breakfast for dinner, which is truly cause for celebration.
Lest you think that the lowly pancake is not deserving of its own day, consider that it was found deserving of its own book by no less a publisher than the University of Chicago Press:
In this helpful history, Ken Albala asks us to consider the question: What is a pancake? Is any flat, disc-shaped bread—pita or tortilla, for instance—a pancake? No. Is the African akara, a lumpen disc of black-eyed pea batter that happens to be cooked in a pan, a pancake? Yes. Is a blini a pancake? Yes, as is, of course, a crêpe. Are waffles pancakes? No: “Waffles,” Albala writes, “despite their eminent popularity, are not pancakes.”
More questions: Is America the only land of the ubiquitous pancake joint? No. The Netherlands are “riddled with cozy pancake houses.” The fare served in these restaurants may be superior to what one finds at Denny’s, and their atmosphere may be more conducive to pancake consumption, but can you order a single giant disc with chocolate-chip eyes, a whipped-cream smile, and a maraschino-cherry nose? I think not. One point to Pancake Team U.S.A.
My favorite parts of Albala’s book are the tantalizing descriptions of the greasy substances suitable for frying pancakes. Butter, he writes, is best, but lard, duck fat, oil, and bacon grease also work in a pinch. These fats should be melted in a cast-iron skillet if at all possible.
And, finally, a story. It’s about a girl called Suzette who inspired one of the most delicious pancake recipes in history in 1895 (or 1896—no one is certain). One version:
They were said to be invented by accident by one Henri Charpentier at the Café de Paris in Monte Carlo. As a fourteen-year-old apprentice making crepes to be served to the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII, Charpentier accidentally let the cordials in the sauce catch fire. Finding the result sublime, he served it to the regal party. Crêpes Princesse was put forward as a name, but the Prince himself suggested Crêpes Suzette in hour of a woman present in the party (perhaps a mistress).
- There you have it. An accidental fire, an illicit affair—all you need to make pancake magic. In case you’ve never had Crêpes Suzette, here is Albala’s recipe:
- 4 cups/500g flour, sifted
- 1 1/2 cups/200g icing [powdered] sugar
- pinch of fine salt
- 12 eggs
- 1.5 litres milk
- 2 tbsp curaçao
- juice and zest of one mandarin orange
- 3 tbsp/50g butter
- 1/4 cup/50g sugar
Mix the flour, sugar and salt in a bowl. Beat together the eggs and mix into the flour mixture, adding the milk little by little until you have a batter.
Perfume with a tablespoon of curaçao and one of mandarin juice. Make the crêpes very thinly. Spread the butter and sugar on them. Add, working into the mixture with a spatula, the rest of the mandarin juice, together with its zest, and the second spoonful of curaçao.
Once the mixture has covered all the crêpes, fold them into quarters and serve them flambéed.